December 10, 2008
I was sniffing around a Mississippi State site or two after the Dan Mullen hiring broke earlier this afternoon, and for no particular reason wound up reading about a few now-obsolete candidates on one of the "Coaching Hot Boards" therein. One of the factors that listed as either a "Pro" or "Con" for every candidate was whether he did or did not have "experience coaching in the Southeastern Conference." Not experience, in general (though of course this was heavily measured), but specifically, SEC experience.
Mississippi State would not necessarily know anything about this, but considering the origins of the coaches who've actually won conference championships in the SEC over the last eight years, I think I'm missing something:
Only one championship coach since Steve Spurrier's last hurrah at Florida, Tommy Tuberville, had ever coached in any capacity at an SEC school before landing his headlining gig in the conference; Tuberville is also the only coach to even hail from an "SEC state," if Arkansas even qualifies -- the Razorbacks weren't in the conference until 1992, well into Tuberville's eight-year stint with the dominant Miami teams under Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson. Tubs had never coached in the SEC before landing the Ole Miss job in 1995, and when he finally broke through in 2004, his chief innovation was hiring an offensive coordinator, Al Borges, who had spent his entire life on the West Coast before a two-year stint at Indiana.
Mississippi State got the "SEC guy" it wanted in Dan Mullen, though he'd never held a job in the South, either, before following Meyer to Florida. But the era of "SEC experience" as a qualification is decidedly over: Trying to play catchup to the carpetbaggers, Tuberville fired Borges, hired an offensive coordinator with SEC experience, and was fired in a year. Phil Fulmer spent 36 of his 41 years in football in the SEC and was fired after his second losing record in four years -- that is, since Urban Meyer took over at Florida. Mike Shula, Sylvester Croom, who was always "doing it the right way." Even Houston Nutt, before his resurrection at Ole Miss, and (like Spurrier's fizzling "rebuilding" job at South Carolina) who knows how long that will last. With the exception of Spurrier, every major SEC hire with any kind of previous SEC pedigree has been fired at least once -- often for good -- within the last decade. It's a mercenary league, and they work fast.
Looking for "SEC experience" is kind of like complaining about Mike Leach's "gadget" offense. The jury may be very much out on Lane Kiffin, but his hiring from the NFL means Tennessee is at least trying to make a progressive move of the mercenary variety; Auburn will be in the same boat if the Tigers land Turner Gill. As for Mississippi State, those criteria only came off a Web site, not the Official Coaching Search Guidelines. But with the limitations of geography and resources already burying it at the bottom of the standings year after year, MSU can't afford to be stuck in the vicious cycle of Good Ol' Boys, too.