All That and a Bag of Mail: Ranking the 2012 SEC Coaching Hires
Okay, we have four new coaches hired in the SEC. Just in time for the Friday mailbag. It's perfect timing!
Y'all have deluged us with questions.
So I'm not going to spend any time with an elaborate prelude, y'all know what this is, it's the mailbag.
Let's roll live from Philadelphia for Army-Navy.
A billion of you on Twitter:
"Clay, what's your take on Butch Jones to UT?"
First, this isn't a press conference homerun.
But there haven't been very many homeruns hit in SEC coaching hires over the past twenty years. Nick Saban was a homerun to Alabama. Steve Spurrier was a homerun to South Carolina.
That's pretty much it.
Now, there have been a lot of good SEC coaches hired over that timeframe, but most of them took a while to develop.
Indeed, look at the resumes of the guys who have won SEC titles in a conference title game era.
Gene Stallings -- Went 27-45 at Texas A&M before coaching the NFL's Cardinals to four straight losing seasons. Stallings was fired with five games remaining in the Cardinals season before being hired at Alabama.
Steve Spurrier -- Won an ACC title at Duke before resurrecting the Florida Gator program. He was a big time hire when the Gators got him home, probably a triple.
Phil Fulmer -- Tennessee's offensive coordinator, had been an interim coach for four games in the 1992 season.
Mike DuBose -- Yes, this really happened. In 1997 Bama promoted their defensive line coach to the top job. Can you imagine if this happened today at an SEC school? What would the Bama fan Twitter reaction to this be like?
Nick Saban at LSU -- What did Saban's resume look like before he was hired by LSU? He was 43-26-1 at Toledo and Michigan State. Saban was far from a homerun hire for LSU.
Mark Richt -- Richt had never coached a game before. He was the offensive coordinator at Florida State.
Les Miles -- Miles was 28-21 at Oklahoma State, 16-16 in the Big 12, and had never won more than nine games in a season. LSU fans were willing to kill him by the second game of his tenure.
Tommy Tuberville -- He was 25-20 at Ole Miss, just 12-20 in conference.
Urban Meyer -- He was 39-8 and coming off a 12-0 season at Utah. Meyer is close to a homerun, but remember there were real doubts about whether or not his spread offense would work against SEC defenses. I'd call Meyer a triple. He was the first really proven head coach to be hired and go on to win an SEC title.
Nick Saban at Alabama -- The first homerun hire. No one was surprised when Saban won his first SEC title in 2009.
It's clear that DuBose and Chizik are the clear outliers among this group of men to win SEC titles.
So what does the title winning data show us? First, just 11 coaches have won SEC titles in the 21 year history of the SEC title game.
Only Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Urban Meyer had even won a conference title anywhere before they were hired. (Saban hadn't won a title when LSU hired him. His title when Alabama hired him was the two he won at LSU).
Of these 11 coaches, just six men have won mutliple SEC titles.
Other than Nick Saban, and maybe Urban Meyer, could you have reliably predicted who would succeed here based on their resumes when they were hired? I don't think so. (You could maybe predict that any hire at a top six SEC program was more likely to win a title than any hire at a bottom six program).
I need to do a larger study of all SEC coaching hires, but my point is this -- it's pretty hard to predict which coaches will win SEC titles based on their prior resumes.
You just don't know.
Plugging Butch Jones into this list, he's won or tied for his conference title four times in six years and has a 50-27 career coaching record. His resume is certainly in the top half, right? (Clearly, so is Bret Bielema's.)
Now, my one red flag here would be if you have a losing record as a head coach. When UT hired Derek Dooley and he was 17-20 in the WAC anyone with half a brain thought, "Wait, this guy couldn't win over half his games in the WAC and we expect him to win big in the SEC?" It shouldn't have been, and wasn't, that surprising that Dooley did worse in the SEC than he did in the WAC.
That was a disastrous hire from the start.
But Butch Jones is not Derek Dooley. (Although if Jones tanks at UT then the loss to Derek Dooley in 2011 will look like the perfect sign that Jones was in over his head when he was hired).
