#ItMightMeanTooMuch: SEC coach poaching season is all the rage (literally)
If December is the coaching carousel earthquake, January is the aftershock.
The aftershock comes at a time when you think you’re ready to resume life as it was. Your team makes its offseason plans, figures out the recruiting and personnel issues that need to be addressed and tries to build the program into a better version of itself.
The SEC survived the December coaching carousel earthquakes. Nobody left for bigger or better jobs, and nobody made lateral moves outside the conference.
But those aftershocks? They kicked off the offseason with a bang.
January has been coach poaching season in the SEC. The moves, some bigger than others, have fan bases riled up for a variety of reasons. And yeah, it happens every year. Last year, it actually happened on a bigger scale. With Dan Mullen leaving Mississippi State to take over at Florida and Jeremy Pruitt leaving Nick Saban’s defense to take over at Tennessee, the intra-conference coach poaching was out in full force.
It just feels like it has been more prevalent this year.
The ball got rolling with that when Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney left Athens to take the same position at Tennessee. Go figure that the Vols started that trend when Pruitt controversially waited until after the Early Signing Period to fill his top assistant. And of course, Chaney became the highest-paid offensive coordinator in the country.
How did Georgia fans feel about that? Well, that depends who you ask. If the internet is any indication, they weren’t sad to watch their offensive coordinator leave after producing consecutive top-20 scoring units. Chaney got paid to go back to Knoxville, and the feeling seemed to be that if Georgia really wanted to keep him, it would have shelled out the extra $600,000 per year to keep him around.
A theme of this whole coach poaching discussion has been the verb “steal.” Like, when we posted this tweet linking to a story about how “stealing” Chaney was a major coup for Tennessee, Georgia fans flooded our mentions with their opinions on that (clink on the tweet and you’ll see all of those responses, some of which were NSFW):
Stealing Jim Chaney from Georgia was a major coup for Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee https://t.co/dQzOpoxn3z
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) January 9, 2019
Whether Tennessee “stole” Chaney or not, we can agree that he would have still been working as Georgia’s offensive coordinator if not for Pruitt luring him to Knoxville. Fair?
Whatever the case, Chaney will continue to fuel the fire between Georgia and Tennessee fans because why wouldn’t it?
That was far from the only SEC coach poaching. Georgia actually responded by doing a little poaching of its own.
Over the weekend, Kirby Smart went out and hired Florida cornerbacks coach Charlton Warren to become Georgia’s new defensive backs coach. That, however, sparked some feuding between Georgia and Florida fans because of the timing of the move.
Four-star cornerback Kaiir Elam was in Athens visiting UGA when the announcement was made. Why was that significant? Only seven days earlier Warren had been recruiting Elam to UF during an official visit to Florida. Now, it looks like it’ll be a heated race to the finish to land Elam, who is the nephew of former Florida All-American Matt Elam.
Not that this rivalry needed any juice, but both fan bases had some thoughts on that move. This, here from a Georgia fan on the internet, is a crying Jordan on a Gator:
That wasn’t the only coach on Mullen’s staff who left for an SEC job. Sal Sunseri, who coached Florida’s defensive line, reportedly agreed to join Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama.
Once again, the verb “steal” was not universally accepted:
Speaking of Saban, we knew that he was going to have to do some poaching when he watched half his on-field staff leave within a week and a half after the season ended. Nobody dealt with more aftershocks than Alabama, which meant Saban wasn’t going to worry about hurt feelings to fill his staff. He didn’t even leave the division to do that.
Mississippi State running backs coach Charles Huff was hired to take that position and reportedly serve as Alabama’s co-offensive coordinator. Huff spent a year on Joe Moorhead’s staff, but perhaps more notably, he was the running backs coach at Penn State when Saquon Barkley took the college football world by storm.
Saban, though, did appear to hurt some feelings. MSU running back Kylin Hill fired off this tweet after reports of Huff’s departure surfaced:
I get that it’s a bummer, but maybe just don’t get too close to assistant coaches? I don’t know. It seems like a bad idea in this age of coach poaching.
Another bad idea? Comparing one’s credentials for a possible 7-figure job to a Little League coach:
Yeah, the aftershocks do weird things to people.
There was plenty more coach poaching in the SEC. Saban reportedly stole/lured/hired Tennessee special teams coach Charles Kelly while Arkansas defensive line coach John Scott Jr. left to take a job on Will Muschamp’s staff at South Carolina.
By the time this is published, there will probably be more intra-conference hires made. None will be quite as high-profile as Chaney’s move to Tennessee, but they’ll probably elicit some sort of negative reaction from the scorned fans.
The thing that gets overlooked by people during this whole process — myself included — is that coaches are just doing what the rest of us capitalist Americans are. That is, trying to make the best lives possible for our families and perhaps move up in the field that we’ve spent so much time working in. And if a move is to take the same position elsewhere, it could be for stability reasons.
Is it awkward when these moves are made within the conference? Sure. Depending on the surrounding circumstances, they can be super awkward. It’s a breakup. Even worse, it’s your team’s coach saying he’s got a new spouse that you know and probably root against.
We tend to have this belief that all coaches are liars. The used car salesman comparison gets thrown around — though it shouldn’t — whenever a coach makes a surprise exit. They say they’re all in with a program and the next week, they’ve accepted a job elsewhere. It’s inevitable.
Can some handle it better? Sure. But an assistant coach isn’t going to tell a recruit, “hey, I actually might take that job at Georgia next week, so I’m gonna have to find someone else who can direct you when you get on campus here.” That type of transparency would probably create even more chaos. We’d crush them if they weren’t all in with the program.
As coach poaching in the SEC increases, so will animosity between fans. They’ll continue to argue over whether a coach was “stolen” and decide whether they made the right move by leaving.
Just do yourself a favor, SEC fan. Brace for the aftershocks.