How Long Does it Take to Build a Program in the SEC?
War Eagle, everyone, from sunny Fort Walton Beach! Wednesday morning, while I was downing a pot of good coffee, dripping sand, and baking in the sun, I was thinking about the current slate of SEC head coaches. Not a single one is a graduate of the university where they currently coach. Many a fired coach has bemoaned a lack of time to “build a program.” How long should this take? Most pundits say 3-5 years. Perhaps a more pertinent question is, how long do SEC coaches typically have, to build a program?
Today, we’re going to examine the past quarter century of head coaching tenures at SEC schools, and figure out the average. I’m not going to count interim coaches (unless they are later named permanent head coaches), since they aren’t generally considered part of “building a program.” Interim guys are stop-gap, “let’s get the season over with” measures. I’m also not going to count short-term coaches that didn’t even make it to a single game, such as Bama’s Mike Price, or Georgia’s coach for less than a week, Glen Mason. By arbitrary convention, I’m going to call a complete season as 1 year, and any games in a termination season as a fraction of a whole. In other words, a coach that gets fired after game one, in an 11 game season, gets credit for 0.09 years. I will figure up each eligible coach’s tenure, then average them.
The results are somewhat surprising. The average tenure of an SEC coach, over the past 25 years, has been about 6.9 years. That’s PLENTY, by most folks’ standards, to establish a program. Numbers can be misleading, though. The old Lies, damned lies, and statistics adage, can certainly be applied here! Successful programs have tended to have longer average terms. Those schools include Tennessee (longest average of the bunch), Georgia, and Auburn. Schools struggling to make the SEC Championship game tend to toss out coaches every five years, or even sooner! The shortest tenure teams tend to be the ones who were once great, and aren’t happy with their current status. Teams like Alabama (shortest average tenure, EVEN with Mike Price out of the equation!), LSU, and Arkansas, have traded coaches frequently, trying to reclaim the glory days of old. Florida is the exception to the rule, having bullied the league well for the past 25 years, yet trading coaches like a lower-echelon team!
Details, after the jump!
Vanderbilt (average tenure: 5.0 years)
George MacIntyre was hired in 1979, to replace Fred Pancost, and led the Commodores to the Hall of Fame bowl in 1982. But three more years of losing records ended MacIntyre’s tenure, after the 1985 season. Tenure: 7 years.
Watson Brown, a quarterback alumnus of Vanderbilt, took charge in 1986, and plummeted the program head first into back to back 1-10 records, in 89 and 90. Watson was fired. Tenure: 5 years.
Gerry DiNardo put the toughness back in the Commodore program. While never posting a winning Commodore record, DiNardo posted at least 4 wins in each season. After the 1994 season, DiNardo jumped to LSU, prompting a Vandy lawsuit which was eventually settled out of court, Tenure: 4 years.
Rod Dowhower was a strange hire. Dowhower tried to install a pro-passing attack with I-bone players, and was fired after just two dismal seasons. Tenure: 2 years.
Woody Widenhoffer, Dowhower’s defensive coordinator, was tapped to run the program for the 1997 season. Despite several years of Woody promising a bowl appearance, the Commodores couldn’t get to .500. Woody resigned after the 2001 season. Tenure: 5 years.
Bobby Johnson moved up from Furman to Vanderbilt, and for a while, it looked like Vandy was sinking even farther. The fans stuck with Johnson, though, and were rewarded last December with a Hall of Fame Bowl victory, Vandy’s first bowl appearance since 1982, and the first bowl win since 1955. Tenure: 7, and counting.
Kentucky (average tenure: 5.4 years)
Jerry Claiborne was hired to replace Fran Curci for the 1982 season, and proved to be the perennial 5-6, 6-5 coach. Kentucky decided that they could do better, and fired Claiborne after the 1989 season. Tenure: 8 years.
Bill Curry replaced Claiborne, and managed one bowl appearance, in the 1993 Peach. Curry was fired midway through the 1996 campaign. In typical Curry fashion, Kentucky won 3 of their last 4 with Curry as a lame duck coach. Tenure. 7 years.
Hal Mumme brought the wide open Airraid offense to the SEC in 1997, and in his second year took the Wildcats to the Outback bowl, their first New Year’s day appearance in 40 years. Two years later, the Mumme administration melted down under a strange quarterback decision, and of course the NCAA getting their hands on a Kentucky athletic department check written to a Memphis high school coach. Tenure: 4 years.
