HOOVER, Ala. -- SEC coaches are making their stump speeches with typical talking points and clichés this week at the 2016 SEC Media Days. Besides fans camping out in the hotel lobby and ESPN's huge presence, coach-speak is a rare trait that feels familiar in Hoover this week.
For the first time since 1989, both Mark Richt and Steve Spurrier are not here during talking season. Nine of the 14 coaches have been in the SEC four years or less. Two of the SEC's coaches have won national titles -- down from five in 2008 during the so-called "golden era" of SEC football -- and one of those coaches, Les Miles, nearly got fired last year.
It's fair to say there has never been this much uncertainty about the long-term careers of so many SEC coaches. In fact, 2016 is collectively the SEC's least experienced group of coaches in 52 years as the conference rebuilds its coaching depth, according to a CBS Sports analysis of SEC head-coaching careers.
|Experience levels of SEC coaches -- 2016|
|Coach, Team||Head coaching experience (years)||All-time SEC wins (rank)|
|Nick Saban, Alabama||20||No. 10|
|Les Miles, LSU||15||No. 16|
|Bret Bielema, Arkansas||10|
|Butch Jones, Tennessee||9|
|Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M||8|
|Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss||7|
|Dan Mullen, Mississippi State||7|
|Gus Malzahn, Auburn||4|
|Jim McElwain, Florida||4|
|Will Muschamp, South Carolina||4|
|Mark Stoops, Kentucky||3|
|Derek Mason, Vanderbilt||2|
|Barry Odom, Missouri||0|
|Kirby Smart, Georgia||0|
Sure, it may not feel like a rebuild because the SEC doesn't shrivel up and disappear just because there are new coaches. As the SEC's new slogan states, "It just means more."
Alabama and Nick Saban continue to roll, and eight of the past 10 national champions have come from the SEC. However, it's worth noting that no SEC team other than Alabama has won the national title over the past five years after four SEC teams ( Florida, LSU, Alabama and Auburn) won five championships from 2006-10. That was a ridiculous stretch that will likely never get matched, yet it raised the bar for all SEC coaches.
"Part of (the SEC's success) is coaching, but part of it is going beyond and the ability to sustain over time, even though people change," said Greg Sankey, a newbie himself entering Year 2 as the SEC commissioner.
This is a fascinating coaching moment competitively for the SEC, which lately is leaning on Saban more than ever for national championship success. "I think he can go forever," Florida coach Jim McElwain said. "That's just the way he's wired."
But eventually Saban will retire and the SEC will turn to new coaches to replenish the success. As the TV revenue increases, many schools are now spending an incredible amount of money on largely unproven head coaches. They will be expected to win quickly because, well, that's just how the SEC works these days.
In two of the past three years, a coach in his first SEC season took his team to the SEC Championship Game (Auburn's Gus Malzahn and McElwain). That happened only once in the first 21 years of the SEC Championship Game. Malzahn has gone from nearly winning the national championship in 2013 to facing questions about his future in 2016.
Since 2006, five SEC coaches of the year (as voted on by the coaches) have been out of their job within two years.
"This league is like no other. What have you done for me lately?" said McElwain, last year's SEC coach of the year. "But you know what? We're the ones who chose to do this. If you're going to do it, let's go do it at the highest level where the boiling pot is and let's go jump in and see what we can make of it."
Can Kirby Smart be a successful Saban pupil?
