The Southeastern Conference is the toughest college football league in the land. Aside from some grumblers in the upper Midwest and Rust Belt, just about everyone else in America is willing to admit that fact. Seven consecutive BCS championships make for some pretty compelling evidence, after all.
But as the league’s gotten better and harder to win, the demand for excellence has only grown. Regardless of the school, the mantra is the same: “Why not us?” Today’s fans pay through the nose for their tickets and they expect a darn good return on their investment.
Every good Southerner might know that the SEC is tough, but it’s not so tough that he’ll lessen his expectations for his program and his coach. How else can you explain this amazing stat: Since 2000, 41 different different head football coaches have been employed by SEC schools. Forty-one.
And that’s not counting the SEC’s newcomers, Missouri and Texas A&M.
The full list of head coaches is stunning. Keep in mind we only counted men hired as head coach. One- or two-game interim guys aren’t even listed:
|School||Coach||Coach||Coach||Coach||Coach||Total Coaches Since 2000|
|Alabama||M. DuBose||D. Franchione||M. Price||M. Shula||N. Saban||5|
|Kentucky||H. Mumme||G. Morriss||R. Brooks||J. Phillips||M. Stoops||5|
|Florida||S. Spurrier||R. Zook||U. Meyer||W. Muschamp||4|
|Ole Miss||D. Cutcliffe||E. Orgeron||H. Nutt||H. Freeze||4|
|Tennessee||P. Fulmer||L. Kiffin||D. Dooley||B. Jones||4|
|Vanderbilt||W. Widenhofer||B. Johnson||R. Caldwell||J. Franklin||4|
|Arkansas||H. Nutt||B. Petrino||B. Bielema||3|
|Auburn||T. Tuberville||G. Chizik||G. Malzahn||3|
|Miss. State||J. Sherrill||S. Croom||D. Mullen||3|
|Georgia||J. Donnan||M. Richt||2|
|LSU||N. Saban||L. Miles||2|
|S. Carolina||L. Holtz||S. Spurrier||2|
(* Mike Price lost his job in a scandal before ever coaching a game at Alabama.)
Now not all of those ex-coaches were fired. Some burned out and quit. Some tired of high SEC expectations and left for other schools or the pros. One needed a year-long sabbatical away from the game before diving back in in a less competitive conference.
Still, the word “meatgrinder” comes to mind. Nine of the 12 SEC schools who’ve been in the league since 2000 have had at least three different head football coaches in that 13-year span. Six of those 12 schools have had four or more coaches since 2000.
Things are likely to get worse, too.
You can bet the SEC’s parity — especially with 14 programs — will serve as a pretty big impediment to achieving consistent success. And consistent success is the stated goal for any SEC coach. Take a look at a few current SEC streaks and you’ll see what we’re getting at:
Most consecutive seasons with at least nine wins: Alabama (5), LSU (4), South Carolina (3), Georgia (2).
Most consecutive seasons with at least six SEC wins: LSU (3), Alabama (2), Georgia (2), South Carolina (2).
Most consecutive top 10 finishes in AP Poll: Alabama (5), S. Carolina (2)
Most consecutive top 25 finishes in AP Poll: Alabama (5), LSU (4), S. Carolina (3)
Most consecutive seasons of finishing first or within a game of first in division: South Carolina (3), Alabama (2), Georgia (2), LSU (2)
The takeaway? It’s hard as hell to be consistently good in the SEC.
Most fans want their coach to win at least nine games a year. But only Nick Saban and Les Miles have won nine or more in each of the last four seasons. Two coaches. That’s it.
Coaches are expected to compete for SEC crowns. But only LSU has won at least six league games in each of the last three seasons. Not even Alabama has managed that. In addition, only one school has won or finished within a game of winning its division in each of the last three seasons and that’s South Carolina. Alabama, Georgia, and LSU have finished within a game of the top in each of the last two seasons, but not three.
When you think of the best football programs in the nation, Florida probably comes to mind. But the Gators have lost four or more games six times in the last 13 years. That’s how tough the SEC is.
Alabama has won back-to-back BCS championships and three of the last four. But in that time Alabama has not won back-to-back SEC titles. In fact, no SEC team has repeated as champions since Tennessee way back in 1997 and 1998 at the dawn of the BCS era. That’s how tough the SEC is.
Only three SEC coaches have led their programs to Top 25 finishes in at least five of the last seven seasons — Saban, Miles, and Mark Richt. Yet when Miles had one year out of the rankings (2008), there was plenty of grumbling on the Bayou. When Richt’s teams failed to finish in the Top 25 in 2009 and 2010 he entered 2011 on a hot seat.
Look, we don’t expect any of the now 14 fanbases of the Southeastern Conference to read the facts and figures above and respond by downgrading the expectations for their head coaches. That’s not going to happen.
But if SEC fans don’t want their schools to average three coaching changes over every 13-season span, that’s exactly what needs to happen.
If you think your favorite team should win nine-plus games, finish in the top 25, and compete for a division title every year, you’re probably going to be disappointed. After all, even Saban — the guy with those three BCS crowns in four years — hasn’t been able to accomplish all that.
No, it won’t happen, but it might be time for SEC fans to lower their expectations a bit.