Guy Morriss was initially the interim coach, for the 2001 season. The Wildcats liked him and his 2-9 season so much that Morriss was made the real head coach, for the 2002 season. Morriss repaid the Big Blue by jumping to Baylor after the 2002 season. Tenure: 2 years.
Rich Brooks came out of retirement to take over the Wildcats in 2003, and has finished the past three seasons with bowl wins. Tenure: 6 years, and counting.
South Carolina (average tenure: 5.2 years)
Joe Morrison was hired in 1983, while South Carolina was still a I-a independent school. Morrison instituted the famous all-black Carolina jerseys, and Morrison’s “Black Magic” carried the team to three bowl games. Morrison’s promising career was cut short by a fatal heart attack in February of 1989. Tenure: 6 years.
Sparkey Woods was hired to continue building the program, but could not match Morrison’s success. Woods’ first two teams won 6 games apiece, but then the Gamecocks loaded up on SEC competition. Woods survived a player mutiny in 1992, and the team won 4 of its last 5 games. Woods was fired following another losing season in 1993. Tenure: 5 years.
Brad Scott came in from Florida State, and brought South Carolina their first EVER bowl win in the 1995 Carquest Bowl. Scott’s teams hovered around .500 for three years, then the bottom fell out in a 1-10 1998 campaign. Scott was fired. Tenure: 5 years.
Lou Holtz came out of retirement to play golf, I mean, coach football at South Carolina. Holtz was nearly run out of town his opening year, with an 0-11 record. The next two years ended in Outback Bowl wins, and Holtz was seriously being considered as a candidate for governor of South Carolina. The success didn’t last, though, and Holtz “retired” with the NCAA on the school’s heels, after the 2004 season. Tenure: 6 years.
In the coup of the decade, South Carolina hired Steve Spurrier to replace Holtz. While Spurrier has not won any titles, he’s had the team at, or over .500, every year. Tenure: 4 years and counting.
Georgia (average tenure: 11.25 years)
Vince Dooley was entrenched as a national championship coach, 25 years ago. Dooley’s teams were tough as nails, and usually in contention for titles. Dooley took the job in 1964 and retired after the 1988 season. Tenure: 25 years.
Ray Goff was the hand-picked successor to Dooley, but could not maintain a high level of Bulldog play. At the end of a horribly injury-marred 1995 campaign, Goff was fired by athletic director Vince Dooley. Tenure: 7 years.
Jim Donnan took over after a brief Georgia flirtation with Kansas’ Glen Mason. Donnan’s first team stumbled out of the gate, turning the ball over constantly, and lost to Georgia Tech to finish a 5-6 opening season. Bulldog fans never forgave Donnan. Despite an overall 40-18 record, Donnan was fired at the end of the 2000 season. As a lame duck, Donnan won his 4th bowl game in a row, in the Hawaii Bowl. Tenure: 5 years.
Mark Richt took over for the 2001 season, and won 8 games with freshman quarterbacks. An SEC title followed the next year, and Richt has won at least 9 games every year since. Tenure: 8 years and counting.
Tennessee (average tenure: 16.0 years)
Johnny Majors became the Tennessee head coach in 1977, the latest in a string of coaches that had failed to equal General Bob Neyland’s 82.8 percent career winning percentage. Following Bill Battle, Majors struggled in his early years, posting losing records in 3 of his first 4 years. The program gradually improved from those years, and the Vol faithful were rewarded with SEC championships in 1985, 1989, and 1990. Then, the Tennessee record started to slip, at least in the eyes of some influential Tennesseans. There were back to back losses to Florida and Alabama in 1991. Johnny Majors was reported to be having heart trouble. Majors missed the first three games of 1992, and Phillip Fulmer filled in as interim coach, and the Vols rolled out to a 5-0 start, including big wins over Florida and LSU. Then, with Majors back, there was a 3-game losing streak, to Arkansas, Alabama, then South Carolina. Tennessee struggled to beat Memphis and Vanderbilt, and the handwriting was on the wall. Majors had heart surgery, while Fulmer coached the team to a big Hall of Fame Bowl win over Boston College. When Majors got out of the hospital, he didn’t have a job. Tennessee fired him, and went with the interim coach Phillip Fulmer. Tenure: 15.67 years.
