SEC fails to show any imagination with coaching hires

The casual fan could have stopped watching the SEC about midway through November and not missed anything.

Since then the league has become as compelling as a daytime soap opera. The end of the regular season ran 30 minutes too long with Alabama and Florida already safe as division champions. The conference championship game then turned out to be a sequel no one needed, as the Crimson Tide made easy work of a B-list Gators offense.

And all that would have been OK if the coaching carousel had any juice to it.

Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina all had openings. We readied for athletic directors flying all over the country and making backroom deals. We were sold on the idea of splashy hires.

But none of that ever developed. Chip Kelly turned out to be a pipe dream. Justin Fuente, Rich Rodriguez and Tom Herman were names that floated away as quickly as they were proposed as possibilities.

Instead, the SEC was left with three new head coaches who don’t feel new at all. It’s as if the athletic directors’ imaginations didn’t extend beyond their own backyards.

Kirby Smart could turn out to be the answer at Georgia; Will Muschamp could have a solid second act at South Carolina; and Barry Odom might be the right person to carry on the work Gary Pinkel left behind at Missouri. But you're telling me that three former defensive coordinators are going to capture the nation’s attention? The only thing people are asking right now is, “Why?”

Why didn’t Georgia pursue someone with more experience?

Why didn’t Missouri go harder after Fuente?

Why did South Carolina end up with Muschamp, a coach known as much for losing control on the sideline as he is for struggling at Florida?

The bottom line is, these schools played it safe. Meanwhile, the SEC’s favorite punching bag, the ACC, won the coaching competition, with Fuente going to Virginia Tech, Mark Richt to Miami and Bronco Mendenhall to Virginia. All three are names that fans can get excited about.

Time will tell whether Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina made the right decisions. Sometimes the splashy hire isn’t the right hire, after all. It’s all about how each person fits.

But recent SEC history has taught us that in-house promotions don’t pay off. Since 2000, only one coach whose previous job was within the conference has won the SEC championship game, and even then he was a head coach before changing addresses.

Nick Saban came from the NFL; Les Miles came from Oklahoma State; and Urban Meyer came from Utah. Gus Malzahn spent a year building his résumé at Arkansas State; Gene Chizik established himself at Iowa State; Tommy Tuberville was poached away from Ole Miss; and Richt waited for the right job as offensive coordinator at Florida State. Steve Spurrier, the dean of modern SEC coaches, had to make his name at Duke before returning home to Florida.

Those were the days -- back when the SEC was unquestionably the best conference in college football, and when every move commanded the country's attention. The games were bigger; the players were bigger, and so were the coaches. Everything was done on a large scale.

But now the conference has gone stale. It's all too boring.

The coaching carousel has left many wanting more. In measuring risk vs. reward, the scales feel uneven.

With names like Odom, Muschamp and Smart, it's as if the SEC dispensed with the drama and asked the rest of college football to find something else to watch.