It’s a wild ride, this 2017 coaching carousel, with candidates hopping off and on in dizzying fashion, rumors flying furiously, contracts and buyouts trending up, up and away.
By the way, does Tennessee have a coach yet? Oh well, we digress.
At his Tuesday press conference to pump up the Music City Bowl, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said he was proudly reminding recruits he has been on the same job at the same place through five seasons, with a contract that carries him to 2022. Continuity matters. In these turbulent times, stability is smart.
That’s true, but it doesn’t guarantee success, not when future opponents are busy making personnel upgrades in the coaching department. Laugh and point at Tennessee all you want, but the rest of the SEC is sticking the landing.
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Start with SEC West member Texas A&M, which normally would not effect Kentucky’s short-term outlook except for the fact the Cats travel to College Station for the very first time in 2018. There waiting with his boots on will be Jimbo Fisher.
That’s the same Jimbo who was Stoops’ old boss at Florida State before following the money ($75 million over 10 years) right out of Tallahassee to the Lone Star State. Fisher averaged more than 10 wins a season (83-23) in his eight years at FSU and won the 2013 national title. He’s a definite upgrade over the fired Kevin Sumlin.
Same goes for Florida, where athletic director Scott Stricklin axed Jim McElwain and hired Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State. Coincidentally, Stricklin, a former UK associate AD, was previously the athletic director at Mississippi State. Coincidentally, Mullen was previously the offensive coordinator at Florida.
Despite winning back-to-back SEC East titles, McElwain never stacked up to the Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer legacies in Gainesville. Meanwhile, Mullen was stacking winning seasons in Starkville, not the easiest place to succeed. With Florida’s facilities, the state’s abundance of prep talent and the new coach’s track record, Mullen should hit it out of the park.
Don’t feel too sorry for Mississippi State, however. Another AD with UK ties, former Kentucky baseball coach John Cohen, quickly hired Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to replace Mullen.
The 44-year-old Moorhead was widely considered to be one of the nation’s top assistants. After going 38-13 in four seasons as head coach at FCS member Fordham, he was lured by James Franklin to Happy Valley, where he helped the Nittany Lions to a 21-5 record the past two seasons.
Remember, as UK’s so-called permanent SEC West opponent, Mississippi State will play the Cats every year.
That’s not the case for SEC West member Arkansas, which axed AD Jeff Long and coach Bret Bielema in an effort to coax Gus Malzahn from Auburn. Having failed, the Razorbacks settled on Chad Morris, who went from two to five to seven wins in his three years at SMU.
Then there’s UK border rival Tennessee, which threw up a stop sign on John Currie’s nationwide rejection tour, fired the AD and turned the search over to Phil Fulmer. You remember Phil, the Vols’ old coach whom Big Orange Nation couldn’t wait to push into retirement in 2008.
To be sure, the program has taken a well-deserved public relations hit, especially after caving to fan pressure and reneging on its agreement to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. And yet the Tennessee search may be in a better place now than it was two weeks ago, especially if it is true Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt sits atop Fulmer’s list.
In times like these, I fall back on what I remember Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist John Adams once writing: “The only time a coaching search matters is when you hire the wrong coach.”
Not sure if John wrote that when Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin or Derek Dooley or Butch “Championship of Life” Jones, but it doesn’t really matter. Georgia is in the College Football Playoff. South Carolina won five SEC games. Missouri finished the season on a six-game win streak. Tennessee won’t be down forever. And Florida just made an A+ hire.
For Kentucky football in the SEC, it never gets any easier.
FBS coaching changes for 2018