Phillip Fulmer took full control in 1993, and by 1995, had an 11-win season under his belt. In 1997, the Vols won the SEC, and 1998 brought another SEC title, and a consensus national championship. Fulmer spent the next ten years trying in vain to duplicate that 13-0 season. Tennessee managed 3 more trips to Atlanta as the SEC East Champions, but couldn’t win that trophy. Losing seasons in 2005 and 2008 finished Fulmer off. He and the University “reached an agreement,” and Fulmer was gone at the end of 2008. Tenure: 16.33 years.
Florida (average tenure: 5.86 years)
The late Bear Bryant once said, “if they ever get a coach down there at Florida, we’ll all be playing for second place.” The Gators had found a coach by 1984, and that man was Charley Pell. Pell’s Gators DOMINATED the league in 84, but three games in, NCAA allegations were flying. Pell admitted all, told all, and for his honesty, he was blackballed from college football for the rest of his life. The Gators, much like modern-day Bama, drifted in and out of the NCAA doghouse for the rest of the decade. Tenure: 5.27 years.
Galen Hall took over for Pell, at first an interim coach, then full time. Hall’s Gators were strong at first, producing such characters as Kerwin Bell and Emmitt Smith. Things declined, though, and Hall was scraping out 7-5 seasons. The NCAA kept nipping at Gator heels. When Hall was implicated in another scandal 5 games into the 1989 season, he was let go immediately. Tenure: 5.14 years.
Steve Spurrier followed interim coach Gary Darnell in 1990, and Florida was dominant again. Spurrier won 5 SEC titles in his first seven years, and a national championship in 1996. The last 5 years of Spurrier’s reign, the Gators were strong, but managed only one additional title. Dissatisfied, Spurrier left after the 2001 season, for an ill-fated head coaching job for the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Tenure: 12 years.
Ron Zook was an unpopular choice, and was a marked man before he ever coached his first practice. The Gators still had winning records, but there were upset losses that were hard to stomach. Midway through his 3rd season, Zook was fired. He finished out the rest of the season, but bolted for Illinois before the 2004 Peach Bowl. Tenure: 2.92 years.
Urban Meyer succeeded interim coach Charlie Strong, and has won a pair of SEC and national titles in his first four seasons. Everyone else in the league is playing for second place, again. Tenure: 4 years and counting.
LSU (average tenure: 4.15 years)
Bill Arnsparger took over for Jerry Stovall in 1984, and immediately made LSU relevant again, representing the SEC in the Sugar Bowl. Arnsparger and LSU won the SEC in 1986, and Arnsparger promptly resigned and returned to the NFL. There were rumors of discord between the coach and the athletic department… Tenure: 3 years.
Mike Archer replaced Arnsparger, and had a pair of good years, winning a share of the SEC crown in 1988. 4-7 and 5-6 seasons followed, and Archer was fired. Tenure: 4 years.
Curly Hallman was hired away from a successful stint as the Southern Mississippi head coach. If the Tiger fans thought Archer was bad, they hadn’t seen anything yet. Hallman posted a 2-9 stinker in his second season. LSU didn’t recover, as Hallman never posted a winning record with the Tigers. Tenure: 4 years.
LSU replaced a coach that didn’t win, with one from Vanderbilt that had not had a winning season in the SEC. Gerry DiNardo had initial success, taking LSU to three straight bowl wins, and two SEC West co-championships. Then, his defensive coordinator, Carl Reese, left. With Reese, went any semblance of defense, and LSU was losing again. DiNardo was fired, ten games into the 1999 season. Tenure: 4.91 years.
Following interim coach Hal Hunter, came Nick Saban, out of Michigan State. Saban whipped LSU back into shape quickly, rebounding from an 0-3 SEC start in 2001, to win the SEC. In 2003, LSU won the SEC title, and the BCS national championship. After a 9-3 campaign in 2004, Saban jumped to the NFL, for an abortive stint with the Miami Dolphins. Tenure: 5 years.
Les Miles replaced Saban. Miles won early and often, winning the SEC West in 2005, then winning the SEC and consensus nationally titles in 2007. A plunge to 8-5 in 2008 has some fans worried. Tenure: 4 years and counting.