I have no idea whether Butch Jones will pan out or not, but I do know he's got the best entering resume of any coach UT has hired since Johnny Majors.
He's not a homerun hire like UT fans wanted, but there's only been one or two homerun hire since the SEC went to a title game.
(And by the way, can we talk more about DuBose getting promoted from defensive line coach to head coach at Alabama? How the hell did that happen just 14 years ago?)
Can you imagine the LSU fan Twitter response when Les Miles was hired to replace Nick Saban? When Georgia fans picked an unknown coordinator to take over their program?
Both those men have turned out pretty well.
Now that I've said there's pretty much no way to know which coaching hires will pan out at the time fo their hires -- on to your next question.
Tons of you on Twitter
"Rank the SEC coaching hires:"
Can I say that I like them all? Is that allowed?
Because I can make a case for why all will succeed.
But here are my rankings:
1. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Jeff Long may just be the best athletic director in the country.
I love what he does, he deploys the Travis dump truck theory and just keeps moving along even if people reject the job. Chris Petersen, Gary Patterson, Mike Gundy, Les Miles, James Franklin all of them 100% said no to big offers for the Arkansas job. Lots of other coaches declined to even interview and I'm not even counting those guys here.
But Long just keeps chugging along until he gets his man.
And if Long doesn't get Bielema I have no idea who his next guy would have been, but I admire the fearlessness.
Long's got the ninth best job in the SEC, and Bielema is the best hire he's made yet.
Yes, I have legit questions about Bielema -- such as can you really beat Bama or LSU playing the same style game as them with inferior players, can Bielema really compete with big time recruiters with SEC ties when he complained about Big Ten recruiting being too ungentlemanly -- but those are secondary for right now.
It's hard to bet against a guy who outkicked his coverage as much as Bielema did. I mean, the guy met his smoking hot wife at a Vegas blackjack table. That's closing skills.
He's 68-24 in a BCS job.
Arkansas has never won an SEC title and is the fifth best job in its own division, but I think Bielema will win there. Not at Petrino levels, but better than Houston Nutt levels.
So I think he's the best hire.
2. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Look, I love Malzahn.
I was tempted to put him number one.
I know Auburn fans are disappointed that they couldn't make a run at a bigger name, but I think Malzahn will win big at Auburn. Of course you're talking about the same guy who said two years ago when Malzahn accepted the Vandy job, "Auburn should fire Gene Chizik and promote Gus Malzahn instead."
I felt that strongly about him.
Auburn fans were furious at me for saying that back then, but I was right and could be right again.
I think there's a real possibility that Gus is at Auburn for the next ten years and wins an SEC title or two.
He'll be great on the offensive side of the ball. When I saw what the guy did with Chris Todd at quarterback in his first year as Auburn's offensive coordinator, I was sold forever.
The guy flat out gets it done.
3. Butch Jones, Tennessee
You can't spell buttchug without Butch.
I have more issues with Tennessee's coaching list than I do with UT hiring Butch Jones.
Here was my coaching list if I'd been AD:
1. James Franklin
2. Bobby Petrino
3. Charlie Strong
4. Dan Mullen
Of these four men UT only interviewed Strong.
Strong's resume is better than Jones's based on his tenure at South Carolina and Florida, but Jones has actually beaten him head-to-head two out of three years. The only loss came this year in overtime. I Tweeted that UT paying Charlie Strong $4 million a year was ridiculous.
As I said above, Jones has a better resume than any UT coach since Johnny Majors.
But do I feel like it would be a pretty big upset for him to win an SEC title at Tennessee?
Tennessee was the best job available and got the third best coach in the SEC in my opinion. (I've already told you that ranking coaches on the day they're hired is fraught with peril, but that's my position today).
4. Mark Stoops
There just isn't any data that Stoops will be successful at Kentucky.
One thing you'll note from the list of SEC title winning coaches, only six schools are represented as winners.
If Stoops wins at Kentucky, he'll be the first coach to leave for a better job. If he doesn't win then Kentucky will be back to chasing another hire.
He's not a bad hire, but no one will ever win big at Kentucky.
