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Why The SEC Is Falling Behind

Bill Dutch -Getty Images

A lot has changed in the SEC in just five short years.

It doesn’t seem long ago that the SEC was in the midst of winning seven consecutive BCS National Championships and dominating the college football landscape. The dynasty of Florida came and went, LSU and Auburn were able to claim titles in 2007 and 2011, and 2009 brought the beginning of the incumbent Alabama dynasty, with the Tide winning three of the final five BCS championships. 

The Playoff era brought some changes to the SEC landscape. Since the first playoff in 2014, the SEC has claimed only one of the three titles, and Alabama has been the only representative from the SEC to qualify for the playoff since its inception.

Many college football fans and experts have begun noticing a downward trend in the quality of play in the SEC. The final AP Poll of the 2016 season did show five SEC schools in the top 25, but only one in the top 10, with Alabama at #2. Since 2014, the winner of the SEC East has lost at least three games each season, which leads to the criticism of the division being called one of the worst in the Power Five conferences. 

So why has this downward trend of depth in the conference been occurring? It’s simple: the coaching in the SEC is not as good as it once was.

Let’s Rewind

Five short years ago, the SEC coaching group saw the rise of young, bright coaches such as Kevin Sumlin, Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen, and James Franklin. It also saw veterans such as Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt build on their continued successes at their respective schools. It looked like the SEC was going to reign over college football for the next decade, but this chart below will show you that’s far from the case.

Team2012 CoachReason for Departure
(Current Occupation)
2017 Coach
AlabamaNick SabanN/ANick Saban
AuburnGene ChizikFired after 2012 season
(Out of Coaching)
Gus Malzahn
ArkansasJohn L. SmithInterim
(HC at Kentucky State)
Bret Bielema
FloridaWill MuschampResigned after 2015 season
(HC at South Carolina)
Jim McElwain
GeorgiaMark RichtFired after 2015 season
(HC at Miami FL)
Kirby Smart
KentuckyJoker PhillipsFired after 2012 season
(WR Coach at Cincinnati)
Mark Stoops
LSULes MilesFired during 2016 season
(Sports broadcasting)
Ed Orgeron
Ole MissHugh FreezeFired before 2017 season
(NCAA Violations)
Matt Luke
Mississippi StateDan MullenN/ADan Mullen
MissouriGary PinkelRetired after 2015
(Remains retired)
Barry Odom
South CarolinaSteve SpurrierResigned during 2015 season
(Retired)
Will Muschamp
TennesseeDerek DooleyFired after 2012 regular season finale
(WR Coach at Dallas Cowboys)
Butch Jones
Texas A&MKevin SumlinN/AKevin Sumlin
VanderbiltJames FranklinResigned after 2013 season
(HC at Penn State)
Derek Mason

In all, 10 of the SEC’s 14 schools have had a coaching change since 2012, and long tenured coaches such as Miles, Richt, and Steve Spurrier have since departed. So what’s with all the turmoil?

Spoiled By Success

As previously mentioned, the SEC’s seven consecutive national titles were unprecedented and may never be matched again. But it could be a contributing factor in why the coaching has gone downhill. It is easy for fans and boosters to be disappointed when expectations are sky high from previous success.

Mark Richt, for example, averaged over 9 ½ wins in his 15 seasons at Georgia, but was fired for not consistently having the Bulldogs in the title discussion. Les Miles had won a championship for LSU, but after an eight-win and nine-win season, coupled with a 2-2 start the following year, Miles was fired. It’s difficult to build up a program when the margin of error is so slim, which almost certainly impacts the long-term development of these programs.

Coaches to Other Power Five Conferences

Since the 2012 season, two of the coaches listed, James Franklin and Mark Richt, have become head coaches in other Power Five conferences, Franklin at Penn State and Richt at Miami. Richt and Franklin currently have their respective programs in the top 10 with Miami at #8 and Penn State at #2. These two ex-SEC coaches, paired with former Florida coach Urban Meyer, make up three of the current top 10 teams in the country. The success of the Big Ten and ACC have had a contribution in the SEC’s fall from grace, and part of that comes from the acquisitions of top SEC coaches.

SEC Coaches on the Hot Seat

Coming into the season, there were three coaches that were either on the hot seat or very close to it: Kevin Sumlin, Bret Bielema, and Butch Jones. All three coaches were expected to contribute to the SEC’s high level of success, but have failed to do so recently. Sumlin has been able to improve his situation, as Texas A&M is sitting at 5-2 halfway through the season. But if Sumlin wants to keep his job, the Aggies cannot collapse like they have in the past two seasons.

Bielema and Jones, on the other hand, look to be on their metaphorical deathbeds. In Bielema’s case, he’s compiled an unimpressive 27-30 won-loss record and is 2-4 this season, far removed from the back-to-back 10-win seasons Arkansas experienced under Bobby Petrino. Jones has had more success overall, with a 33-24 record at Tennessee, but after back-to-back nine win seasons, the Volunteer faithful expected much more from Jones’ team. Instead, the Volunteers are 3-3 and winless in SEC play with a trip to #1 Alabama on deck. Jones’ future in Knoxville is looking grim at best.

The Future of the SEC

As for the near future of the SEC, it can be summed up by the old saying “It’s always darkest before the dawn”. Coaches such as Butch Jones, Bret Bielema, and Kevin Sumlin could be seeing their time in the conference end soon. On the flip side, coaches such as Kirby Smart at Georgia and Jim McElwain at Florida have their programs on the rise, and could very soon be ready to take a run at Nick Saban and shift the balance of power in the SEC.

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Brian Kang.

SQuiz
Which Championship team broke the SEC's streak of seven consecutive national titles?
Created 10/18/17
  1. USC
  2. Ohio State
  3. Miami
  4. Florida State

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