On average, the SEC's 2016 coaches have been a college head coach for 6.6 years. A year ago, the SEC coaches averaged 10.1 years in head-coaching experience. Since the SEC's national title run began in 2006, the lowest average was 7.6 years in 2010.
|Experience levels of SEC coaches -- 1964|
|Coach, Team||Head coaching experience (years)||All-time SEC wins (rank)|
|Bear Bryant, Alabama||19||No. 1|
|Johnny Vaught, Ole Miss||17||No. 5|
|Shug Jordan, Auburn||13||No. 6|
|Ray Graves, Florida||4||No. 24|
|Tommy O'Boyle, Tulane||4|
|Charlie McClendon, LSU||2||No. 12|
|Charlie Bradshaw, Kentucky||2|
|Paul Davis, Mississippi State||2|
|Jack Green, Vanderbilt||1|
|Vince Dooley, Georgia||0||No. 3|
|Doug Dickey, Tennessee||0||No. 18|
You have to go back to 1964, when the SEC's coaches averaged 5.8 years of experience, to find a year with head coaching resumes this short. That was Vince Dooley's rookie year as coach at Georgia. Sound familiar in 2016, Georgia fans?
"This is my first Media Days, but I am no stranger to the SEC," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday. "This starts my 18th season as part of the SEC. Had five as a player, one as administrative assistant, three as position coach, and eight as coordinator."
Smart is one of the most fascinating coaches to watch as the SEC tries to rebuild its depth. He was Saban's right-hand man and defensive coordinator for the better part of Alabama's current dynasty. Smart is considered a terrific recruiter. He's a Georgia alum. And he is so highly regarded that Georgia essentially fired Richt once South Carolina was seriously close to hiring Smart.
Yet we've never seen Smart as a head coach. Another Saban pupil, Will Muschamp, struck out in his first attempt as a head coach while at Florida and is now at South Carolina. Head coach is a job that requires a decidedly different skill set than being an assistant. Ask McElwain, who believes he was better off by first making some mistakes as Colorado State's head coach for three years before going to Florida.
"I think the biggest challenge is when you're a coordinator on offense or defense, obviously your concern is your unit and yet sometimes you've got to give of your unit to help whole program be successful," McElwain said. "Those are the hard things I think to realize sometimes. You've got to sit back and look from afar and say what's going to help us in the long run?"
McElwain said a new head coach has to have his hand in everything, such as working with the administration, social media department, recruiting department and the media. "There's just more time things that are pulling at you," he said. "I think I had an opportunity to kind of learn where you need to spend time and energy, and I think it was helpful."
Since 1996, 17 coaches have gotten their first college head coaching job in the SEC. In their SEC careers, those coaches combined to win 55 percent of their games overall and 46 percent of their SEC games. No rookie head coach has eventually taken his school to the SEC Championship Game at any point in his career since Mark Richt, who debuted at Georgia during the 1991 season.
|Coaches whose First Top Job came in the SEC (Since 1996)|
|Year||Coach, Team||First Year Record||SEC Career Record|
|2016||Kirby Smart, Georgia||TBD||TBD|
|2016||Barry Odom, Missouri||TBD||TBD|
|2014||Derek Mason, Vanderbilt||3-9 (0-8 SEC)||7-17 (2-14 SEC)|
|2013||Mark Stoops, Kentucky||2-10 (0-8 SEC)||12-24 (4-20 SEC)|
|2011||Will Muschamp, Florida||7-6 (3-5 SEC)||28-21 (17-15 SEC)|
|2011||James Franklin, Vanderbilt||6-7 (2-6 SEC)||24-15 (11-13 SEC)|
|2010||Robbie Caldwell, Vanderbilt||2-10 (1-7 SEC)||2-10 (1-7 SEC)|
|2010||Joker Phillips, Kentucky||6-7 (2-6 SEC)||13-24 (4-20 SEC)|
|2009||Dan Mullen, Mississippi State||5-7 (3-5 SEC)||55-35 (26-30 SEC)|
|2009||Lane Kiffin, Tennessee||7-6 (4-4 SEC)||7-6 (4-4 SEC)|
|2005||Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss||3-8 (1-7 SEC)||10-25 (3-21 SEC)|
|2004||Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State||3-8 (2-6 SEC)||21-38 (10-30 SEC)|
|2003||Mike Shula, Alabama||4-0 (2-6 SEC)||26-23 (13-19 SEC)|
|2002||Ron Zook, Florida||8-5 (6-2 SEC)||23-15 (16-8 SEC)|
|2001||Mark Richt, Georgia||8-4 (5-3 SEC)||145-51 (83-37 SEC)|
|1999||David Cutcliffe, Ole Miss||8-4 (4-4 SEC)||44-29 (25-23 SEC)|
|1997||Mike DuBose, Alabama||4-7 (2-6 SEC)||24-23 (16-16 SEC)|
|76-107 (37-83 SEC)||441-356 (235-277 SEC)|
At Georgia, Smart inherits a program where Richt got fired despite going 9-3 in 2015 and nearly playing for the national championship in 2012. Richt didn't win enough of the right games that Smart will be expected to win sooner rather than later.
