After talking about how top coaches are the ones who win SEC Championship Games, it got me thinking: how long could a guy last without actually winning a conference title?
Everyone knows that the SEC is famously impatient with coaches. Just look at recent history. Florida fired Ron Zook after two and a half seasons, and it fired Will Muschamp not even two seasons after an 11-2 Sugar Bowl run. Auburn fired Gene Chizik two years after a national championship. Mike Shula got four years at Alabama; Derek Dooley got three at Tennessee.
It got me thinking about where we might see guys have long coaching spans without winning SEC titles. I naturally first thought of the Mississippi schools, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. They haven't won many league titles—Vandy hasn't won one at all—so any long tenured coach at those places probably did have substantial title droughts. I also expected to see most of the longer championship-free reigns coming long ago, since the modern era of the game seems to have more fickle fan bases and ADs.
A few current coaches are getting up there in tenure despite not having won an SEC title. Dan Mullen has been at Mississippi State for seven years without a championship. Mark Richt's last SEC title was 10 seasons ago. Steve Spurrier hasn't broken through in a decade at South Carolina. How do these guys compare to history?
I looked at every coach from all time in the SEC to see how long anyone could last without winning a championship. What you're going to see below only reflects the SEC era, so it doesn't count any Southern Conference or SIAA action. Or in the case of newer entrants, it leaves out ACC, Big 12, and SWC campaigns.
Here is the list of guys who have had at least 10 consecutive seasons at a single SEC school without winning a championship.
|Coach||School||Tenure (Yrs.)||Longest Drought||Drought Years||At End?||Tenure End|
|Jackie Sherrill||Mississippi St.||13||13||1991-2003||Yes||Retired|
|Bobby Dodd||Georgia Tech||19||11||1953-63||Yes||Went independent|
|Bernie Moore||LSU||13||11||1937-47||Yes||Retired to SEC commish|
|Billy Brewer||Ole Miss||11||11||1983-93||Yes||Fired (NCAA violations)|
|Houston Nutt||Arkansas||10||10||1998-2007||Yes||Left for Ole Miss|
|Steve Spurrier||South Carolina||10||10||2005-14||N/A||Present Coach|
In every case except Wally Butts at UGA (and possibly Spurrier, who's still going), the title drought came at the end of the coach's SEC tenure. The most interesting exit to me is Bernie Moore, who left LSU to become the SEC commissioner. I can't imagine that happening again. Nor can I imagine an exit like that of Bobby Dodd, who stopped being an SEC coach because he took his program independent.
My first assumption was mostly correct. Now, only three coaches here came from Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt. Partly it's because—and I had no idea of this before—UK has never had a coach stay for at least 10 years. Ever. I would throw South Carolina in there, though, as it only has one conference title in its history (the 1969 ACC title). You can also throw in pre-Spurrier Florida, which had a few highlights but never won an SEC title until 1984—and didn't keep one until 1991.
That puts half of the list coming from underclass programs. I'll let you decide if you want to count Houston Nutt as a seventh at Arkansas, which hasn't yet won an SEC title. I don't, since the Hogs won 13 SWC titles. Ditto for Dodd and Georgia Tech, which still sits eighth all time with five SEC championships. There's more of a case to be made for him as a seventh than for Nutt. Even Auburn prior to the mid-'50s wasn't on the level that it's been since, so you might put Jordan on there too.
Anyway, my second assumption that we wouldn't see many modern coaches on the list wasn't that good. Five of the names on the list coached at least partially in the divisional era. Brewer, Sherrill, and Spurrier did coach at traditionally lesser schools, but Fulmer and Nutt were at better off programs. Fulmer had a national championship as a tailwind for his final decade, but Nutt didn't.
What both had were several division championships, something I had forgotten to consider. Fulmer had three and Nutt had two SEC Championship Game appearances in their decades without a conference title, and each had another year where they tied for the division crown without going to Atlanta. Being able to say you made it to the SEC title game, just like being able to say you made it to one of the 30+ bowl games, is a résumé padder that coaches from prior eras didn't have.
Mullen hasn't made it to Atlanta yet, but spending a month ranked No. 1 and going to the Orange Bowl are big things in his favor. Going to Atlanta and then winning 11 games each of the following three seasons is plenty to keep the Head Ball Coach going. Richt has top-five rankings in 2007 and 2012, a top ten ranking in 2014, and SEC title game appearances in 2011-12 helping him out.
With all that said, we still are in a different era than before. Jordan won an SEC and national championship in 1957, but those are are only ones he won. It's true that AU had been through a relatively down time, with that '57 title being the school's first conference crown since sharing the SoCon championship in 1932. Even with a real breakthrough like that, Jordan still went through a stretch of going 6-4, 6-3-1, 9-2, 5-5-1, and 4-6 within the decade after. He kept his job, obviously, and his name is now on the stadium.
If, say, Mullen goes through a period of winning six, six, nine, five, and four games within the next ten years, even at Mississippi State, could he make it through it? Maybe, but with a $4+ million annual salary, he'd be cutting it awfully close. I can remember a few scattered grumblings about him prior to the 2014 season, and that was only after winning seven, eight, and seven games the three prior seasons, respectively.
The attention and money in the SEC means that the stakes are just higher now, no matter where you are.