UK Football

Even Bear Bryant might have been fired by current SEC standards

In the unforgiving SEC coaching environment that exists in 2016, could Bear Bryant survive back-to-back seasons of 6-5 and 6-5-1 like he produced at Alabama in 1969 and 1970?
In the unforgiving SEC coaching environment that exists in 2016, could Bear Bryant survive back-to-back seasons of 6-5 and 6-5-1 like he produced at Alabama in 1969 and 1970? Associated Press

Let’s play a game of Name That Football Coach:

Coach A went almost a decade at the same school where he won almost 80 percent of his games (79.8 percent), multiple Southeastern Conference championships and at least one national championship — but then hit a rough patch where he went 19-10 in a 29-game stretch.

Coach B went almost a decade at the same school where he won almost 80 percent of his games (82.6 percent), multiple Southeastern Conference championships and at least one national championship — but then hit a rough patch where he went 12-10-1 in a 23-game stretch.

Coach A is Les Miles, who LSU fired this week.

Coach B is Bear Bryant, the most revered coach in Southern college football history. After back-to-back six-win seasons at Alabama in 1969 (6-5) and ’70 (6-5-1), Bryant righted the ship and went on to win eight of the next nine SEC titles.

Let’s go another round:

Coach A went 15 years at the same school, won 74.4 percent of his games and multiple SEC titles.

Coach B went 15 years at the same school, won 69.3 percent of his games and multiple SEC titles.

Coach A is Mark Richt, who Georgia fired after last season.

Coach B is Vince Dooley, the most revered coach in Georgia football history. Dooley’s best years (43-4-1) came in his 17th through 20th seasons as Bulldogs head man (1980-83).

In competitive sports, coaches who don’t win have always gotten fired. What’s different now in SEC football is that even coaches who have won big are in jeopardy when their programs hit a competitive lull.

“What can you say about that? I mean, it is what it is,” Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said Monday when I asked him about the state of the SEC coaching fraternity. “It goes with the territory, that we all know.”

Given the way football coaches are judged in the 21st century SEC, some of the legendary coaches in league history would have been canned had standards been the same in the past.

Venerable Mississippi coach John Vaught gave Ole Miss six SEC titles and is the “Vaught” in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Yet after going 17-3 in his first two seasons (1947-48), Vaught went 15-13-2 over the next three years.

Chances are, he would not survive such a stretch now.

However, five of his SEC titles came after that three-year slog.

Auburn’s Ralph “Shug” Jordan is the “Jordan” in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

After going 34-5-1 from 1957-60, Jordan hit a stretch of mediocrity that saw him win more than six games only one time (9-2 in 1963) in the next seven seasons.

That would have gotten a certain pink slip at Auburn now.

Back then, the school stayed with Jordan and he produced two more 10-win seasons (1972 and ’74) and two more years with nine victories (1970 and ’71).

Tennessee’s Robert Neyland has his name on Neyland Stadium.

Based on Neyland’s abundantly successful past (128-16-8 through 1946) at UT, the school did not fire “The General” after he went 5-5 in 1947 and 4-4-2 in 1948.

Neyland came back to go 11-1 in 1950 and 10-1 in ’51.

Alas, the current SEC football coaches seem victims of their own vast financial success. When a Miles ($4.3 million a year) or a Richt ($4.1 million at Georgia in 2015) is paid like a king, patience with sub-regal performance seems nil.

As big-time college sports has become overwhelmingly an entertainment vehicle, concepts of school loyalty and respect for coaches who have produced in the past seem to have gone the way of the pay phone.

Nick Saban’s dynastic reign at Alabama has raised the bar for other SEC coaches to vast heights that no one else can clear, too.

So, as Stoops says, coaching football in the SEC in the 21st century is what it is.

As a program, Georgia under Richt seemed to have plateaued a notch below the SEC elite. LSU under Miles failed to adapt to the spread-offense revolution and stagnated.

There were rationales for the removal of each coach.

Yet if the legendary SEC head coaches of the past had been held to today’s standards, we would presently know a lot of Southern football stadiums by very different names.

The Kentucky football team faces a tall task this weekend, going up against the No. 1 team in the land - Alabama. But if history repeats itself, UK could find themselves leaving Tuscaloosa with a win.

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