Grading the SEC’s 3 head coaching hires so far


Three out of four SEC teams have now hired head coaches in Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky. Tennessee is the only SEC team that hasn’t made a hire yet.

Tennessee’s decision should come within the next couple days. Charlie Strong has been the front-runner, but he may end up staying in Louisville after all.

Let’s put a grade to three hires so far:

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?

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: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports



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  • Arkansas: B. Although Bielema might look like a great hire, you can’t beat Nick Saban and Les Miles by being the same team and have the same direction. Their best will beat your better any day of the week.
    Auburn: B. Malzahn is different than Saban, but let’s see how his offense works with Kiehl Frazier or Jonathan Wallace. They’re not Manziel, Newton or Tebow. Good luck with that.
    Kentucky: C. With inferior players, Kentucky needed a high-flying offensive hire, not a defensive coach will try and build Kentucky like Florida or Georgia. It won’t work, either.

    • I mostly agree with you but I think Kentucky can still pull out a better grade. Defensive minded head coaches dominate the game. I know Kentucky doesn’t have the recruiting connections Florida, Alabama and LSU have but Kentucky isn’t limited to running a pro-style rushing offense. With the right offensive coordinator I can see them getting a little better. Maybe doing whatever Vanderbilt has done in recent years.

    • MADGators, “They’re not Manziel, Newton or Tebow.” Who is? You identified three of the most dynamic quarterbacks to play in the SEC all time. Remember Chris Todd? Under Malzahn, Todd put up numbers and a 8-5 record. While Frazier and Wallace are developing into more mature players, you must admit they are closer (in terms of skill sets) to what Gus likes to “go into battle with” than Todd and Trotter. The real questions will be answered with the assistant coaches (especially on defense) and what role Trooper Taylor plays within the program. Coming off of this past season, Auburn might anticipate 4 more victories in Year 1.

  • Arkansas: D. Bielema spent his entire career in the midwest and whined like a girl when Urban started recruiting “too hard.” Welcome to big boy football, sir.
    Auburn: F. Malzahn. HAHAHAHA. Enjoy running your Cam Newton offense without a Cam Newton in sight.
    Kentucky: C. I guess Stoops is ok. He’s a safe, boring hire.

  • “Bielema is a proven recruiter”. Really?? I checked the Rivals recruiting rankings for Wisconsin. His best class was #34 and his worst #87. I’m a Hog fan but, I just don’t see how this guy can recruit the South, or be the closer for the recruits.

    • It’s more about evaluating prospects, which is much different than what or any of the agencies do. To win at Arkansas, you have to find some diamonds in the rough, too, along with some marquee names with top talent. Bielema won championships with those so called bad recruiting classes, and he’s a proven winner. But in reference to recruiting, he’s a great recruiter and evaluator of talent. His record shows that.

      • You can check the rankings on scout as well 2013 Wis 24 Ark 41 2012 Wis 63 Ark 19 2011 Wis 38 Ark 17 2010 Wis 33 Ark 35, if your looking at the rankings of the players your an idiot it about how they adapt to the coaching and sometimes the scouts dont get it right. In 2012 Texas has the number 1 class in the nation 2011 they had the number 3 class it really looks liked that did them alot of good this season, the same can be said of Arkansas, just because you have a good recruiting class does not mean the team is going to be good. I live in Arkansas am a huge fan and I’m very happy with this hire. Last time I checked Les and Nick both grew up north of the Mason Dixon line and both of them never coached in the SEC or for a “southern school” before going to LSU.

        • Kholmes, I think it’s a great hire too. Arkansas landed a good one. Meanwhile, Tennessee has nobody.

  • Ark could be a good hire.
    Auburn- Proving they would rather crawl backwards… Malzahn will not be able to do anything there. It’s a continuation of the same failed line of thinking they have been following. With all the eyes on AU after the allegations with Newton… There will be no turn around there for some time. A complete clean up is needed at AU.

    KY- Who would take that job? Honestly. Why would any good head coach go to KY? No history, poor recruiting against the TOP teams in the nation. Plus a school that could care less about football.

  • I think Bielema will be good for Arkansas; he’s going to have to give up whining about recruiting, though. I’m not sure about Stoops — he’s not a proven coach or a brilliant up-and-coming coordinator (a la Kingsbury or Smart) so I’m a bit surprised. But he might work out and do what UK. Wants from their program. As a Georgia alumnus, I don’t care if Auburn ever wins another game. But if I were an AU fan, I’d feel cheated and wondering why the AD wasn’t fired with Chizik. All that about having a search committee and finding the right coach going forward… To hire the old OC just because he also coached Cam and won the Sun Belt? You’ve got to be kidding. Sounds like the Chizik hire from a few years ago. Looks like Auburn is about “Tennessee” their football program. Speaking of which, how about no one wanting the job in Knoxville?

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