The rich keep getting richer, as four Southeastern Conference football programs wrapped up this year's conference coaching carousel making hires that, at first glance, seem to be significant upgrades from their predecessors. The fans of these schools are likely to not give two damns what a handful of Ole Miss Rebel fans think of their hires, but that won't stop us at the Cup from ill-informedly opining on them, now will it?
Arkansas - Let John L. Smith out to pasture, hired Bret Bielema of Wisconsin
Wal-Mart and Tyson Chicken money: that's literally the only explanation I can give for Arkansas' capability of pulling this one off. This is a stunningly impressive hire by my account. Bielema is literally one of the best coaches the University of Wisconsin has ever had, leading the Badgers to three straight B1G championships and subsequent Rose Bowl berths. To be honest, I cannot be certain why Bielema, an Iowa grad and a Midwesterner through and through, would ever leave America's heartland for the hills (which have eyes) of northwestern Arkansas.
Maybe he wanted a challenge that cannot be posed to him in the B1G's [AMBIGUOUS PLURAL NOUN] Division? Maybe he felt that winning the B1G a few times wasn't enough to cement his legacy as a top flight head coach? Maybe he really, really likes the every day low prices of Wal-Mart. Who knows? Regardless, this is a move that few saw coming and, frankly, still somewhat shocks me.
I don't doubt Bielema's coaching abilities. Honestly, he's a Houston Nutt that isn't stuck in the late 1980's as far as coaching acumen goes. He loves hefty and strong offensive linemen who can simply bulldoze a defense out of the way to make room for a big-bodied, reliable workhorse halfback. His defenses are always marked by excellent defensive line play and a grit which has been lost in this age of speed, speed, and more speed. Bielema likes the "line 'em up and knock 'em down" type of football, which can work in the SEC (or anywhere) with the right personnel.
I cannot be sure how well he will recruit to Arkansas. He did a great job of keeping Wisconsin's high school talent in Wisconsin, something which he won't struggle to do at all at Arkansas with the Natural State's small but skilled pool of high school footballers.
The real question about Bielema's recruiting is if he's willing to get down and dirty in what is portrayed* as the dirtiest conference in college football. Just this last year, Bielema himself said, when asked about Urban Meyer's recruiting tactics, that "We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC - in any way, shape or form."
What he left off was the addendum of "except for the exorbitant salaries - we'd love some of that shit."
Of course, I'm not sure that Bielema actually meant that literally, because very few coaches do literally mean the stuff they say. They too are politicians, in that they are very concerned with how they are perceived by their administrations, fans, and players. While at Wisconsin, if Bielema could have dragged out the "well teh SEC is DUMB AND POOR AND UNETHICAL AND WAYCESS" card that B1G fans often do in order to feel better about their perceived football inadequacies, then he should have, would have, and did.
Regardless, I'd be thrilled if I were an Arkansas fan. I'd hate my life in general, but I'd be happy about the direction this football program is going.
Auburn - Fired Gene Chizik for not having Cam Newton on his team any more, hired Arkansas State's Gus Malzhan
Who did not see this coming? Malzhan has been the talk of the SEC's coaching vacancies for nearly two years now, so it was only a matter of time before he ended up on his feet at either presumably Arkansas or Auburn, the two schools at which he successfully served as an offensive coordinator.
Malzhan loves spread option, hurry-up-no-huddle stuff, you know, the stuff that Hugh Freeze has had success with here at Ole Miss. He'll have the tools necessary to run it at Auburn, and he is by all accounts capable enough of recruiting well enough to keep that trend going. What Auburn needs to do - and I think they're doing this with this hire - is to actually commit to an offensive identity and run with it. For so many years, they've gone through so many identity changes on that side of the ball, and been forced to plug players which are a poor fit into a system that they're likely not trained well enough to run. They went pro set, to spread, to read option (which, with Cam Newton, worked), back to a pro set - all over the past four years. That simply does not work at all.
Malzhan will have them committed to their offensive identity and will recruit well to fit that system. Their defense should be solid too, with Ellis Johnson heading to the plains fresh after setting a dumpster full of diapers ablaze on the 50-yard-line of the Rock (the guy's a terrible head coach, y'all) to return to the role for which he is best suited.
Overall a good hire. I am curious to see who they bring in as position coaches.
Kentucky - Fired Joker Phillips, hired Florida State DC, Mark Stoops
Another Stoops brother? How many of them are they?
This hire is easily the toughest one to judge because Stoops does not have head coaching experience unlike his new SEC counterparts. He has been very successful as a defensive coordinator though, with his most recent years at Florida State serving as prima facie evidence of such. Hal Mumme and Rich Brooks both proved that, with the right coaches, Kentucky can be a good SEC football team, but it takes a few years of solid recruiting and development to get them there.
So the jury's out, but the potential is definitely there. If Stoops can get the talent he needs, he'll be able to get the Wildcats back into the postseason.
Tennessee - Fired Derek Dooley, hired Butch Jones of Cincinnati
After much hand-wringing, failed interviews, and false news leaks of Charlie Strong's and Jon Gruden's** futures in Tennessee, the Volunteers got their guy and, frankly, got a good one.
I think a lot of people are down on this hire because it isn't the big name they expected or wanted. This isn't Charlie Strong or Jon Gruden or zombie Johnny Majors. But that's not what Tennessee needed. They needed someone who has demonstrated success at the college level and was in a position to make a jump. With Louisville going to the ACC, that definitely doesn't describe Charlie Strong (who will be in the SEC before his career is over with, I feel); with Jon Gruden being Jon Gruden, that mold certainly doesn't fit him; and with zombie Johnny Majors being an undead animated corpse resurrected either by voodoo or an experimental virus and demonstrates an insatiable craving for human flesh, he simply isn't capable of coaching an SEC football team at the moment.
Butch Jones though, is a winner. I know that's a Gruden-esque way to describe someone, but it's fitting for Jones who, with six years of head coaching experience, has compiled a 50-27 record and a 32-12 record against conference foes. In four of his six years as a head coach, split evenly between Central Michigan and Cincinnati, Jones has led his team to conference championships.
He recruits, leads, and wins. This is a good hire in my view, and it means that, when considering the state of the rest of the conference, that the SEC is as deep as ever with regards to head coaching.
So what are your perspectives on these hires? Are they good? Bad? Is the jury still out?
*Yes, the shit the SEC does is no different than anywhere else. Honestly, it's a bit annoying to be told how "dirty" a conference when considering that the game's most recent recruiting and ethical scandals have all occurred outside of the SEC (USC, Ohio State, Penn State, and Miami). But that's an aside that's perhaps best saved for another day and time.
**I still literally have no idea why it is that people think that Jon Gruden a) wants to coach college football and b) would be good at coaching college football.