There’s no “correct” way to become a head coach. Some get the gig with no previous head coaching experience, some have been assistants and coordinators for 20+ years before they even get a look. Some get one shot, fail, and then spend the next 10 years trying to get back to the main headset. In any case, every head coach has a journey and a story and each one has a different level of success. I thought, then, that it would be interesting to take a look at the 14 gentlemen who helm the programs of the SEC and see exactly how they ended up as head coach.
Lil’ Nicky has had a ton of coaching experience, all of it on the defensive side, and doing so both in the NFL and college ranks. He had a middling career at Michigan State before showing up in Baton Rouge and winning a National Championship with LSU. After a less than stellar two years with Miami, he went to Alabama and...well, you know what happened then.
Here’s our first new-guy in the SEC, former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman. He has some high school head coaching experience, but nothing at the collegiate level. Also no coordinator experience, and with his experience at the FBS level only being with offensive lineman means he might be going the Dabo Swinney/Ed O “CEO” approach to coaching: hiring excellent coordinators and letting them manage their respective units.
Coach Drinkwitz’s mentor actually provides a solid template for what Drink could be: high school experience, coordinating experience at several levels, one year head coach at a G5, jump to the SEC.
Mullen was hired by Urban Meyer at Bowling Green and then followed him to Utah and Florida. Mullen is a rarity in the current SEC fraternity, seeing as, a.) he has previous head coaching experience, and b.) he has previous head coaching experience at an SEC school— only he, Saban, and Muschamp can claim that!
What Smart lacks in head coaching experience he makes up for in working at top-tier programs. Kirby’s route to head coaching is a case study in the argument that — it doesn’t matter if you called plays or managed an entire unit — your organizational skills and management of your employees are the biggest signals of long-term success. Gary Pinkel would certainly agree.
Mark Stoops has done two things: coach defensive backs and coordinate defenses. That didn’t immediately translate to success at Kentucky but, given 7 years, he seems to have the Wildcats on a steady path of 7-8 wins with a few lucky 10-win breakthroughs.
“DaCoachO” absolutely bombed his head coaching debut at Ole Miss, but has recovered well to salvage USC’s 2013 season and bring LSU to the brink of a national championship. Also, if you’d given me three guesses as to “the only current P5 head coach who used to be a strength and conditioning coach,” Ed Orgeron would have been all three of my guesses.
The East Coast Yankee had four years of head coaching experience before jumping back to the P5 ranks and revitalizing Penn State’s offense. He hasn’t been able to replicate those results at Mississippi State yet, but his experience in running a lower-tier program should give him enough patience and experience to salvage the Bulldogs...if given enough time.
I already profiled our boy on Sunday but, as a reminder: lots of coordinating offense experience, one year of head coaching experience.
I also profile Kiffin extensively last week but, as a quick recap, lots of head coaching experience at both college and NFL, at both P5 and G5 positions, and an offensive mind that is highly coveted.
Is Will Muschamp the inverse of Lane Kiffin? Defensive-minded, boring football, angry all the time...also, I had no idea what his record was before doing this exercise, but Will Muschamp might not be a very good coach with his 54-46 record. He’s had lots of success as a defensive coordinator, but it’s just never translated as a head coach.
Lots of high school and coordinator experience, no head coaching experience. He’s been a part of some truly elite teams, however, so his appeal was always, “he knows how to make teams elite.” Certainly he’s seen how elite teams operate, but he never had a hand in making them that way; he just benefited from utilizing their elite-ness. With Barry Odom now gone, Pruitt is our new “coach-learning-on-the-job-capitalizes-on-beating-crappy-teams” coach of the SEC.
Jimbo knows quarterbacks and coaching offense. He was also a pretty excellent coach for most of his time at Florida State. Can we marvel at the Nick Saban LSU staff for a minute, by the way? Nick Saban as head coach, Jimbo Fisher as offensive coordinator, Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator, Derek Dooley as wide receivers coach, and Kirby Smart as defensive backs coach!
Derek Mason is an interesting case because - until he was at Stanford - he wasn’t really pegged as a defensive guy. He bounced from offense to defense, receivers, to defensive backs, all the way through a brief stint in the NFL. It wasn’t until Jim Harbaugh brought him on and gave him the reigns to the DC position that Mason became known for his defensive prowess. Also interesting that a guy who is 27-47 over 5 years still has a job. Oh well!
Of the 14-man roster of SEC coaches:
- Thirteen have coordinator experience at the FBS level
- Seven have an offensive expertise
- Seven have a defensive expertise
- Nine have head coaching experience before getting their current gig
- Six have FBS head coaching experience before getting their current gig
- Six have more than one year of coaching experience before getting their current gig
- Two have NFL head coaching experience (lol, Lane Kiffin coached in the NFL)
Put another way, here are the 2019 SEC standings with the head coach’s previous job subbed in for the school they coach at:
- Alabama Defensive Coordinator
- Mississippi State Head Coach
- Alabama Defensive Coordinator
- Auburn Defensive Coordinator
- Florida State Defensive Coordinator
- Missouri Defensive Coordinator (fired)/Appalachian State Head Coach
- Stanford Defensive Coordinator
- LSU Defensive Line Coach
- Miami Dolphins Head Coach
- Arkansas State Head Coach
- Florida State Head Coach
- Penn State Offensive Coordinator
- Ole Miss Co-Offensive Coordinator (fired)/FAU Head Coach
- SMU Head Coach (fired)/Georgia Offensive Line Coach
Since I already did Ed O’s breakdown, want to see the resumes of the other three head coaches in the 2019 Playoff? Oh, you do? Cool, here they are!
Three guys. All from the offensive side. Two have coordinator experience. One only was a position coach. That same one quit to be a life insurance salesman. None had prior head coaching experience. Curious!