So now that we know where SEC coaches come from and how a new hire impacts recruiting, let’s take a look at how the quality of teams are affected by the impact of a new hire. With the understanding that schools make new hires because their team was probably terrible — or at least not meeting expectations, right Barry? — most fans of the sport would probably think that the impact would be positive immediately, or at least better in to Year 2. Let’s see if that’s actually the case! I’ll be using the same sample as I did for recruiting, the 13 Power 5 programs that made a new coaching hire at the end of the 2017/beginning of 2018.
Arizona Wildcats - Kevin Sumlin
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 3.2 - 55th
2017 SP+ Ranking: 3.7 - 59th
2018 SP+ Ranking: 3.6 - 58th
2019 SP+ Ranking: -6.0 - 97th
I’m honestly surprised Arizona is going to keep Kevin Sumlin. Recruiting has dropped off and team quality has really taken a nose dive this year. Even with worse recruiting in Year One the product on the field was a little better than 2017 but falling to 97th is hard to defend.
Arizona State Sun Devils - Herm Edwards
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 5.9 - 38th
2017 SP+ Ranking: 1.0 - 68th
2018 SP+ Ranking: 5.0 - 52nd
2019 SP+ Ranking: 7.0 - 41st
I guess Herm Edwards should have been coaching in the college ranks all along! Recruiting has improved and he’s steadily improved the quality of the team in every year he’s been in charge. The win/loss record hasn’t reflected this improvement yet but you could possibly be looking at a 10-win team next year.
Arkansas Razorbacks - Chad Morris
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 6.9 - 31st
2017 SP+ Ranking: 2.1 - 63rd
2018 SP+ Ranking: 4.5 - 53rd
2019 SP+ Ranking: -9.7 - 104th
You saw the recruiting improvement that Morris and his staff had, but this shows why he and his staff were canned. 104th is the worst ranked Arkansas in the SP+ era and the worst ranked SEC team ever in the SP+ era.
Florida Gators - Dan Mullen
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 8.9 - 28th
2017 SP+ Ranking: 10.1 - 34th
2018 SP+ Ranking: 23.0 - 9th
2019 SP+ Ranking: 23.9 - 7th
The first year under Dan Mullen saw a huge improvement in quality, and this year, he improved even more. Blue blood programs tend to need a simply good hire to start thriving again and that’s certainly what they got with the Mullen-regime.
Florida State Seminoles - Willie Taggart
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 17.0 - 5th
2017 SP+ Ranking: 22.8 - 9th
2018 SP+ Ranking: 1.4 - 71st
2019 SP+ Ranking: 2.2 - 57th
Recruiting slumped in Taggart’s first year and the product on the field did as well. Even though everyone understood that there was improvement in Year Two, you can’t have Florida State ranking 50th or worse in consecutive years and the win/loss record reflected that issue as well.
Mississippi State Bulldogs - Joe Moorhead
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 11.7 - 17th
2017 SP+ Ranking: 16.0 - 19th
2018 SP+ Ranking: 23.2 - 8th
2019 SP+ Ranking: 5.1 - 50th
Moorhead is doing this backwards! You’re supposed to have regression in Year One, then the big leap in Year Two! Instead the Bulldogs rode the best defense of 2018 to 8th in the country then collapsed to 50th this year. But, hey, as long as you win the Egg Bowl you can keep your job forever at either Mississippi school.
Nebraska Cornhuskers - Scott Frost
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 3.9 - 51st
2017 SP+ Ranking: 2.5 - 62nd
2018 SP+ Ranking: 5.4 - 49th
2019 SP+ Ranking: 2.9 - 52nd
Scott Frost certainly improved the quality of the team in Year One and Two, but the wins have not come as quickly as the folks in Lincoln would like. SP+ shows a team that’s probably on the right track, and as a treasured alum, I’m sure Frost will get enough leash to get it turned around. However, when you reside in the B1G West, a division that’s much more manageable to win than the B1G East, it would be in his best interest to start competing for division championships soon.
Ole Miss Rebels - Matt Luke
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 12.4 - 14th
2017 SP+ Ranking: 11.6 - 26th
2018 SP+ Ranking: 9.8 - 33rd
2019 SP+ Ranking: 2.8 - 53rd
Year One regression, Year Two regression, and lost the Egg Bowl. That’s about all that’s needed to lose your job in Oxford. Especially compared to the halcyon days of Hugh Freeze, where they were beating Bama and hauling in elite recruiting classes, it was going to be hard for anyone to follow that up and Luke certainly did not.
Oregon Ducks - Mario Cristobal
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.7 - 24th
2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.1 - 37th
2018 SP+ Ranking: 7.3 - 41st
2019 SP+ Ranking: 18.3 - 16th
Slight step back in Year One, huge leap forward in Year Two. Cristobal’s two-year reign is basically what every fan base thinks they’re getting with their new coach. It’s nice for a plucky, underdog program like Oregon to finally have something go right for them...
Oregon State Beavers - Jonathan Smith
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: -3.1 - 85th
2017 SP+ Ranking: -12.6 - 109th
2018 SP+ Ranking: -16.0 - 111th
2019 SP+ Ranking: -1.3 - 65th
...and at the other Oregon school, Jonathan Smith has had the same progression except amplified ten times over. Smith has had an impressive stint, especially for a bottom-tier program.
Tennessee Volunteers - Jeremy Pruitt
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 6.4 - 34th
2017 SP+ Ranking: 1.2 - 67th
2018 SP+ Ranking: 5.5 - 48th
2019 SP+ Ranking: 9.5 - 32nd
I know we all crapped on Tennessee’s record this year, saying that they only beat bad teams, and that is true! However, he has improved the team’s quality for the past two years, and while he’s been able to match - and exceed - the 5-year average that Butch Jones put together, Tennessee should be better than Top 30 given their recruiting successes.
Texas A&M Aggies - Jimbo Fisher
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.9 - 23rd
2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.4 - 36th
2018 SP+ Ranking: 21.6 - 11th
2019 SP+ Ranking: 15.3 - 21st
Texas A&M rewarded Jimbo Fisher by scheduling one of the toughest schedules in the country for the first two years. And despite that schedule, A&M was still a Top 25 team in both seasons...and with a schedule that eases up next year, get ready for the “darkhorse Playoff candidate” conversations around College Station.
UCLA Bruins - Chip Kelly
2013-2017 SP+ Ranking: 9.4 - 26th
2017 SP+ Ranking: 4.9 - 51st
2018 SP+ Ranking: -0.4 - 76th
2019 SP+ Ranking: -3.6 - 80th
A regression in recruiting and a regression in quality of team, masked by some big, timely wins this past season— including one of the best comebacks in football history. Chip Kelly will probably keep his job based off of name and reputation but he’s certainly far from the quality he produced at Oregon.
Given these 13 programs, what is the average difference between last-year-of-fired-coach and first-year-of-new-coach? Well, that’s why you clicked on this story, right? Here you go:
Average Change in SP+ Percentile Performance: +0.96
Average Change in SP+ Ranking: +1.5
All that to say...not much changes! A slight bump, on average, to team quality and rank. So the averages don’t tell us much but that’s typically not applicable anyway. Each team reacts differently to their new coach and we’re all crossing our fingers hoping that Coach Drink’s impact is similar to Dan Mullen’s or Mario Cristobal’s as opposed to Willie Taggart’s or Chad Morris’ (though we’ll take that recruiting!). I’ll admit... I thought this data set would show a more defined trend, and my hunch going in was “regression” would be the prevailing trend. We’ll see what happens this fall!