Arkansas (average tenure: 4.8 years)
Ken Hatfield replaced the legendary Frank Broyles in 1984, and won Southwestern conference titles in 1988 and 1989. Hatfield had Arkansas in a bowl every year of his tenure. Evidently, Hatfield and the man he replaced did not get along. Broyles, then athletic director, made no real attempt to renew Hatfield’s contract, and Hatfield left for the Clemson job after the 1989 season. Tenure: 6 years.
Jack Crowe was Broyles’ choice to replace a successful coach like Hatfield. Crowe floundered through two lackluster seasons, then Arkansas lost the 1992 opener to the Citadel. Broyles fired Crowe on the spot, and interim coach Joe Kines ran the team the rest of the year. Tenure: 2.09 years.
Danny Ford brought national championship credentials to Fayetteville, but found tough going in the SEC West. With the help of a nasty Joe Lee Dunn-led defense, Ford won the SEC West in 1995. When Dunn bolted for Mississippi State, a pair of 4-7 seasons followed. Ford was fired at the end of 1997. Tenure: 5 years.
Houston Nutt was next brought home to Arkansas to coach the Razorbacks. Nutt enjoyed a modicum of success taking Arkansas to a SEC West titles in 2002, and again in 2006. Several scandals strained Nutt’s relationship with Razorback supporters, and at the end of the 2007 regular season, Nutt was gifted with an expensive buy-out. Nutt was announced as the Ole Miss head coach, the very next day. Tenure: 9.92 years.
Bobby Petrino was lured away from a short stint with the Atlanta Falcons, to replace interim coach Reggie Herring. Petrino finished 5-7 in his first year, and most folks are expecting improvement, this year. Tenure: 1 year and counting.
Mississippi State (average tenure: 7.5 years)
Emory Bellard was MSU’s coach 25 years ago. Bellard produced some tough Bulldog teams in the late 70s/early 80s, with SEC legends like John Bond. Fate turned, though, and Bellard had losing records his last 4 seasons. He was let go at the end of the 1985 season. Tenure: 7 years.
Rocky Felker picked up just above where Bellard left off, at 6-5. Felker slid down to 1-10 in 1988, then picked back up to 5-6 his last two seasons. While everyone seemed to think that the talent level in Starkville had improved, it wasn’t enough. Felker was fired. Tenure: 5 years.
Jackie Sherrill carried a lot of NCAA baggage into Mississippi, but he promised that he could have the Bulldogs winning immediately, and he was right. The Bulldogs went to bowl games in 3 of Sherrill’s first 4 seasons. Sherrill saw the writing on the wall, though, it seemed like a bowl loss was the best MSU was going to do. Sherrill lured wacky defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn away from Arkansas, and opted for a JUCO-heavy recruiting strategy. After a couple of transition years, Sherrill was winning again, producing the SEC West Champs in 1998, and MSU’s first 10-win season, EVER, in 1999. Other SEC coaches started poaching the JUCO ranks, and Sherrill’s career went into a retirement slide. Sherrill resigned at the end of the 2003 season, after 3 straight losing seasons. Tenure: 13 years.
Sylvester Croom’s hiring made SEC history, but ultimately he could not get the Bulldogs over the hump. Moribund offense has been the watchword in Starkville, and after only one winning season in five, Croom and the Bulldogs parted ways at the end of 2008. Tenure: 5 years.
Mississippi (average tenure: 5.0 years)
Billy Brewer was hired in 1983, to end the decades of mediocrity since the days of legendary coach John Vaught. Brewer only took Ole Miss to 2 bowls in his first five years, but began to get it rolling by the late 1980s, going to bowls every two years or so. Brewer had a reputation as a solid coach, till a ton of NCAA allegations came to light in 1993. When the official letter of inquiry came before the season started in 1994, Brewer was fired for breach of contract, leaving interim coach Joe Lee Dunn to preside over the season. Tenure: 11 years.
Tommy Tuberville was the unlikely candidate to walk into a looming situation of a heavy probation, and less than 50 scholarship players. Somehow, Tuberville kept the program afloat, winning the Motor City Bowl in 1997. Tuberville and the Ole Miss brass had a bit of a falling out after Tuberville’s name surfaced in the Arkansas coaching search in 1998. At the end of the 1998 regular season, Tuberville bolted for the Auburn job. Tenure: 3.92 years.
