Alabama’s reign causes SEC foes to lose patience in coaches
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The decade-long chase to catch Alabama has caused patience to wear thin across the rest of the Southeastern Conference.
As Nick Saban and Alabama chase their sixth national title in 10 seasons , five of the SEC’s other 13 programs have new coaches. It represents the league’s highest turnover since 1946, when the SEC had six new coaches.
The new faces this year include Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher , Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead , Arkansas’ Chad Morris , Florida’s Dan Mullen and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt . Mississippi’s Matt Luke was an interim coach last year but was hired on a permanent basis after the season .
“I don’t think there’s one reason for the turnover,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “It’s just a wide range of things. I think the competitiveness in this conference with the records and success we’ve had, certainly others want to experience that same success.”
SEC Network analyst Gene Chizik believes there is one: Alabama’s supremacy. Rivals look at the Crimson Tide’s success and wonder why they can’t put together a similar run.
“Look at all the teams out there that think they should be — not beat, (but) be like — Alabama,” said Chizik, the coach of Auburn’s 2010 national championship team. “A&M thinks they should. Auburn thinks they should. LSU thinks they should. Georgia thinks they should. Florida thinks they should.
“I think that obviously the expectations have grown with salaries of coaches, and Alabama being the standard in the league has definitely put pressure on everybody to win.”
The flurry of SEC coaching changes continues a trend. Only four of the league’s 14 coaches — Saban, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops — have more than two full seasons of experience in their current positions.
The only league that has undergone more coaching turnover during that span is the American Athletic Conference. The difference is that most of the American coaches left voluntarily to take higher-profile jobs. Virtually all the SEC coaching changes have been firings, the exception coming when Florida hired Mullen away from Mississippi State.
SEC coaches understand the competitive nature of the league and how it can impact job security.
“The conference is what it is,” Stoops said. “Might as well be the AFC East.”
Fisher has the most security of the new coaches, as Texas A&M lured him away from Florida State with a 10-year contract that guarantees him $75 million . Most coaches don’t have that kind of leverage and must realize the risks that come with coaching in the SEC.
“People have set a very high standard in this league and have committed resources to being successful,” Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said. “When you’re not, you (try) something else.”
Lately, nobody has set a higher standard than Alabama.
“At this point in time, Alabama is the gold standard,” Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said. “Florida was the gold standard a few years back. Tennessee won a national championship 20 years ago. Things are going to go in cycles. Alabama’s cycle has lasted longer than most, but I think you make your decisions for what you need, not just because one program has this or that.”
Some schools have tried to replicate Saban’s success by hiring one of his former assistants .
Pruitt and Georgia’s Kirby Smart are former Alabama defensive coordinators. Fisher and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp were assistants on Saban’s LSU staffs in the early 2000s, with Muschamp also following Saban to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 2005.
Georgia’s fared the best with a former Saban assistant. The Bulldogs won the SEC title last season before losing the national championship game in overtime to Alabama .
The Saban coaching tree hasn’t been as fruitful for other SEC rivals. Florida dismissed Muschamp in 2014 and replaced him with former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who lost his job last year . Pruitt marks Tennessee’s second try with a former Saban assistant; Derek Dooley was fired in 2012.
All the recent upheaval in the coaching ranks has created an unusual dynamic in the SEC, with no coach clearly on the hot seat as the season opens.
Chizik says it’s unlikely to stay that way for long. Chizik was fired at Auburn just two years after his national championship season.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Chizik said. “As we kick off in early September, in this league I would say there are very few (SEC coaches) or none who are probably on the hot seat. That can absolutely change by the end of October.”
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AP sports writers David Brandt in Oxford, Mississippi, Gary Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, and Charles Odum in Athens, Georgia, contributed to this report.