Who brought in the best new coach? We rank this fall's 6 SEC hires
The early, early recruiting period in the SEC is over.
Players still can’t sign scholarship papers until Dec. 20, but nearly half of the schools in the SEC spent the latter days of November and early ones of December trying to lure new coaches.
Now they’re done.
One school stayed in house (Ole Miss), four identified their top choices and went and got one of them (Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi State and Texas A&M), and then there was Tennessee. The Volunteers might have come up as short in trying to hire a coach as the team did in trying to win games, but all’s well that ends well.
And all six schools believe their coaching searches went well in the biggest SEC coaching turnover in recent memory.
Here’s how we rank the hires, from worst to best:
6. Ole Miss: Matt Luke
This probably reminds you of LSU’s hiring of Ed Orgeron last December. If not, it should. The circumstances aren’t identical — Luke took over before the season, Orgeron took over four games in; Luke had a cloud of NCAA investigation hanging over him; Orgeron didn’t — but what matters most is Luke, like Orgeron, performed so well in his interim tryout that he earned a job for which he was not initially a likely candidate.
Now comes the hard part. Yes, Luke did a nice job of keeping the Rebels reasonably competitive with no hope of going to a bowl and later after losing star quarterback Shea Patterson to injury. But hiring a full-time staff, recruiting and building and sustaining a competitive program over the long haul is an entirely different challenge.
Odds of Luke surviving 5 years: 20 percent. Being an Ole Miss guy helped Luke get the job, but it will do little to help him now that he’s the guy.
5. Mississippi State: Joe Moorhead
This hiring isn’t very high on the name-recognition scale, but it seems to be a solid one nonetheless. The former Penn State offensive coordinator should be able to excite the faithful right away with the quickest way to fans’ hearts — by scoring points.
But ultimately, he’s going to have to continue the recruiting success — particularly in the trenches on both sides of the ball — that Dan Mullen established.
Odds of Moorhead surviving 5 years: 40 percent. Mullen left the place better than he found it, but he also raised the bar for his successor.
4. Arkansas: Chad Morris
The Razorbacks went in a different direction, stylistically at least, than they did with the previous hire under former AD Jeff Long. Arkansas tapped Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema after the 2012 season, figuring his power running style and strong defense were what the Hogs needed to compete with Alabama and LSU, who were out-muscling their SEC rivals. The “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach didn’t work.
So now it’s the former SMU head coach and Clemson offensive coordinator who will try to make Arkansas competitive in the SEC West. He watched Dabo Swinney build a national-championship program at Clemson, but duplicating that with the Razorbacks will be more challenging.
Odds of Morris surviving 5 years: 50 percent. With a change at AD and facility upgrades under way, Morris has a chance to be at the forefront of a new era at Arkansas.
3. Tennessee: Jeremy Pruitt
For a while there it seemed like no one wanted the Tennessee job. At least not anyone who seemed capable of handling an SEC job. But, lo and behold, the Volunteers landed themselves a guy who would have looked good as the first choice. Pruitt looks great after the multiple swings and misses Tennessee had before finding him.
Pruitt isn’t Kirby Smart and he isn’t Will Muschamp. But, like them, he got an SEC head-coaching opportunity because of the job he did as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. Now, like Smart and Muschamp, he has an opportunity to prove himself as a head coach. He obviously knows what to do with the kind of defensive players that the Crimson Tide have. Can he bring those types of players to Knoxville? Who knows? But he has a good track record as a recruiter at multiple schools.
Pruitt brings respectability and an expectation of stability that was crucial after the Greg Schiano fiasco and subsequent rejections. Now it’s all about football, and he has his work cut out for him.
Odds of Pruitt surviving 5 years: 33 percent. The gap between what Tennessee is and what it was is large, and he’ll have to narrow it steadily.
2. Florida: Dan Mullen
None of these guys comes with a money-back guarantee, but Mullen comes closer than most. If he can win the way he did in Starkville — the Bulldogs were No. 1 in the country for a while not too long ago, for crying out loud — then he should be able to win bigger in Gainesville.
He’s a former Gators assistant, he’s based in one of the most talent-rich states in the country, and he isn’t in Alabama’s division. He should succeed.
Odds of Mullin surviving 5 years: 75 percent. The road to the SEC championship is smoother from the East than from the West, so he’ll be expected to get there quickly.
1. Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher
Is Fisher worth what the Aggies are paying him ($75 million over 10 years)? Probably not. But if you’re dumping a mostly successful coach (Kevin Sumlin) and want to excite the fan base and recruits, as well as get everyone else’s attention, then you go hire the biggest name attainable. That’s Fisher.
He can recruit and he can coach, so A&M should be on the rise. Can he recruit and coach well enough to compete with Alabama in the SEC West? That’s a different animal. But that would have been the challenge for anyone A&M hired, so go ahead and entrust that assignment to a guy who has won a national championship — whatever the cost.
Odds of Fisher surviving 5 years: 80 percent. His biggest challenge is trying to prove the Aggies got their money’s worth.