Today we continue our experiment by looking at the SEC teams in the Eastern Division.
Florida (Bobby Petrino)
The Florida Gators were not known for anything before Steve Spurrier came along. They had no identity. Spurrier gave them an identity. The “Fun ‘N Gun” style of play was their praxis and every SEC fan, Gator or otherwise, knew of it intimately.
Once Spurrier left for the NFL, Ron Zook tried to replicate it, but failed in the process. When Jeremy Foley brought upstart Urban Meyer on board, the high-flying, over-the-top offensive identity the Gators were known for returned.
Then, Will Muschamp completely shattered it. Three yards and a cloud of dust was not Gator football. Now, current Florida head coach Jim McElwain, an offensive-minded guy, is trying to recapture the swagger.
If McElwain left tomorrow, new AD Scott Stricklin would recognize the breadth and depth of this 25-plus-year culture in Gainesville and get a modern legend of offensive scheme. Bobby Petrino, bless your hearts, would be the answer.
Who knows how long you would keep him and he’s less than reliable from a personal standpoint, but all you need to do is turn your attention to the current #3 team in the country for proof.
Put Bobby Petrino amidst the most fertile recruiting ground in the country and you’ll be competing for conference titles within his second year. Just say, “Petrino’s our guy,” and quickly shower afterwards.
Georgia (David Shaw)
I played with the idea of putting Mark Richt here since I’m sure many UGA fans are feeling nostalgic for him, right now, but bringing in David Shaw to the SEC would be so choice.
It cannot be overstated how difficult it is for head coaches of FBS schools that put a high premium on academics to succeed on a consistent basis. Schools like Stanford, Duke, Vanderbilt (we’ll get to them in a moment) and Notre Dame require of their athletes the same arduous tasks they require of any other student for enrollment.
Jim Harbaugh brought Stanford back to life in the mid-aughts and David Shaw has kept that going for the past five seasons. And he’s done so brilliantly.
Not only has Shaw and his staff developed the players they have, but they’re actually getting the blue-chip players they want. They are an annual Top 25 team in recruiting and that has obviously led to success on the field.
Currently, Stanford is sitting at 7th in the country and trying for their FOURTH conference title under David Shaw. If Georgia brought in Shaw and said, “You don’t have the academic restrictions here that you had at Stanford,” the Bulldogs would be killing it.
Shaw would also bring a level of discipline to the team that hasn’t been seen in Athens for awhile. I don’t know. Maybe I’m under thinking this one, but David Shaw at Georgia makes the SEC a helluva lot more dangerous.
Kentucky (Lane Kiffin)
I saw a tweet today that mentioned the possibility of Les Miles being a candidate for the Kentucky job if Mark Stoops is let go and, honestly, the prospect of that makes a lot of sense for both UK and Miles.
However, I’m banking on Miles choosing Arkansas in this hypothetical and instead giving the Wildcats the one and only: Mr. Lane Kiffin.
Kentucky can’t make the phone calls Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee can. Unfortunately, aside from Bear Bryant’s tenure in Lexington, history is not on their side for acquisition of top-shelf coaches. That’s where Kiffin comes in!
Kiffin is not a top-shelf head coach. He’s certainly a top-shelf offensive coach, but he’s still a ways away from being the kind of head coach Al Davis’ addled brain thought he could be back in 2007.
Kiffin is a dynamite recruiter. An excellent steward of quarterbacks and offensive game planning. He needs a job where the expectation levels are not through the roof. He was given too much too soon and he never got a handle on it.
He can put a great staff together and as long as he manages them and his players in a way that doesn’t lead to anarchy, then he’ll be golden. Kiffin can bring Kentucky back to the place they were under Rich Brooks and if he does that, then the world’s probably going to be his oyster.
Missouri (Dino Babers)
More than any other school in the SEC right now, Missouri needs an offensive identity. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel is doing a decent job four games into the Tigers’ season steering the ship, but time will tell if there’s enough talent in Columbia to keep that going through a full season.
Barry Odom is doing as good a job as to be expected considering he wasn’t expecting to be Mizzou’s head coach this time last year. Still, defensive-minded coaches usually don’t churn out the scoreboard-breaking offenses fans want.
Dino Babers is the type of coach who could turn that around. Since becoming a head coach a mere five seasons ago at Eastern Illinois, Babers has led each of his teams to a winning record, including a 12-2 mark at Bowling Green in 2015.
That team, also, ranked in the top ten in three out of the four major offensive statistical categories last season, ranking in the top five in two.
Currently, Babers is sitting at 2-2 in Syracuse, right now, and if he can make the Orangemen an annual bowl team, the 55-year-old will start fielding a few more offers from schools like Mizzou, who sit in the middle-to-the-top of the Power 5 schools.
South Carolina (Charlie Strong)
It’s a real shame that Charlie Strong is being treated the way he is in Austin. Sure, he signed up for it, but the situation at Texas was so untenable that he was kicking players off the team his first year that had been starters the year(s) prior.
His record at Texas is far from sexy, but any coach in the Big XII will tell you that hardly any of that is the fault of Strong. Mack Brown’s program was in disarray and little to no development or managing occurred in his final seasons.
Strong turned a wayward Louisville Cardinals program around and even took them to a Sugar Bowl victory at the end of the 2012 season. The impact he’s had on his players was none more evident than at the end of that game against Florida. Players recruited by Strong when Strong was the DC under Urban Meyer went out of their way to hug him once the game was over.
Strong’s players love him and the Gamecocks would do well to bring him on. And better still, Strong was South Carolina’s defensive coordinator for four seasons under Lou Holtz. He knows and has recruited the area extensively.
Even more advantageous for the Gamecocks, is Strong’s recruiting ties to South Florida where he once plucked a skinny kid named Teddy Bridgewater out of Miami and turned him into a first-round draft pick.
Strong leads fundamentally-sound, physical teams and while Will Muschamp is trying to achieve that very thing in his first season in Columbia, Strong would provide more balance on both sides of the football.
Strong would get South Carolina to where they were under Spurrier in its heyday.
Tennessee (Not Jon Gruden)
Please just stop.
Vanderbilt (David Cutcliffe)
Doubling back to our discussion on schools with difficult academic requirements for enrollment, Vanderbilt is as tough as they come. Especially, if you’re trying to compete in the southeastern region of the United States.
They’ve been the conference doormat off and on for the past eighty years and it’s difficult for them to shed that descriptor when they continue to churn out 3-9 seasons year after year.
When James Franklin rode into town, he reenergized a fan base that was largely dormant. He recruited incredibly well in and out of state for not only the “leftovers,” but for the ones being recruited by UGA, LSU and Alabama.
The current tenure under Derek Mason has left fans feeling underwhelmed again and his chances of remaining for a fourth season are quickly fading.
If Mason is indeed let go by season’s end, I know exactly to whom my first call would be: David Cutcliffe.
David Cutcliffe is as close to a miracle worker in the modern age of football as we’ve seen. Not only has he personally coached Peyton and Eli Manning at Tennessee and Ole Miss, respectively (which is not miraculous, mind you), but he has made Duke football as relevant as its been since probably Wallace Wade.
Duke went to the ACC Championship just three years ago and most recently they went to South Bend last weekend and beat Notre Dame.
Cutcliffe will make your offense relevant, again, and will destroy any notion you have that your team has to be the conference doormat.