Many pundits have happily proclaimed that the SEC is down this year. They point to traditional powers being down, such as Florida and Tennessee. They point to big name coaches flaming out, like what happened at Arkansas and Texas A&M. But to call this a downturn in the SEC is to ignore reality: two teams in the playoff, another in a NY6 Bowl, as well as 10 teams at .500 or better.
There were low points for the league, including LSU’s embarrassing home loss to Troy. But the SEC had three teams in contention for a playoff spot on the final weekend – unprecedented in the CFP era.
The SEC further chipped away at the ‘down year’ claims by posting 9 of the top 15 ratings of the season – proving the vitality of the league’s product. The SEC had the 2 highest rated games of the year in the Iron Bowl and the SEC Championship – both of which were up significantly from the year before. It’s hard to quantify how the league is down, exactly.
But the SEC does have work to do. To continue to grow the league, the SEC desperately needs stability among it’s head coaches. By the time the 2017 hiring season ends, 10 of the 14 schools will have hired head coaches since December 1, 2015. This year, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas A&M fired their coaches while Dan Mullen left State to head to Florida.
Perhaps stability is on the horizon. The 12 head coaches currently in place suggest a return to normalcy.
- Nick Saban – the Dean of the SEC is on very firm footing.
- Guz Malzahn – Just given a new 7-year, $49 million contract.
- Ed Orgeron – Native son who won 9 games in his first full-year.
- Jimbo Fisher – Given a 10 year contract worth $75 million.
- Matt Luke – an Ole Miss grad who will take the Rebs through their NCAA sanctions.
- Joe Moorhead – a first-year head coach who will be given time to grow into his new role.
- Kirby Smart – a UGA grad who now has earned an extension with Georgia’s first playoff appearance.
- Will Muschamp – quietly guided his team to a 14-11 record coming off 3-9 in Spurrier’s troubled last year.
- Derek Mason – Vandy’s head coach has come close to .500 the last few seasons although the 1-7 league record in 2017 wasn’t ideal.
- Mark Stoops – back to back winning seasons should allow the Wildcat coach some breathing room. A bowl win will tie UK’s best season since 1984.
- Barry Odom – a six-game winning streak to end the season helps Odom build continuity in a program that needs it.
- Dan Mullen – Mullen has proven himself as a QB developer and will be given more time than McElwain’s 3 years.
As of this morning, Tennessee and Arkansas are still searching for coaches. Both schools also fired their athletics director in conjunction with their coaching search. Arkansas hired Houston’s Hunter Yurachek earlier this week, a mediocre choice given the little he accomplished at Houston.
The coaching upheaval has transpired at the same time that the league has faced a dearth of quarterbacks, which is no coincidence. Three of the SEC’s top QBs are in NY6 bowls. Another led Mizzou to six-straight wins to end the season. And Dan Mullen parlayed his excellent work with QBs into the Florida job.
To build upon the decade of dominance, the SEC has to build stability among it’s head coaches as well as recruit and develop quarterbacks across the league. The league’s viability as the top conference is at stake but as 2017 has shown, even a wobbly SEC is still the best in the country.