Smart has tried to copy a lot of Saban's blueprint, so much so that the Georgia state legislature created a new law that gives Georgia's athletic department up to 90 business days to respond to open records requests instead of the current three days. Smart met with state legislators. One legislator said the law was created so the Bulldogs can be competitive with Alabama.
"I got great value from the nine years I spent at the University of Alabama and 11 years I worked for Coach Saban, learning the difference between a team and a program," Smart said. "That's where I want to put my stamp on the University of Georgia, is the difference between a team and program."
SEC swallowed its own after "golden era"
In 2008, the SEC produced a first by entering the year with five coaches in the conference who had won a national championship (Urban Meyer, Phil Fulmer, Saban, Miles and Spurrier). Plus there was another coach who had a perfect season (Tommy Tuberville) and another with two SEC championships (Richt). Then-SEC commissioner Mike Slive liked to say that period would be remembered as the "golden era" of SEC football.
So what happened? In large part, the SEC swallowed its own. As Tuberville put it entering a 2008 season in which he would get fired: "Coaching in the SEC is kind of like being a president. You age pretty quick in this league because you have no holidays."
The average salary for an SEC coach at a public university in 2008 was $2.6 million. In 2016 the average will be about $4.2 million. Eight years ago, the idea of a last-place coach in the SEC West making at least $1.7 million seemed like significant pressure. This year, the last-place SEC West coach will again get paid at least $4 million.
In any other league, we're probably not talking about Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Malzahn and Miles being on the hot seat entering 2016. Each of them has a 10-win season and no losing records since 2012. Of course, this isn't any other league, and that helps explain why this year's SEC coaches are collectively so inexperienced.
The pressure is super charged. Coaches can preach patience, but increasingly at most SEC schools, there's an accelerated clock that's ticking incredibly fast.
Once upon a time, it took Bryant 12 years to win his first national title. Vaught and Dooley needed 14 and 17 years, respectively. Spurrier and Fulmer each won theirs during year seven.
The past four SEC coaches to win a national title -- Saban, Meyer, Miles and Gene Chizik -- all cradled the trophy by their fourth year in the SEC. While this breeds competitiveness (and yes, sometimes results in NCAA violations), it also results in a revolving door.
Saban helped bring the SEC to new heights a decade ago. Now the SEC is banking on some of his past assistants to revitalize the SEC East as the conference searches for its next crop of consistently excellent coaches.
Don't worry, SEC. There's hope, especially if the 2016 inexperienced coaches reach similar heights as the 1964 inexperienced coaches. Seven of the 11 SEC head coaches in 1964 are now ranked in the top 25 for all-time conference wins.
At this stage of their careers, Saban and Miles somewhat resemble the careers of Bear Bryant and John Vaught in 1964. Bryant had two pupils coaching in the SEC in 1964 (LSU's Charlie McClendon and Kentucky's Charlie Bradshaw); Saban will have three ex-assistants this year in the league (Muschamp, McElwain and Smart).
"It's not as if we're bereft of talent," Sankey said. "Coaches are part of the program, but not the only part."
The coaching names are changing. It just means more in the SEC, for better or worse.