The Southeastern Conference will have four new head football coaches this fall. At least initially, it appears that the conference has upgraded with the new coaches, but only time will tell for sure.
The most significant positive change is with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Last season, interim head coach John L. Smith took a preseason top-10 team and went 4-8 with them. Not exactly what the Pig Sooey Nation had hoped for heading into the 2012 campaign.
Smith, obviously, was not retained. Athletic Director Jeff Long proceeded to get Bret Bielema, head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, to leave Madison and come to the SEC. Bielema was 68-24 in seven years as the head coach at Wisconsin, and he took the Badgers to the last three Rose Bowls.
The Tennessee Volunteers have also upgraded their coaching situation, hiring Butch Jones away from the Cincinnati Bearcats, replacing Derek Dooley. During his three years in Knoxville, Dooley could never get the Vols on a consistent winning path, and he was let go near the end of last season.
Jones has been the headman at Cincinnati and Central Michigan, and has an overall record of 50-27. He won at least a share of the Big East Conference titles in his last two seasons at Cincinnati, and has won at least a share of the conference title in four of his six years as a head coach.
The Kentucky Wildcats have seemingly upgraded their coaching situation as well. Kentucky fired Joker Phillips after last season’s 2-10 debacle. Phillips, who nearly all of the Big Blue Nation loves as a person, was apparently in over his head as a head coach in the SEC.
Kentucky hired Mark Stoops, former defensive coordinator for the Florida State Seminoles, as its new headman. Stoops has yet to coach a game in Lexington, but he has assembled two strong recruiting classes and seems to be changing the culture in Lexington. While it seems that Stoops is an upgrade over Phillips, the jury is still out at this point.
The one hire in the SEC that could be up for debate is with the Auburn Tigers. Gone is Gene Chizik, who did win a BCS National Championship at the school, but who did very little without a quarterback named Cam Newton. In fact, Auburn was 19-19 under Chizik when Newton was not the quarterback (they were 14-0 with him).
Chizik was replaced by his former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who led the offense during Auburn’s championship run in 2010. Malzahn left Auburn after the 2011 season to become head coach at Arkansas State. During his one season with the Red Wolves, Malzahn went 9-3 and won the Sun Belt Conference title. He now brings his high-paced offensive style back to Auburn, trying to rebuild a program that took a tumble very quickly.
Overall, there’s no question that the coaching in the SEC has taken an upgrade. This should make the nation’s best league even more competitive in 2013.