The Southeastern Conference is — Clemson’s dismantling of Alabama in January’s CFP National Championship Game besides — the nation’s toughest college football conference. The game’s meatgrinder, where coaches with top-sirloin resumes come in and often leave as a shrink-wrapped pack of ground round.
Typically one of the biggest stories at SEC football media days, which kicks off Monday back in its ancestral home of Hoover, Alabama, after a one-year sabbatical in Atlanta, is the new blood coursing through the group of 14 who lead the league’s high-profile and highly lucrative programs. What new philosophies and schemes they have in store to try to improve the fortunes of their new schools, who typically wouldn’t be changing coaches if everything were hunky dory.
Not in 2019, though.
For the first time since 2006, which was six years before the SEC expanded from 12 to 14 teams by adding Texas A&M and Missouri, every SEC football coach returns. It’s a mighty unusual level of stability for a league traditionally as unstable as a radioactive isotope.
Hopefully, someone will come up with some fresh material from last year when they address the media to talk about how blue the sky is over their palatial football complexes, though it’s a fair bet Nick Saban will again thank the media for providing positive self-gratification for his players. But because the actors haven’t changed, chances are the script won’t be much different, either.
Part of the reason there is so much calm going into the 2019 season is there was so much upheaval in 2018. The SEC had no less than four new coaches: Chad Morris, Arkansas; Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State; Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee; Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M. Add to that mix Dan Mullen sliding over from State to Florida and Matt Luke being named permanent coach at Ole Miss after a year as interim coach in 2017.
But this is a highly volatile business, and the pressure to succeed in the SEC is intense. Not everyone will, of course. And the odds are that the 2020 SEC media days will be in Nashville, Tennessee (we will find out Monday) are much better than the likelihood that all 14 SEC coaches will be back next season.
It’s July, so the heat is already building under some seats. Starting with:
• Gus Malzahn, Auburn: Remember back in 2016 when LSU played Auburn in what looked like a loser leaves town matchup between The Visor and The Mad Hatter? LSU came up short, scoring what looked for a moment like the winning touchdown after time expired before the snap, and Miles was gone. Malzahn always looks to be riding the ragged edge of doom — four of his six Auburn teams have lost five or more games — and Alabama’s overwhelming success doesn’t help but put Malzahn’s up and down fortunes under a harsher light. It looks like the Gus bus could be packing again after this campaign, but then again, the guy has won the survivor game before.
• Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: While things are great for baseball in Nashville these days, things are always tough for football coaches. This season is no exception for Mason. Yes, his Commodores went to the Texas Bowl last season (they lost of course, it’s Vandy), leaving Mason with a 24-38 overall record and five-for-five in terms of non-winning seasons (he’s gone 6-7 with bowl losses twice). There is more patience at Vandy than any other SEC school, but it won’t last forever. Just ask former basketball coach Bryce Drew.
• Chad Morris, Arkansas: Yes, Morris is heading into just his second season and yes, he has the exceptionally heavy lifting job of overhauling the Razorbacks’ offense for the third time this decade. But hear me out. A 2-10 overall and 0-8 SEC record is dismal and disappointing no matter what year of your tenure. And Morris didn’t exactly set the world on fire in three prior seasons at SMU (14-23, one bowl appearance). Morris will likely be around again in 2020, but if the Razorbacks go winless in SEC play again there is bound to be enormous pressure.
By the way, have you wracked your brain try to remember the only SEC coach from 2006 who is still coaching in the league this season? It’s LSU’s Ed Orgeron, who was in his second season at Ole Miss before being launched after the 2007 season.
It was a traumatic experience for Coach O, but like Malzahn, the guy is certainly resilient. You have to be keep your place among the SEC football coaches. This is one tough crowd.
The class of 2006
The SEC football coaches in 2006, the last time every coach returned from the previous year. The only one still coaching in the SEC in 2019 is LSU’s Ed Orgeron, who was then at Ole Miss. Missouri and Texas A&M did not join the SEC until 2012:
LSU: Les Miles
Alabama: Mike Shula, Joe Kines (interim, bowl game)
Arkansas: Houston Nutt
Auburn: Tommy Tuberville
Florida: Urban Meyer
Georgia: Mark Richt
Kentucky: Rich Brooks
Ole Miss: Ed Orgeron
Miss. State: Sylvester Croom
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier
Tennessee: Phillip Fulmer
Vanderbilt: Bobby Johnson