A boatload of votes are in and you readers have picked Arkansas' hire of Bret Bielema as the best coaching hire in the SEC in our SportsNation poll. And it wasn't even close.
With more than 39,300 votes cast, Bielema took 48 percent of the vote. This was easily the most shocking hire of the four openings in the SEC, and the readers believe it was the best of the bunch. Bielema led Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowls and is a proven winner. He wants a very balanced and tough offense and has had a ton of success running the football.
Now will he be able to recruit in the Southeast and compete with the other big SEC schools on the recruiting trail? It's yet to be seen, but he already knows how important it is to make a splash in this part of the country so at least he knows what's in front of him.
Bielema also made another addition to his coaching staff on Thursday by making former Tennessee assistant Sam Pittman his new offensive line coach. Pittman did an excellent job with the Vols' line this year. Tennessee's line made tremendous strides under Pittman in 2012 after having a very bad year when it came to helping the run game in 2011. The Vols averaged 160.3 rushing yards a game in 2012 after registering just 90 a game in 2011.
Tennessee owned one of the best lines in the SEC in 2012 and allowed a league-low eight sacks in 12 games.
Auburn's hire of Gus Malzahn and Kentucky's hire of Mark Stoops both took 18 percent of the vote, while Tennessee's decision to go with Butch Jones grabbed 16 percent.
Malzahn was probably the most obvious hire and he'll arrive as the most comfortable coach at his new home. He spent a year at Arkansas State after serving as the Tigers' offensive coordinator from 2009-11. In two of his three years as Auburn's offensive coordinator, the Tigers averaged 431 yards and 499 yards of offense a game. Those 499 yards per game led the SEC and came during the Tigers' national championship run in 2010.
He's very familiar with the program and very familiar with a lot of players on Auburn's current roster.
Stoops brings a defensive edge to Kentucky. Some have questioned the hire because many expected the Wildcats to go in a more offensive direction, but putting a focus on defense isn't necessarily a bad route for Kentucky. He made Florida State's defense one of the best in the country when he took over as the defensive coordinator in 2010. He's a relentless recruiter and Kentucky needs that in order to find athletes who can consistently compete on the defensive side of the ball in the SEC.
There's no getting around the fact Jones wasn't Tennessee's first choice to replace Derek Dooley. But he does arrive in Knoxville with a pretty good resume as a head coach. He's a winner and has had pretty good offensive success, but like Bielema, people wonder if he'll be able to recruit in the southeast.
One thing he has done before his other new coaching counterparts is hire just about all of his assistants. Jones has filled every assistant coaching spot except for the wide receivers coach.