ESPN's Scott Van Pelt hops in the mailbag this week with this question:
"Was the Vol board that wished for me to die by elephant rape after I made fun (of their reaction to hiring Butch Jones) a 5 yard incidental or 15 yard facemask?"
You think that's bad, you should see what they say about me!
I'm going with a five yard incidental.
Here's why, it would be a pretty big upset for a person to be raped by an elephant. I mean, it's probable that in all of recorded human history this has never happened. (Insert your Catherine the Great horse jokes here).
So this is clear hyperbole. Even if none of the people writing this on the message board actually know what hyperbole is.
They weren't actually rooting for you to be raped by an elephant.
Now, if, for instance, they'd said, I hope Scott Van Pelt gets teabagged by a Bama fan while pouring herbicide down his mouth, that would be a fifteen yard personal foul facemask.
Because then they're rooting for someething that might happen to really happen.
I can take pretty much any insult, but during the UT-Florida game this year a UT fan Tweeted that he hoped I along with my two kids and my wife died in a car accident on the drive back to Nashville. He Tweeted this because I'd picked UT to cover against Florida.
Any insult that involves minor kids is pretty much off the board for me. That's just beyond the pale.
I've said before that anonymous message board posters are the worst people on the planet and this remains true. I can't tell you how many times people send me message board posts where people say they will kill me, beat me up, punch me in the face if they ever see me.
Then, what happens?
I've never had a single person ever say a single thing negative to my face.
So let's start this cliche rolling -- "If you anonymously post trash on message boards, then your penis doesn't work."
This is pretty much 100% true.
I don't believe in anonymous speech on the Internet. That's why we have Facebook commenting allowed. I don't really care what you guys say down there -- honestly, most of the time I'm too busy to read it -- but you have the right to say whatever you want if it's under your own name.
So I'm going with the five yard incidental on Van Pelt being raped by an elephant.
A billion Arkansas fans on Twitter:
"Hey, gay boy! Doesn't hiring a good coach prove that we're better than the ninth best job in the SEC?"
It just proves that you hired a good coach and have a good athletic director.
I think Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long had a much better list than Tennessee's Dave Hart did. I would trade AD's with Arkansas in a heartbeat. In fact, if Jeff Long was at UT, I think the Vols would have done much better than Butch Jones.
I firmly believe that.
But you're still the ninth best job in the SEC, fifth best in your own division.
Here's my ranking of the top SEC jobs. (You can also check out my rankings of the top 25 jobs in college football here.)
5. Texas A&M
8. South Carolina
11. Ole Miss
13. Mississippi State
You can argue about whether or not these jobs are correct within a spot or two, but that's about it.
Most fans aren't objective, I am.
Being a good job doesn't mean you only make good hires -- hell, just in the past ten years my number one job, Florida, hired Ron Zook and my number two job, Alabama, hired Mike Shula -- but it does mean that over time you have substantial advantages over other programs.
Also, it's important to remember, this is an objective ranking. For instance, every coach has their own ranking of dream jobs. Believe it or not there is someone out there who considers Mississippi State their dream job. (FYI, that person is not Dan Mullen).
But this is an objective and fair list that most who have spent time working in or covering the SEC would largely agree with.
Every team in my top half except for Texas A&M has won an SEC title in the past twenty-one years. I think A&M will win an SEC title in the next five years. All of the top jobs have pretty good recruiting bases in state except for Tennessee. But, and this is where people get lazy, draw a circle around UT and check out what is within 240 miles of campus. You hit Charlotte, Nashville, Atlanta, and all sort of fertile football regions in South Carolina, Virginia, and North Carolina all within a three hour drive of campus.
All of these areas are rapidly growing, meaning the pool of potential football players is growing rapidly.
If the state of Tennessee was shaped like West Virginia, instead of long and slim like it is, people would talk about UT as being in one of the most fertile recruiting regions in the country.
Okay, boys and girls, you can listen to what should be a wild 3HL today from Philadelphia for Army-Navy.
I'm sure you'll all 100% agree with everything I've written.
Just please don't find any elephants to rape me.