During a Jumbo Package last week, a discussion broke out about Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart taking over for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. PhiladelphiaBammer made a comment which made me think about coaches who got their first head coaching job as the head of an SEC team:
Would you rather make a little more now
and submarine your career at a crap school or take a pay cut now, succeed, and get a better job down the road where you can make $3-4M a year. Look at Muschamp vs. McElwain. Muschamp failed at his first job and now has to go back to being a DC. McElwain took a lesser job and succeeded and is now rolling. The key is to pick where you can succeed.
After a little interwebz surfing (do the kids still say that?), I found a December 2010 article on ESPN.com. Since I am in a thieving mood, I am posting most of it here with my updates behind an "x". The coaching records may not be up to date:
How much of a gamble did Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley take in hiring a guy with no previous head coaching experience?
It might be that Will Muschamp isn’t a gamble at all, but here’s a look at how those head coaches in the SEC have fared the past decade after coming into the league as a first-time head coach in the college game:
- Robbie Caldwell, Vanderbilt: 2-10 (Agreed to step aside following this season at Vanderbilt. Was promoted to head coach afterretired in July). x - Back to assisting, has not gotten another HC job or offer.
- Joker Phillips, Kentucky: 6-6 (Just completed his first regular season at Kentucky. Has the Wildcats in their fifth straight bowl game). x - Three straight losing seasons and he is back to assisting. He has not gotten another HC job or offer.
- Lane Kiffin, Tennessee: 7-6 (Replaced Phillip Fulmer and coached for one season at Tennessee in 2009 before taking the Southern California head coaching job). x - Actually, he coached the Oakland Raiders for two season before Tennessee. I am not sure why ESPN's Chris Low included him on this list.
- Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: 13-11 (Has the Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl in his second season at Mississippi State, which won eight regular-season games this year for the first time since 1999). x - What Mullen does in Starkville seems to be good enough for the MSU fan base. As of this writing, he is 52–33, 24–28 SEC, 3-2 in bowls with no SEC West titles.
- Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss: 10-25 (Coached three seasons at Ole Miss from 2005-07, never winning more than four games in a season. Was 3-21 in SEC play). x - Became interim coach at SoCal after Kiffin left, pouted for a year when he did not get the job full-time and is back at being an assistant. Has not gotten another HC job or offer.
- Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State: 31-38 (Led the Bulldogs to a Liberty Bowl victory in 2007, but was forced out following that next season, his fifth at Mississippi State, when the Bulldogs finished 4-8). x - Back to assisting, has not gotten another HC job or offer.
- Mike Shula, Alabama: 26-24 (Was fired after four seasons. His best season was his next to last in 2005 when the Crimson Tide finished 10-2. Lost all four years to Auburn). x - Back to assisting, has not gotten another HC job or offer.
- Ron Zook, Florida: 23-14 (Was fired during the middle of his third season in 2004 following a loss to Mississippi State. Coached the remainder of the regular season and then stepped away. Lost both bowl games he coached in and never took the Gators to thegame. Now the head coach at Illinois. x - Fired from Illinois in 2011 with a 34-51 record. Back to assisting, has not gotten another HC job or offer.
- Guy Morriss, Kentucky: 9-14 (Took over for Hal Mumme at Kentucky after a recruiting scandal forced Mumme to resign. Coached two seasons at Kentucky and left to take the Baylor head coaching job following the 2002 season. The Wildcats were 7-5 that year. Morriss was fired at Baylor following the 2007 season. x - 18-40 at Baylor, fired, 10-31 at Texas A&M-Commerce, forced to resign, currently an offensive line coach at a Kentucky high school.
- Mark Richt, Georgia: 96-33 (Dean of SEC head coaches at the same school. Just completed his 10th regular season at Georgia. Has won two SEC championships, the last one in 2005, and has taken the Bulldogs to bowl games every season he’s been the coach. Richt is 14-11 in his past two seasons. x - Since the above notes were posted, he is 45-16 (28-9 SEC) and 2-2 in bowl games, no BCS Bowls. His last SEC championships is still 2005.
Since that article was posted in December 2010, there have been a few more first-timers get their feet wet in the shark-infested waters of the SEC with eerily similar results:
- Will Muschamp, Florida: 28–21; 17-15 SEC - Fired after four seasons.
- Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: 6-13; 1-11 - Second year in Nashville.
- Mark Stoops, Kentucky: 11–20; 4–17 - Third season in Hoopsville.
- Gus Malzahn had one season at Arkansas State before being hired at Auburn.
- Hugh Freeze coached Lambuth University from 2008 to 2009 and Arkansas State in 2011.
Now, I'm no big city lawyer but it seems to me that the better path might be to follow the Jim McElwain strategy: take a mid-level HC job, succeed there, and wait for the offers to roll in. With the exception of Mark Richt and the low expectations in Starkville, coaches who get their first head job in the SEC don't just fail but completely crash and burn.
Personally, I am not sure why Kirby Smart has hung around T-town as long as he has (nine seasons). Some possibilities: He hopes to be heir to the Nick Saban or Mark Richt throne; He is happy making $1.5 million being a defensive coordinator (Exhibit A: John Chavis); He is waiting for that perfect mid-level job (Memphis might be open soon).
Could this be the year that Smart makes a move?