Grading the SEC’s 4 new head coaching hires

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Now that Butch Jones has been hired by Tennessee, let’s take a look at how these four coaching hires stack up against each other.

Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Grade: A-
Coaching history: Click here
The Buzz: Bret Bielema was near the top of Arkansas’ coaching board, it’s just that nobody knew he was on the board. Jeff Long pulls a shocker hiring Bielema away from Big Ten Champion Wisconsin, which has been to three straight Rose Bowls. His 68-24 record oozes winner, no matter what conference you coach in. Bielema is known for his punishing running game and physical defense, exactly what the SEC is known for. He’ll have an impact immediately at Arkansas, most notably on the defensive side of the football, where Arkansas finished 12th in the SEC this season. Remember, Arkansas is replacing Tyler Wilson, Cobi Hamilton, among others, and it will take some time for the offense to get back on track. Bielema is a proven recruiter, and he recruits Florida well, too. I really like the hire, and Jeff Long did a great job throughout the process. That’s two great hires in a row, starting with Bobby Petrino (say what you want, he won games) and now Bielema.  But could Bielema fall victim to trying to be happier than happy from Wisconsin to Arkansas?

Butch Jones, Tennessee

Grade:  B+
Coaching history: Click here
The Buzz:  Tennessee fans as a whole aren’t excited about this hire.  However, are they more bummed about the hire or the fact that three coaches in Jon Gruden, Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong turned the job down?  I would argue the latter.  Butch Jones is a proven winner at two different stops in Central Michigan and Cincinnati, with a 50-27 career record and four conference titles in six years.   The reality is that we won’t know how good of a hire this is for at least two years.  He has a major rebuilding project ahead of him, assuming the big three do enter the NFL Draft, but a bowl game next season is very realistic.  Jones goes against Tennessee tradition with a spread offense, but he’s an energetic and passionate coach who will command respect from his players and earn respect from the fans, something Derek Dooley never had in Knoxville.  However, from the front end, it seems Jones is a winner and should turn out to be a good coach and solid hire.  Jones is a way better hire than Dooley was in 2010.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Grade: B
Coaching history: Click here
The Buzz: Auburn made an unsurprising hire – but a semi-sexy one – of their one-time offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Malzahn comes back to Auburn from Arkansas State, where he compiled a 9-3 record as Sun Belt Champions. Malzahn is known for his high-scoring no huddle offense, and he’s proven he can beat Nick Saban and help win a national championship with the right quarterback. He has southern connections with recruiting, he knows the Auburn program and he now has head coaching experience. I have somewhat mixed emotions about the hire for Auburn, and I don’t love it. The Tigers went in a totally different direction than the conference is headed as a whole with pro-style offenses and power running games under center. That’s not to say he can’t win with the spread, it’s just tough to accomplish with a quarterback not named Cam Newton. Malzahn will win games, but can he win championships? Either way, the hire differentiates Auburn from Alabama.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Grade: B-
Coaching history: Click here
The Buzz: Kentucky is thrilled to have hired FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops nearly a week ago today. Winning at Kentucky is no easy task. It’s not a knock on Kentucky, it’s just the reality of the SEC. Kentucky football is just 101-146 since 1991, and they have never won more than eight games since 1985. So, his work is cut out for him. He has a strong defensive background and pedigree, as well as strong recruiting ties in Ohio. He does, however, come to Kentucky having no head coaching experience and has only coached defense. Stoops will need to make a great hire at offensive coordinator to run an exciting offense in Lexington, something that makes it difficult to prepare for in a week’s time. He’ll need to get on the recruiting trail immediately to replenish a weak defensive roster.  Overall, it was a good hire; it’s a safe hire. I just thought Kentucky would go in a different direction and hire an offensive-minded coach.

Photo Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

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