When a coach is hired, there’s typically a domino effect that ensues. Team A hires a coach from Team B, which means Team B has to replace that coach with another coach from Team C, and on and on it goes.
It’s rare, though, that every school ends up with the right guy. However, the domino effect that was set in motion last December when Will Muschamp was hired by South Carolina has turned out to be one of those rare cases. All three SEC schools affected by the move have been happy with the early returns on their investments.
First domino: Muschamp to South Carolina
After spending a year as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, Muschamp was hired by South Carolina in December to replace Steve Spurrier.
At the time, it was a move that drew plenty of criticism. Prior to Auburn, Muschamp was the head coach at Florida where he went 28-21 over a four-year span and won just 10 games his final two seasons. What made people think he was going to do any better at South Carolina?
But after the Gamecocks' win over Tennessee on Saturday night, it’s beginning to look like Muschamp was the perfect hire.
“The [players] have kept fighting,” Muschamp said after the game. “They’ve kept believing. Our fan base has been unbelievably positive about everything we’re trying to do. We haven’t arrived, but this is a good win for us. We needed this.”
One win doesn’t all of a sudden make Muschamp a great coach. But it’s more than just that one win. It’s everything he has done up to this point.
In the two months after he was hired, Muschamp put together a top-30 recruiting class that included players such as Jake Bentley, Rico Dowdle and Bryan Edwards – all of whom were instrumental in Saturday’s victory. South Carolina’s 2017 class, currently ranked No. 15 by ESPN, might be even better.
And you can’t ignore the turnaround on defense, either. The Gamecocks have yet to allow more than 30 points in a game this season and currently rank No. 34 nationally in defensive efficiency. Last year, they finished at No. 87.
Second domino: Kevin Steele to Auburn
When Muschamp left, Auburn was left looking for a new defensive coordinator again. It would be the school’s third defensive coordinator in three years and its fifth since 2011. Auburn needed to find stability and that’s exactly what it found when it hired Steele away from the same position at LSU.
The move wasn’t seen as a home run, though. Not like when Auburn hired Muschamp the year before. Steele was coming off a mediocre season at LSU, and with Gus Malzahn on the hot seat, mediocre wasn't enough at the time.
But through the first two months of the season, Auburn has the best defense it has had in years. The Tigers are ranked No. 11 nationally in defensive efficiency and prior to Saturday’s 40-29 win at Ole Miss, they hadn’t allowed more than two touchdowns in a game all year. They’re currently fourth in the SEC, allowing only 16 points per game.
“He was like a breath of fresh air when he came in,” Malzahn said Wednesday. “He did a good job developing relationships with our players and our players have a lot of confidence in him. He’s been very consistent and he’s done a super job.”
Not only has Steele helped assemble Auburn’s best defense ever under Malzahn, he’s also not going anywhere. At his introductory news conference in January, the longtime coach said that he’d like to finish his career on the Plains.
“I saw my first game here and it will be just fine with me that I coach my last game here,” Steele said.
Auburn found both stability and a guy who can flat-out coach defense.
Third domino: Dave Aranda to LSU
The first two moves were seen as hires that lacked creativity at the time. That wasn’t the case with Aranda. When LSU pried the young hotshot defensive coordinator from Wisconsin, it was seen as an upgrade.
Aranda, 40, had enjoyed success everywhere he'd been, and it has been no different at LSU, where the Tigers have a top-10 defense.
“On defense, it’s been hard to score on us,” LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “Dave Aranda, in my opinion, is the top defensive coordinator in college football today. He’s a great mind. He’s a great asset to our program. We have good players and he’s got them in the right position.”
Even with all of the turnover and turmoil LSU has faced this season – firing Les Miles and promoting Orgeron – the defense has remained consistent. The Tigers are among the SEC leaders in both scoring and total defense. They’re fourth in the conference with 20 sacks. They’ve been great on third down and they haven’t yielded many big plays.
Aranda has lived up to the expectations his first year in Baton Rouge.
"It’s definitely a good asset to have him on the sideline to coach us up on the fly," LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White said. "Because after every series, he’s always drawing something up. He’s never stopped coaching, so I feel like that’s definitely one of the assets that we have."