It’s been 13 years since the SEC stayed this calm.
There were no surprising firings, no offseason scandals and no inevitable departures. The offseason headlines that all but defined the SEC in the 13 years that followed were nowhere to be found from the end of 2005 to the start of 2006.
What happened in the next 13 years was anything but calm. There was at least 1 new coach in the conference every season that followed the outlier that was 2006. Not including interim coaches, here was the breakdown of head coaches changes in the SEC from 2006-19:
- Alabama: 1
- Auburn: 2
- Arkansas: 3
- Florida: 3
- Georgia: 1
- Kentucky: 2
- LSU: 1
- MSU: 2
- Mizzou (from 2012 on): 1
- Ole Miss: 3
- South Carolina: 1
- Tennessee: 4
- Texas A&M (from 2012 on): 2
- Vanderbilt: 3
That’s 29 head coaching changes in the SEC since the 2006 season started. Basically, it’s an average of more than 2 changes per team during that stretch, which equals 3 different head coaches at each school over the course of those 13 years. That’s also an average of just north of 2 coaching moves made per offseason in the SEC.
So why is this significant now?
Well, a couple reasons. Barring anything of Hugh Freeze-like craziness, the SEC will enter 2019 without a new coach for the first time since 2006. That, you might already know.
What you might not know is that what followed that quiet post-2005 offseason yielded arguably the most impressive stretch we’ve ever seen from a conference in the modern era of college football.
And call me crazy, but there are parallels galore between then and now.
Before you catch me saying that the SEC is about to embark on a decade of unprecedented dominance again, let’s pump the breaks. Clemson is built to last in a way that USC and Texas weren’t under their respective head coaches following the thrilling end to the 2005 season.
That’s why it seems all but impossible that the SEC claims the next 7 national championships like it did from 2006-12. In case you forgot, 2 SEC teams (Florida and LSU) got their titles before Nick Saban got his first at Alabama. Including Auburn in 2010, 1/3 of the conference won a national title from 2006-12. That, in all likelihood, ain’t happening again.
But go back to why the post-2005 offseason didn’t have any coaching turnover in the first place. Several SEC teams had reason to believe they were in position to win a title with a relatively new coach:
(I realize that Shula eventually gave way to Saban and that Auburn won its national title with Gene Chizik.)
Five SEC teams finished in the top 15 in 2005. Sound familiar? It should because that’s exactly what happened in 2018. It was actually 6 SEC teams in the top 16 if you want to include Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M squad.
Speaking of Fisher, he’s a key part of one of the 2006/2019 parallels. Look at Fisher entering Year 2 at A&M compared to Urban Meyer entering Year 2 at Florida:
Interesting, isn’t it? Obviously Meyer didn’t have to deal with Saban in his Year 2 like Fisher will have to, but the point is that we don’t see a ceiling yet.
Want another 2006/2019 comp? Sure. Stay with me on this one, but Les Miles and Kirby Smart had more similarities at that stage in their careers — an important caveat to this point — than people probably realize.
Miles and Meyer of course each went on to win a national title in the 2 seasons after the SEC’s quiet post-2005 offseason. Will Smart and Fisher do that? I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but obviously the Alabama-Clemson roadblock is still standing taller than ever.
But given how down the rest of the ACC is, how Ohio State is entering its first year of the post-Meyer era, how completely dreadful the Pac-12 has been and how Oklahoma couldn’t win its semifinal matchup against either SEC team with either of its Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks, the time might be right for another SEC run.
It doesn’t have to be 7 consecutive national titles from 4 teams to be considered “a run.” Maybe 3 SEC teams win national titles in the next 5 years. Perhaps this is all setting up for Saban, Fisher and Smart to each win a national championship by the middle of the 2020s decade. Shoot, maybe it’s Dan Mullen at Florida who ends up doing his best Meyer imitation and he stuns everyone in Year 2.
We don’t know the future and no 2 programs are the same. But the past suggests that when the SEC has such a quiet offseason on the coaching front, it’s usually for a good reason. Five SEC teams won at least 9 games in 2005, and 6 SEC teams accomplished that feat in 2018.
In 2018, 9 of the 14 SEC teams won at least 8 games. That’s 64% of the conference. Believe it or not, the SEC at least hit that mark in in 2006, 2007, 2013, 2015. Yet for one reason or another, there was at least 1 new coach the following season.
This year is already different. Perhaps like 2006, the SEC is about to embark on a new era of success. For all we know, this offseason will serve as the calm before the storm.
And once again, soon it’ll be raining national titles for the SEC.