Last week, LSU hired Scott Woodward away from his job as Texas A&M’s athletics director in order to do the same job for them. But there were more political implications than just a simple hiring; it was an SEC school hiring an AD away from another SEC school, who hired a head coach (Jimbo Fisher) based on their shared experience at that same SEC school, a coach who is contractually free to join Woodward at their original SEC school, which would displace a coach (Ed Orgeron) who was previously the head coach at another SEC school.
Hard to follow? Of course it is.
The SEC has always been college football’s Game of Thrones conference, a cutthroat environment where you win or you die. But the league shares another trait with the show in, well, its incestuous breeding habits.
The Woodward hiring inspired me to examine just how, um, pure its schools’ bloodlines are, but first I needed to place whatever I found in proper context. I examined the job history of the 50 other Power 5 head coaches and found two coaches who carried previous head coaching experience at another school in their current conference, Chip Kelly (Oregon to UCLA) and Les Miles (Oklahoma State to Kansas). Five more had what I would describe as significant* experience with a current conference bunk mate: Chris Ash (Ohio State, Wisconsin DC to Rutgers head coach), Mark Dantonio (Ohio State DC to Michigan State head coach), Lincoln Riley (Texas Tech WRs coach to Oklahoma head coach), Jonathan Smith (Washington OC to Oregon State head coach) and Justin Wilcox (USC, Washington DC to Cal head coach).
( * – Significant defined as it would be difficult to imagine the coach getting his head coaching job without his time at a conference rival, not, for example, Tom Herman’s 2-year pit stop at Iowa State a decade before becoming the Texas head coach)
Out of 50 head coaches, that’s seven — 14 percent — who have significant ties to another university within their conference.
Compare that to the SEC:
SEC head coach-to-SEC head coach
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State to Florida
Will Muschamp, Florida to South Carolina
Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss to LSU
Nick Saban, LSU to Alabama
SEC coordinator-to-SEC head coach
Jimbo Fisher, LSU to Texas A&M
Gus Malzahn, Arkansas to Auburn
Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama to Tennessee
Kirby Smart, Alabama to Georgia
That’s eight total coaches — more than half the conference! — who has significant previous experience at a different SEC school. Heck, there are twice as many intra-conference SEC head coaching hires as there are in the rest of the Power 5 conferences combined. And this doesn’t even include that Will Muschamp could technically count for both groups as in addition to previously serving as Florida’s head coach, the South Carolina head man was also previously the defensive coordinator at LSU and Auburn.
Now, let’s through the entire SEC’s coaching rosters and see what turns up. Again, we’re keeping an eye on relevant experience here, not necessarily a GA stint in the mid ’80s or a stint working for an SEC rival before returning to their alma mater. LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, for example, coached six seasons at Auburn, but he’s an LSU graduate, making him an LSU guy before he’s an SEC guy. Got it?
— Defensive line coach Brian Baker: Mississippi State defensive line coach, 2016-18
— Special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Jeff Banks: Texas A&M special teams coordinator/tight ends coach, 2013-17
— Athletics director Greg Byrne: Mississippi State AD, 2008-10
— Running backs coach Charles Huff: Mississippi State running backs coach, 2018
— Associate defensive coordinator/safeties coach Charles Kelly: Tennessee special teams coordinator/safeties coach, 2018
— Outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri: Florida defensive line coach, 2018; Tennessee defensive coordinator, 2012
— Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell: Tennessee defensive ends coach, 1995-08
— Defensive backs coach Ron Cooper: Coached defensive backs at Texas A&M, LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina and Mississippi State
— Defensive coordinator John Chavis: Worked in SEC continuously since 1984; defensive coordinator stints at Tennessee, LSU and Texas A&M
— Defensive tackles coach Kenny Ingram: Auburn director of player relations, 2013-14, 2017-18
— Director of football operations Randy Ross: Three seasons as Vanderbilt quarterbacks coach, 17 years in a variety of roles at Alabama
— Defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff: Former Ole Miss defensive coordinator
— Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele: Former defensive coordinator for LSU and Alabama
— Safeties coach Ron English: Mississippi State safeties coach, 2017
— Offensive line coach John Hevesy: Mississippi State offensive line coach, 2009-17
— Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales: Mississippi State wide receivers coach, 2013-17, LSU wide receivers coach, 2010-11
— Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham: Georgia defensive coordinator, 2008-13; Mississippi State defensive coordinator, 2017
— Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson: Mississippi State quarterbacks coach, 2014-16
— Running backs coach/special teams coordinator Greg Knox: Mississippi State running backs coach/special teams coordinator, 2009-17; Auburn wide receivers coach, 1999-08; Ole Miss wide receivers coach, 1995-98
— Linebackers coach Christian Robinson: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia GA, 2014-17
— Tight ends coach Larry Scott: Tennessee offensive coordinator/tight ends coach, 2016-17
— Athletics director Scott Stricklin: Mississippi State AD, 2010-16
— Defensive line coach David Turner: Previous defensive line experience at Vanderbilt, Alabama, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Texas A&M
— Special teams coordinator Scott Fountain: Auburn director of player personnel/special teams coordinator/tight ends and H-backs coach, 2009-16
— Wide receivers coach Cortez Hankton: Vanderbilt wide receivers coach, 2015-17
— Offensive line coach Sam Pittman: Tennessee offensive line coach, 2012; Arkansas offensive line coach, 2013-15
— Inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann: Served in a variety of roles at Alabama, 2008-15
— Defensive backs coach Charlton Warren: Tennessee defensive backs coach, 2017; Florida defensive backs coach, 2018
— Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw: Tennessee quarterbacks/wide receivers coach, 2010-12
— Assistant head coach for offense/running backs coach Eddie Gran: Special teams coordinator and running backs coach for Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee, 1995-09
— Wide receivers coach Michael Smith: Arkansas wide receivers coach, 2013-17
Other than Woodward and Orgeron, shockingly no senior LSU staff members have significant experience at other SEC schools
— Head strength coach Paul Jackson: LSU assistant strength coach, 2007-10
— Outside linebackers coach Tyrone Nix: South Carolina co-defensive coordinator, 2005-08; Ole Miss defensive coordinator, 2008-11; Texas A&M analyst, 2017
— Defensive line coach Freddie Roach: Former Alabama player, assistant strength coach and director of player development
— Assistant AD for player personnel Tyler Siskey: Alabama director of player personnel, 2013-14
— Linebackers coach Chris Marve: Former Vanderbilt player, quality control, GA and linebackers coach
— Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop: Vanderbilt defensive coordinator, 2011-13; Tennessee defensive coordinator, 2016-17
— Offensive line coach Brad Davis: Florida offensive line coach, 2017
— Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley: Tennessee head coach, 2010-12; held a variety of roles at LSU, 2000-04
— Defensive line coach Brick Haley: LSU defensive line coach, 2009-14
— Inside linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves: Arkansas linebackers coach, 2015-17
— Wide receivers coach Garrick McGee: Arkansas offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, 2008-11
— Tight ends coach Bobby Bentley: Auburn offensive analyst, 2013-14
— Running backs coach Thomas Brown: Georgia running backs coach, 2015
— Linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler: Florida special teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach, 2010-11, 2014
— Nickels and Sam linebackers coach Kyle Krantz: Florida quality control, 2013-14; Kentucky GA, 2011-12
— Offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon: Former Georgia assistant and player
— Outside linebackers coach Mike Peterson: Florida strength and conditioning coordinator, 2013-15, former Florida player
— Quarterbacks coach Dan Werner: Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, 2013-17
— Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley: Alabama defensive backs coach, 2016-17; Kentucky defensive backs coach, 2013-15
— Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney: Georgia offensive coordinator, 2016-18; Arkansas offensive coordinator, 2013-14
— Head strength coach Craig Fitzgerald: South Carolina head strength coach, 2009-11
— Offensive line coach Will Friend: Georgia offensive line coach, 2011-14; former Alabama player
— Tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer: Alabama GA/assistant recruiting director, 2016-17; Georgia GA, 2015
— Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker: Former defensive line coach for Arkansas, Ole Miss, Auburn, Georgia
— Outside linebackers coach Chris Rumph: Florida defensive line coach, 2016-18; Alabama defensive line coach, 2011-13
— Inside linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Kevin Sherrer: Georgia outside linebackers coach, 2014-17
— Running backs coach Chris Weinke: Alabama offensive analyst, 2017
— Wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig: Auburn, LSU wide receivers coach, 2013-16; former Auburn quarterback and LSU GA
— Tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley: Missouri tight ends coach, 2016-18
— Running backs coach Jay Graham: South Carolina, Tennessee running backs coach, 2009-12; Tennessee running back and GA
— Offensive line coach Josh Henson: Missouri offensive coordinator, 2013-15; LSU tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator, 2005-08
— Defensive backs coach Maurice Linguist: Mississippi State safeties coach, 2016
— Linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto: Special teams and linebackers coach for LSU, Kentucky, LSU again and Ole Miss for all but four seasons since 2005
— Defensive line coach Terry Price: Coached SEC defensive lines continuously since 1995, working previously for Ole Miss (twice) and Auburn
— Associate AD for football personnel Austin Thomas: Five seasons in a similar role at LSU
— Running backs coach Tim Horton: Auburn running backs coach, 2013-18; Arkansas running backs coach, 2007-12
— Wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead: Texas A&M wide receivers coach, 2015-17
All in all I counted 66 assistant coaches (plus two ADs) with ties to other SEC institutions, an average of 4.7 per school. That’s nearly half the full-time, on-the-field staff.
But what does that matter? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I think you can argue it both ways. On the one hand, for a conference that recruits its home territory as fiercely as the SEC does, it’s certainly not a bad thing to employ coaches with ties to the area. And if they happen to have a working knowledge of your rivals’ personnel and scheme, well, that certainly doesn’t hurt.
Zoom out, though, and you’ll see the problem with such a shallow hiring pool. Nick Saban casts an undeniably large shadow over the conference; excluding Alabama itself, four of the 13 remaining schools employ Saban assistants as their head coach, and a fifth — Kentucky — hired a former assistant to a former Saban assistant. And then there’s Florida, a school who’s attempting to run the Urban Meyer era back by hiring the chief lieutenant of the Meyer’s tenure in Gainesville.
The great irony here is that Saban and Meyer themselves had precisely zero SEC experience before they arrived in the conference.
This isn’t to say no one has zigged while everyone else zagged. Arkansas has gone outside the box for three straight hires — and ever since Bobby Petrino crashed his motorcycle, the Hogs have been stuck in the SEC West’s cellar. Joe Moorhead was a lifelong Northeasterner before Mississippi State recruited him to Starkville. Derek Mason spent his career in the NFL and the West Coast before landing at Vanderbilt.
Despite that, Saban still lords over the league like the Night King, dooming the SEC to an endless crimson night. His next-closest competitor happens to be his longtime defensive coordinator. Do they succeed because they have SEC experience, or because they’re elite coaches who would be great at what they do wherever they happened to do it?