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SEC Coaching Stability is a Rare and Glorious Thing

For the first time since 2006, the league (barring something major) will have no new coaches entering the fall.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Florida
Barry Odom’s program is about middle of the road when it comes to stability and future prospects in the SEC. Which, all things considered, isn’t that bad of a place to be.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This year, the Fourth of July has me thinking of history.

Specifically, this bit of history that former colleague and friend to the end Ross Dellenger pointed out back in May: this is the first time since 2006 that there will be no new coaches in the SEC. You know, unless something crazy happens between now and the start of the season.

The Fourth also has me thinking about independence. Specifically, the independence from having to cover coaching searches and all the accompanying nonsense that this relative period of coach tranquility means.

Now let’s go back to history for a second. Let’s look at that crop of 12 SEC coaches — and Missouri and Texas A&M, Big 12ers at the time — to see the relative stability of their programs back then, compare it with the stability of those programs now and see who’s better off now, worse off and about the same.

These rankings are based on no science or math at all and entirely subjective so, please, feel free to yell things at me in the comments.

2006 Stability Rankings
1. Auburn -- Tommy Tuberville (60-27, 7 years)
2. Georgia – Mark Richt (52-13, 5 years)
3. LSU – Les Miles (11-2, 1 year)
4. Florida – Urban Meyer (9-3, 1 year)
5. Tennessee – Phillip Fulmer (127-37-1, 15 years)
6. South Carolina – Steve Spurrier (7-5, 1 year)
7. Missouri* -- Gary Pinkel (29-30, 5 years)
8. Arkansas – Houston Nutt (57-40, 8 years)
9. Alabama – Mike Shula (20-17, 3 years)
10. Texas A&M* -- Dennis Franchione (17-19, 3 years)
11. Ole Miss – Ed Orgeron (3-8, 1 year)
12. Vanderbilt – Bobby Johnson (11-35, 4 years)
13. Mississippi St. – Sylvester Croom (6-16, 2 years)
14. Kentucky – Rich Brooks (9-25, 3 years)

2019 Stability Rankings
1. Alabama – Nick Saban (146-21, 12 years)
2. Kentucky – Mark Stoops (36-39, 6 years)
3. Georgia – Kirby Smart (32-10, 3 years)
4. Texas A&M -- Jimbo Fisher (9-4, 1 year)
5. Florida – Dan Mullen (10-3, 1 year)
6. LSU – Ed Orgeron (25-9, 3 years)
7. Mississippi St. – Joe Moorhead (8-5, 1 year)
8. Missouri – Barry Odom (19-19, 3 years)
9. Vanderbilt – Derek Mason (24-38, 6 years)
10. South Carolina – Will Muschamp (22-17, 3 years)
11. Tennessee – Jeremy Pruitt (5-7, 1 year)
12. Auburn – Gus Malzahn (53-27, 6 years)
13. Ole Miss – Matt Luke (11-13, 2 years)
14. Arkansas – Chad Morris (2-10, 1 year)

More Stable
Alabama: Saban, the dude the Crimson Tide hired to replace Shula after firing the latter at the end of the 2006 regular season, has reshaped the college football world in his image. As in most things, Alabama wins this little thought exercise.

Kentucky: The Wildcats might not actually be that far behind, though, if we’re talking about completely righting a program’s ship. Stoops is coming off Kentucky’s first 10-win season in more than 40 years and, even before the breakthrough, he had gotten the team around a corner with two straight bowl games and impressive recruiting returns.

Mississippi St.: Croom was two years away from a mild bounceback season…but also three years away from getting canned. While Moorhead may not have exactly blown the doors off during his first season in Starkville, he was at least impressive enough to earn an extension and leave a sense of steadiness after the Mullen changeover.

Texas A&M: Fisher was a fairly sizable coup for the Aggies coming from Florida St. and turned in a decent first year in charge. Franchione, four years removed from jumping from Alabama to the Big 12, was coming off a losing season in which the Aggies started the year ranked No. 17 but about to have a turnaround 2006…only to bow out after a mediocre 2007.

Vanderbilt: Johnson and Mason are fairly similar in that they both haven’t won all that much but, with Vanderbilt goggles on, have done enough to keep the job. Mason, at least, is coming off two bowl games in three years. Plus, he and Stoops are the deans of the SEC East coaches at this point…which is pretty crazy to think about.

About the Same
Florida: Meyer came from Utah and went 9-3. Mullen, who was on Meyer’s staff, came from within the conference and went 10-3. Both gave the impression of a program trending up after their first year in Gainesville, though it’s not very likely that Mullen can replicate Meyer’s second season success: a BCS Championship.

Georgia: Smart is a year removed from a title game appearance but, in the fickle world of the SEC, the shine is off a little bit after a step back to 11-3. Richt was in much the same place going into 2006, still riding off the strength of a 13-1 season in 2002 but kind of stagnating with 10- and 11-win campaigns the next three years.

LSU: Miles took over for that Saban character and nudged the Tigers up from 9-3 to 11-2. Orgeron ended up taking over for Miles and, despite fairly persistent rumblings throughout his tenure that he was just one bad loss away from the hot seat (well, one more bad loss…remember Troy?), he seems to be in the fans’ good graces heading into 2019 after finishing last year ranked No. 6. And Miles is at Kansas, which is…good for him?

Ole Miss: Speaking of Orgeron, he was coming off a pretty awful season in 2006 but still banking on his reputation as an ace ‘cruiter. He only made it two more losing years. Luke has had a bit more success – and a bit more tether, cleaning up Hugh Freeze’s mess – but his grip on the job could be tenuous as well if things don’t turn soon.

Missouri: Brad Smith and 2005 helped save Pinkel at Missouri, and look how that turned out. Odom’s future at his alma mater seemed less than certain after his first 1 ½ years, but the second 1 ½ have been confidence-building and the Tigers look to be on the upswing heading into 2019. Plus, this whole NCAA deal seems to have rallied the administration and fans to he and Missouri’s cause. All in all, he’s got the program in a clean, safe state.

Less Stable
Arkansas: Nutt hit the skids with two straight losing seasons, only to turn it around and go 18-8 the next two years, then leave for Ole Miss. Morris came to Fayetteville with much fanfare, but his first year was basically unsalvageable in any way. At least the 2019 recruiting class was strong.

Auburn: Malzahn went to the BCS Championship in his first year in charge, taking the Tigers from worst to first, and seemed like the savior. After toggling between seven and eight wins for the past five years – with a brief top-10 respite in 2017 – the seat is warm. Tuberville can commiserate. Going into 2006, he was a season removed from an undefeated run that Auburn fans still claim as a national championship and about to put up an another 11-win campaign. But two years and a 5-7 2008 later, he was gone.

South Carolina: Lou Holtz had bottomed out, and Spurrier immediately brought the Head Ball Coach cachet and accompanying anticipation to the other Columbia, along with a modest uptick in results. Muschamp has presided over a pleasantly mediocre opening to his time with the Gamecocks. Not bad, not great.

Tennessee: Volunteer fans want their program turned around, like, yesterday. So while Pruitt’s 5-7 opener was not a disaster by any stretch, every day longer that Tennessee stays in national irrelevance makes the trigger finger that much itchier. Contrast that with where Fulmer stood 13 years ago, less than a decade removed from a national title and, despite coming off the first losing season of his time in Knoxville, still coasting off the good feelings of three double-digit win campaigns in the four years prior to that.