Here’s the rule of thumb for a college football coaching change: You hire the opposite of the coach who walked out the door.
A year ago, Florida pulled this off brilliantly: The Gators fired Will Muschamp, an overly emotional defensive guru who had no head-coaching experience, and replaced him with Jim McElwain, a guy with a pedigree in designing high-octane offenses, with head-coaching experience and who delivers his thoughts with a homespun Montana Zen professionalism.
Check out Tennessee’s coaching carousel since 2008. While it has been eons since the Vols have seen sustained success, their frantic pattern of hires fits the “hire the opposite” pattern perfectly: They ousted Phil Fulmer (a full-barrelled, Old South offensive lineman if there ever was one) in favor of Lane Kiffin (slick and fast-talking, it was promised he’d arrive with an arsenal of southern California offensive fireworks), who gave way to Derek Dooley (goodbye Hollywood, hello suburban insurance salesman) before the school put its faith in Butch Jones (with a blue-collar, drop-and-give-me-20 buzzcut attitude).
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on what the 2015 SEC football coaching searches should look like if the schools are looking to hire the bizarro opposite of their previous coaches — and some of the pitfalls that might entail.
For 15 years, Mark Richt was hard-working and classy in Athens. The Bulldogs might not have won every big game (hence the need for regime change), but plenty of his players went on to draw NFL paychecks.
Richt was famous for his strong but quiet and calm demeanor on the sideline. Does this mean that as Georgia kicks a 9-3 coach to the curb in favor of national-title-or-bust mode that a fire-and-brimstone coach will get the job done? Is that Kirby Smart?
Actually, Georgia’s in a tough spot in picking out a replacement. The “opposite” requirement from Richt is “someone who will win lots of SEC titles and College Football Playoff games.” Right now, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban are the only people who have accomplished that, and both have jobs.
How do you replace a legend like Steve Spurrier? You can’t find an equal in the postgame zinger department, so maybe the Gamecocks’ “opposite” coach is someone who gives Bill Belichick-style one-word answers to the media.
Spurrier was an unparalleled offensive genius. Bizarro logic dictates the new guy be a defensive coach. And given that the Gamecocks gave up 217.4-yards per game rushing in 2015, someone who can teach how to tackle could go a long way in Columbia.
Perhaps the biggest “opposite” in Carolina’s search is someone who’s not going to quit midseason. The debate on whether the Head Ball Coach did the right thing by bailing after the LSU game will go on for years. Under Spurrier logic, he made the right move because he wasn’t getting through to the players, so it was time for someone else to take a crack. No different from when your starting pitcher loses his stuff after the sixth or seventh inning and you call in the reliever.
Interim coach Shawn Elliott and his staff worked the “opposite” theory angle by being more emotional and up-tempo with the team, as opposed to Spurrier’s “When’s my tee time?” cool. All without the staff getting pay raises while Spurrier was showered with $1 million by the university while being nowhere in sight, but that’s another story.
There’s no denying Spurrier’s absence was a bad look while the Gamecocks lost their final five games. Especially after being upset by The Citadel, there was the question of “Where’s the guy who was responsible for this?” Right now, South Carolina is the worst team in the SEC and in need of a complete rebuild.
My advice for the Gamecocks’ athletic department during this hiring process: When you make candidates fill out your “help wanted” form, look very closely on what the applicants are putting on the line for “Why did you leave your previous job?”
The Tigers are in need of a new coach for a different set of reasons. There has been nothing but an outpouring of sympathy and support after Gary Pinkel announced he was leaving for health reasons. After 15 years with him at the helm, Missouri would be right in trying to find someone who fits the Pinkel mold.
But maybe Mizzou can buck the conservatism and pull the bizarro move of hiring a showman. The Tigers have two SEC East title in four years, but where’s the smack talk and SEC-level swagger? A coach who makes fans turn to each other and ask, “Did he just say that?”
Sorry, just playing devil’s advocate. Mizzou, stay on track and hire Gary Pinkel 2.0.
LSU is not in search of a new coach. (Well, not unless Les Miles decides to up and leave for what he thinks is a better job.) But we’re putting this here to prove a point: After the weeks of back-and-forth we just witnessed, where it looked as if the Mad Hatter was being pushed out of Baton Rouge, we have to ask all those Tigers boosters: If you were going to fire a coach as successful as Miles because he supposedly wasn’t successful enough, who was going to be the “opposite” coach that you hired?
You’d be hiring someone who didn’t go out on eccentric tangents during his media availabilities. Someone who didn’t pull off victories with fake field goals. Someone who wasn’t loved by his fan base enough to get standing ovations for walking on the field and carried off it at the final whistle by his loyal players.
We salute you, Les Miles, the opposite of everything we’d ever expect from a firebrand SEC coach.
And if we can have one “opposite” wish for college football, it’s that fans quit thinking that going 15-0 is the one and only way to judge if a coach needs to be run out of town.
(You can follow Gregory Hardy on Twitter @HardyVision)
(Feature photo by MARVIN GENTRY/USA TODAY SPORTS)
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