Remember when the SEC used to be a defensive league?
In certain quarters, it still is. But there are more than a few teams in this league, proud of its black-and-blue heritage, in desperate need of a defensive facelift.
It’s the reason former Florida coach Will Muschamp could break the bank when it comes to a defensive coordinator’s salary.
Only two days have passed since Muschamp coached his final game with the Gators, and already he’s being tied to defensive coordinator jobs that are open and some that aren’t open.
As Muschamp said himself, he didn’t win enough games at Florida to survive as head coach. But as a defensive coach, he’s on a short list of the most respected minds in the game.
That’s why Auburn is in hot pursuit after firing Ellis Johnson, and the Tigers are one of many. Texas A&M is also looking for somebody to come in and pick up the pieces of a defense that has been shredded the last two seasons.
There’s not an opening at South Carolina -- yet. But Steve Spurrier will almost certainly make some changes after seeing the Gamecocks fall off the table defensively this season on the heels of three straight top-5 finishes in the SEC in total defense from 2011-13.
Going into this season, there were already two SEC defensive coordinators making more than $1 million per year. Alabama’s Kirby Smart was at $1.35 million and LSU’s John Chavis at $1.3 million. It was money well spent. Chavis’ Tigers finished first in the SEC in total defense, and Smart’s Crimson Tide were third. They both ranked in the top 10 nationally as well in scoring defense. LSU was third (16.4 points per game) and the Tide sixth (16.9 points per game).
Muschamp is in a position where he can afford to wait and see what is out there, if he so chooses. Wherever he lands, don’t be surprised if he gets a deal that pays him in excess of $1.5 million annually.
The college game has changed dramatically with no-huddle offenses and seemingly everybody spreading it out and playing fast-break basketball on a football field.
Even Alabama is spreading it out under first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin and running some no-huddle, which is saying something. Kiffin’s boss, if you hadn’t noticed, isn’t a big fan of the fastball offenses, but Nick Saban is very much a fan of winning. He also is smart enough to know that you at least better have the capability to play that way with the climate we’re in right now in college football.
The tricky part is finding the right fit at defensive coordinator on those teams that do want to play offense at the speed of light. As a rule, defensive numbers are going to suffer (and it's difficult to sustain quality defenses over a number of years) when its offense is playing that way because it’s hard to practice the way most defenses want to practice in that system.
It’s not impossible, though. Look at what Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack did with that defense this season. The Rebels were first nationally in scoring defense and 14th in total defense.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, though, understood what he had in that defense this season and played to it. At times, the Rebels played slower than normal.
How would Muschamp fare as a defensive coordinator in a true no-huddle system?
We might find out -- if either Auburn or Texas A&M wins the Muschamp sweepstakes. At the end of the day, good defensive coaches adapt and can coach in any system.
We’re seeing more of the fast-paced, spread offenses in the SEC than ever before. Arkansas, Georgia and LSU are still running the traditional, pro-style sets, and that’s still the base for Alabama, but those teams are in the minority now in the SEC.
Muschamp won’t be the only hot commodity out there this offseason as teams look to shore up their defenses in this video-game era of offensive football.
Somebody’s sure to grab up former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who was the defensive coordinator on LSU’s 2007 national championship team.
There are others, too, with SEC ties that could be in play. Look at what former Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop did at Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions are ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. They’re No. 1 in rushing defense. In his three seasons at Vanderbilt, the Commodores were ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense all three years.
In short, everybody loves offense. It’s what sells, but there’s a reason only one team in the last decade has won a national championship with a defense ranked outside the top 10 nationally in total defense.
That one team, by the way, was Auburn in 2010. The Tigers finished 60th nationally that year in total defense.