So, I step away from the computer for a few hours yesterday to run errands, do a few chores around the house, get dinner and come back last night to find all hell has broken loose on the SEC coaching front. To recap (and I hope this is still accurate):
- Texas A&M shows Kevin Sumlin the door.
- Ole Miss takes the interim label off Matt Luke, naming him its permanent head coach.
- Florida hires Dan Mullen.
- Tennessee manages another coaching hire shit storm.
The Sumlin firing was in the works for a few weeks and comes as no surprise. He leaves with a handsome golden parachute and rumor has it will be named the new head coach at Arizona State shortly. Meanwhile, TAMU, is supposedly trying to chase Jimbo Fisher, which is certainly good news for Jimmy Sexton. Nothing like lots of money and grandiose perceptions of your football program. Although let’s not lose sight of that part of the fan base that doesn’t care so much about who the next coach is, as long as he’s a white person.
I saw a little Internet criticism about the Ole Miss decision, claiming that it was an emotional overreaction to the Egg Bowl win. I actually think it may have been the sanest call of the hiring/firing season. Ole Miss is going to be in a dark place for the next few years, because of NCAA sanctions. To sign a decent coach in that setting means overpaying at a time when a number of peer programs are chasing coaches. Why not let Luke hold things together — something he showed this season to be eminently capable of doing — until things settle down and you pass through the sanctions period? Given that the school didn’t have to pay Freeze a buyout and that Luke is likely to be the conference’s lowest paid head coach during his tenure, Ole Miss will have a stocked war chest when it comes time to move on to the next coach.
That Florida got a solid hire as its third choice says a lot about the program, like it or not. Mullen comes in knowing the AD, knowing the expectations of the fan base and bringing one thing that the Gators haven’t had since he left, a coach who can develop quarterbacks. In return, he gets a better recruiting base to work from and gets away from the insanity in Mississippi. From where I sit it looks like a good match. Unfortunately from Mississippi State’s vantage, this is your classic one door closes, another one opens situation.
And then… there’s Tennessee, which, after a few days of seeing Greg Schiano’s name floating out there as a potential head coaching candidate, got serious enough with him to negotiate a memorandum of understanding, only to see the whole thing blow up in its face. Screaming on social media, including Clay Travis’ patented douchebaggery (he posted the AD’s cell phone number on Twitter), politicians lining up to condemn the hire, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders weighing in (apparently she’s more offended by the Penn State sex scandal than Roy Moore), all wound up leading to the school and Schiano agreeing to terminate what once looked like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I’m not going to get into who’s right and who’s wrong here. Schiano does come with some baggage, no doubt, and has the reputation of being something of a prick, but he did an excellent job at Rutgers, something that’s a lot harder than it sounds. He’s also a solid defensive coach. None of that matters at this point nearly as much as the way events proceeded to get out of hand. In any event, Currie, the athletic director, has managed to live up to a long tradition at Tennessee of creating dumpster fires out of the hiring process. Why this wasn’t more thoroughly vetted I’ll never know. How he goes forward from here — indeed, assuming he’s even allowed to go forward from here — I have no clue. You’d think Cutcliffe becomes the obvious choice to heal the breach, but that means falling back on a guy who’s in his sixties and, while a terrific coach, is lacking in recruiting prowess, which is kind of a big deal in Knoxville. What a mess.
You know what the really crazy thing is now? Boom and Kirby rank as the SEC’s fifth-most senior head coaches at the same school. This is fine.