SEC Coaching Tradition

Tradition and the SEC are synonymous. However, as awesome as tradition is and can be, it can clash with change, even if that change is ideally for the better.

Where the tradition-change clash is perhaps most apparent this offseason is in the SEC head coaching hirings. A case can be made that while the new hires reflect the SEC tradition, that familiarity with SEC tradition may not be as important as many consider.

It’s easy to see why former SEC coaches would work well as SEC head coaches. An assistant with years of SEC experience can enter with good knowledge of the conference landscape along with key recruiting insights.

A quick review of the coaches hired shows very apparent connections to the SEC. Georgia’s Kirby Smart and South Carolina Will Muschamp both played their college football at UGA (at different times) and both have held coaching positions for at least three different SEC schools.

Slightly the odd man out, Missouri’s new head coach Barry Odom does not have the same SEC resume as Smart or Muschamp, having just one season with Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC. Still, Odom has had multiple stints in Columbia and, similar to those of Smart and Muschamp, Odom’s hiring likely is based somewhat on his familiarity to the current landscape of the program, which includes experience in the conference.

Recent history shows that hiring ex-SEC coaches to SEC head coaching gigs does not provide as much of an advantage as one may think. This analysis does not include hiring of coaches who only served as head coach for one season. For instance, Robbie Caldwell, John L. Smith, and Lane Kiffin do not make the list, since one year is too small a sample size. Same goes for Jim McElwain, since he has only coached one season.

CoachPrevious SEC tiesRecord 
Houston NuttArkansas24-26 at Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze*Ole Miss33-18 at Ole Miss
Dan MullenFlorida54-35 at Mississippi State
Derek DooleyGeorgia, LSU15-21 at Tennessee
Nick Saban*LSU98-18 at Alabama
Bobby PetrinoAuburn34-17 at Arkansas
Joker PhillipsSouth Carolina13-24 at Kentucky
Guz Malzahn*Auburn, Arkansas26-13 at Auburn
Gene ChizikAuburn33-19 at Auburn
Steve SpurrierFlorida86-49 at Florida
Will MuschampLSU, Auburn, Florida28-21 at Florida

444-261 (.630 winning percentage)

*Denotes current SEC head coach

A .630 winning percentage factored over a 12-game season equals seven and a half wins per season.

This might sit well with a South Carolina team coming off of three-win season or a Missouri team which won just five games the year prior. But for a team like Georgia that fired Mark Richt, who won at least eight games in every season but one under his tenure, having a coach that would average seven and a half wins a season could be considered a slight drop.

72% of the coaches on this list have a winning record over their tenure, so it is still possible to find a quality coach from SEC assistants and seven wins a season is usually considered a solid season.

By comparison, coaches without SEC ties have actually fared about the same as coaches with SEC connections.

Coach Record
Les Miles*111-32 at LSU
Urban Meyer65-15 at Florida
James Franklin24-15 at Vanderbilt
Butch Jones*20-17 at Tennessee
Mark Stoops*12-24 at Kentucky
Bret Bielema*17-20 at Arkansas

249-123 (.669 winning percentage)

A .669 winning percentage over a 12 game season equals about eight wins a season.

Statistically, the difference between a former SEC coach and a non-SEC coach is rather insignificant with recent history showing that both should average at or close to eight wins a season.

If one were to blindly look at the average win-loss records of head coaches with SEC ties and without SEC ties, the numbers would look very similar.

Still, in a sport where one win could equal bowl eligibility or a major win over a rival, one win is significant. An eight-win team can crack a Top 25 ranking, while a seven-win team probably does not. So on a season-to-season basis, the difference between seven and eight wins could be substantial, but not when looking at a larger sample.

Of the six coaches, just 66% have winning records. However, of the SEC head coaches hired since 2005 without SEC ties, 66% are still employed with their respective school, where just 36% of those with SEC ties are still employed by their SEC school.

In fairness, three of the coaches (Jones, Bielema, and Stoops) currently employed started in 2013 and with all three of their records close to or below .500, might be out of a job if this study was conducted five years in the future should their records not improve or remain the same.

Ultimately, there isn’t a perfect formula for projecting how well a coach will perform at his new job. The fact that the majority of the coaches on both lists have winning records does not seal the fate of the most recent hires, or any future hires. 

Still, those in a position to hire should not assume that a coach with SEC ties is going to fare significantly better than one without SEC ties.

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