The coaching slots have been filled. Four SEC football programs have new head football coaches. Each represents the start of a new era for their respective programs. A new head coach brings optimism to fans; sometimes blind optimism.
The reality is that winning in the SEC is hard. Winning in the SEC means beating somebody else. You win. Somebody else loses. When Kentucky or Tennessee win, it means teams like Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia have to lose. When Arkansas and Auburn win, it means teams like Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M have to lose. And that’s precisely the problem.
College football is not like the NFL where you have built-in mechanisms like salary caps and the draft to ensure continuous parity. Instead, success in college football begets more success. And losing often begets more losing.
Consider the top linebacker recruit in the country. Reuben Foster was so committed to Auburn that he even got a grotesque AU logo tattooed on his arm. Well, the instability of the program and firing of the coaching staff was enough to have him decommit from Auburn last week. Programs like LSU and Georgia are looking to pounce.
18-year old athletes want to play for a winner. Winning a championship not only gives you increased exposure but an increased draw for young athletes wanting to shine on the big stage in college.
Starting over with a new coach and rebuilding a program brings enormous challenges. Convincing recruits to stay committed to their program, keeping draft eligible talent to stay another year, implementing new schemes… a new coach will work around the clock to first bring stability, then bring elements of success to the program. Ultimately, they need to book some key wins against SEC foes – something most of their predecessors were not able to do. In this zero sum game known as SEC football, you either go beat somebody or you eventually lose your job.
It’s a tall task and a reminder of how important it is to get the right guy. Fan bases may look to Will Muschamp as an example of a guy who was able to rebuild a down-and-out Florida program and get to an 11-1 record and BCS berth in just his second season – surpassing all expectations.
New coaches are granted time to rebuild. They aren’t expected to win the conference in year one, but they are expected to demonstrate and show evidence of being on the path towards winning the conference. Evidence might come in early in the form of recruiting or signs of a changing culture.
Eventually your grace period runs out though, and the only thing that matters becomes wins. Muschamp essentially crossed over from having an unknown future status in Gainesville to a solidified future with big wins over Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State during the 2012 season. Such a season doesn’t necessarily have to come in year two, but some of these wins become necessary by year three.
The reality is that we really won’t know whether Butch Jones will be more like a Derek Dooley story or a Will Muschamp story for a year or two. We do know that it’s very unlikely that all of the recently hired coaches will still be coaching at their respective programs 4 or 5 years from now. The zero sum nature of the SEC drives the turnover at the head coaching position. No matter what is said at press conferences, not every team can have a winning record in-conference.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports