John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE
It was a rough year for the head guys at three of the league's charter members, as each was fired at the end of the 2012 season. What happened next for one of those programs was bizarre
Coming into the season, there were two SEC coaches making hot seat lists everywhere: Joker Phillips and Derek Dooley. (The odds that John L. Smith would remain in Fayetteville after 2012 were dicey at best, but that's really an entirely different category of coaching situations.) And while the SEC has never been a high job-security proposition for head coaches, no one else was really seen as being in imminent danger of getting fired.
Enter Gene Chizik. (Three words that could introduce so many precedent-setting incidents over the last few years.) Just two years removed from a national title, Chizik was in a somewhat precarious situation given that the two coordinators for that 2010 had left in 2011 under circumstances that were rumored to include at least some encouragement. But any talk of showing Chizik the door would almost certainly focus on 2013 if things went south in 2012.
Then, the bottom fell out. Auburn went 3-9 and was winless in the SEC. The three wins included an overtime victory against Louisiana-Monroe, while the defeats included losing to Alabama by seven touchdowns. The Tigers featured a sieve-like defense, which was okay, because Auburn also had one of the worst offenses in college football. In short, Auburn went from national powerhouse to laughingstock in two years, and Gene Chizik started to look more and more like Mr. 5-19 than Mr. Crystal Football. Chizik was shown the door.
But Auburn found its head coach fairly quickly in Gus Malzahn. And Kentucky struck early to get Mark Stoops. And Tennessee -- oh, Tennessee.
With Derek Dooley and his -- colorful -- personality exiting Knoxville, who would replace him? David Cutcliffe? Even before Tennessee could talk to him, Cutcliffe said no. Jon Gruden? No. Mike Gundy? Try again. Charlie Strong? Not so fast.
After offering or reportedly offering the job to many if not all of the names on that list, Tennessee ended up focusing on Butch Jones, the head coach at Cincinnati. On take seven, they got their man.
Not that it signifies that Tennessee is doomed. Because, while we've pointed out that the situation at Alabama in 2007 was very different from the situation at Tennessee going into 2013, there's still the example of the Tide stumbling around for what seemed like weeks before they finally settled on (and wrung an agreement from) Nick Saban. Pretty doesn't matter much in coaching searches.
What's fascinating is that these three coaches will give us a sort of lab experiment. Kentucky went with the talented coordinator. Auburn took the midmajor head coach, and Tennessee will try the coach at a mid-tier AQ school. If they are a like their predecessors, each will only have three or four years to turn things around or start packing. Oh, and even a national title only buys you a season or two. Welcome to the SEC, guys.