Five of the seven SEC West teams have hired one coordinator since the season ended, though there were zero head coaching changes in the division for a third consecutive year.

National Signing Day always is significant, but for the 2016 season, these five hires may be just as, if not more, important. How does each of the hires grade out?


Grade: A+

Les Miles does not seem to be affected much by pressure. We’ve seen him land an excellent recruiting class after watching his job status dangle in front of the public late in the season. But he also managed to upgrade at defensive coordinator after watching fellow SEC West teams pillage his staff in back-to-back offseasons.

Aranda arguably is the best coordinator hire in the conference this offseason. Wisconsin finished eighth, 21st and fourth in yards per play during Aranda’s three seasons with the Badgers. He never had the type of talent he inherited in Baton Rouge. After a down year by LSU defensive standards, this could help the team reach 10+ wins again in 2016.


Grade: A

Kirby Smart served as Alabama defensive coordinator from 2008, Nick Saban’s second year in Tuscaloosa, to 2015. The team won four national championships in those eight seasons in large part due to Smart’s defenses. His presence allowed for continuity. Saban’s confidence in him allowed the head coach to delegate and focus his attention elsewhere. Losing Smart is significant.

But Pruitt is as seamless of a hire as could possibly exist in this situation. He’s qualified. He’s a hard-nosed defensive coordinator with experience at Florida State and Georgia. He worked for Saban from 2007 to 2012, so the two are familiar with each other and know what to expect. He played for Alabama (1995-96), was born in the state and has deep connections to its high schools, including powerhouse Hoover. Don’t expect any drop-off with the person responsible for overseeing the defense as one of the team’s main recruiting cogs.


Grade: B

A college football offensive assistant since the early 1980s, Mazzone is a veteran hand in his fourth tour of the SEC. He’s not going to overwhelm anyone with a newfangled offense or become a hot candidate for a head coaching job elsewhere. But perhaps, in conjunction with the departures of Jake Spavital and Dave Christensen, he’s exactly what the team’s offensive staff needs as the Aggies grapple with cultural issues.

How well Mazzone can incorporate transfer quarterback Trevor Knight and get the entire staff and all the players moving in the same direction could dictate whether coach Kevin Sumlin keeps his job beyond the 2016 season. He’s previously worked for Tommy Tuberville and Ed Orgeron. He exhibits more balance than a typical Air Raid offense does. He likes to rely on tempo and his playbook shades toward the simplistic side.

In other words, he seems like a good fit for what Texas A&M needs in 2016. The Aggies don’t need him to be a superstar, but to simply create some cohesion and install an offense that the new and old parts can pick up quickly, allowing their natural talent to work.


Grade: C+

All due respect to the man, but this is a downgrade. Although he’s a strong recruiter, teaching isn’t Steele’s strong suit, historically. He didn’t fare very well at Baylor as a head coach, although that was before the Bears were a strong program. And he mostly worked behind Nick Saban and Kirby Smart at Alabama outside of recruiting season, his title changing annually, with a four-year detour to Clemson mixed in. It’s not that Steele can’t coach, but the Tigers just watched one of the most established and successful defensive coordinators in the country walk on them.

Auburn will continue to rake in defensive talent, as Wednesday’s National Signing Day proved. Will player development lag? LSU’s defense took a significant step backward when Steele replaced John Chavis in 2015. Steele’s previous stop as a coordinator at Clemson didn’t end so well. His multiple schemes tend to be complex, especially for a college team. The feeling here is that he’s a step back from Will Muschamp, even though the latter didn’t exactly make a giant impact on the unit in 2015.


Grade: C+

Sirmon represents the team’s third defensive coordinator in three seasons. You can be forgiven if you haven’t heard his name prior to this — unless you live in the state of Tennessee, where he played linebacker for the Titans in the NFL (2000-06) and coached linebackers for the Vols (2010-11).

Most recently, Sirmon served as associate defensive head coach, linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator for Steve Sarkisian at USC. He called defensive plays in the Trojans’ bowl loss to Wisconsin. A relative unknown, he’s the third former NFL player on Mississippi State’s current staff. He got the job ahead of names like Paul Rhoades and Ed Orgeron.

Interestingly, Terrell Buckley — hired from Louisville to coach the secondary — inherited the vacant recruiting coordinator job, not Sirmon, despite his success in that area at USC. It remains to be seen how he’ll fare as an SEC coordinator, but at least he represents an opportunity at stability.