David Cutcliffe took the Ole Miss job, and jumped into bowl preparations before Christmas, 1998. Cutcliffe maintained the Tuberville-level successes, and managed the coup of landing heralded quarterback prospect Eli Manning. Some Ole Miss followers feel that Manning’s tenure was wasted. Ole Miss went 7-4 with no bowl his sophomore year, and added a 7-6 junior campaign. In 2003, Cutcliffe, Manning and Co. managed a 9-3 record, 7-1 in the SEC, with a 44-42 Cotton Bowl victory over Les Miles, Mike Gundy, Trooper Taylor, and company’s Oklahoma State team. With Manning gone, 2004 was a year of rotating quarterbacks, and a 4-7 finish. The Ole Miss leadership demanded change, Cutcliffe refused, and was terminated. Tenure: 6.08 years.
Ed Orgeron was the next Ole Miss coach, a phenomenal recruiter, but only a position coach, with no Division I coordinator, let alone head coaching experience. The Rebels let Orgeron stock the cupboard for 3 years, and compile a 10-25 record. Then after a painful Egg Bowl loss, Orgeron was fired. Tenure: 3 years.
After Houston Nutt and Arkansas parted ways, Ole Miss grabbed him. Nutt started slow, then did well, with Orgeron’s players. With a veteran 9-4 team returning, many are picking Ole Miss to win the SEC West in 2009. Tenure: 1 year and counting.
Alabama (average tenure: 3.7 years)
Ray Perkins’ worst fault was that he was not Bear Bryant. As Bryant’s successor, he inherited a somewhat depleted cupboard, but did well, 3 of his 4 seasons. Perkins was much more of a technician, and didn’t play well with the media. Most other schools would count Perkins’ 32-15-1 career record as a success. Perkins left Bama to take the Tampa Bay Bucs head coaching job, after the 1986 season. Tenure: 4 years.
Bill Curry, by any rational standard, was a successful Alabama coach. The legacy of playing at Georgia Tech was too much to overcome, in the end. Curry finished with a 26-10 record, with a share of the SEC crown in his last season. Curry moved on, to Kentucky, where he felt he’d be more appreciated. Tenure: 3 years.
Gene Stallings was a curious hire, in 1990. Stallings had only ONE winning season in his college head-coaching resume, and six losing ones. “WOE AND THREE,” screamed the Birmingham News, 3 games into Stallings’ Bama tenure. Stallings regrouped to win seven that year, then won 11 in 1991, and went 13-0, SEC and consensus national champions in 1992. Stallings then decided to sweep the Antonio Langham situation under the rug, and deliberately play an ineligible player in 1993. The NCAA ultimately found Alabama guilty, and ordered the year forfeited. While Stallings holds the record as the most successful post-Bryant coach in Alabama history, he also bears a share of the responsibility for Alabama being on the NCAA’s “repeat offender” list. Stallings managed 3 more seasons, all good ones, culminating in another Western Division title in 1996. He retired from Alabama in 1996. Tenure: 7 years.
If Stallings was a strange hire, Mike Dubose was downright Twilight-Zone. A mere defensive line coach just two years prior, Dubose had one year of coordinator experience in Stallings’ last season. With NCAA sanctions depleting talent, and a hodge-podge of old and new position coaches, Bama crashed and burned in 1997, falling to 4-7. Dubose adjusted, and climbed back up. Bama reached the SEC Championship game in 1999, and DESTROYED Florida for the title. SEC coaches far and wide, though, were HOWLING about Bama recruiting tactics. Bama was a national title contender, starting the 2000 season. Instead, Dubose delivered a 3-5 start, with NCAA violation rumors swirling. Dubose was fired after a 42-38 homecoming loss to Central Florida, and completed a 3-8 season as a lame duck. Tenure: 4 years.
Bama looked beyond the Bryant lineage for their next coach, and selected Dennis Franchione, of TCU. Franchione inherited a mess, but his first team won their last 3 games, to finish 7-5. On probation for the second time in ten years, Franchione’s second team stomped over most of the SEC for a 9-2 start, before lackluster performances in the last two games: a 17-7 home loss to Auburn, and a 21-16 victory over Hawaii. Less than a week later, Franchione was gone, having taken the Texas A&M head coaching job. Tenure: 2 years.
After the Mike Price stripper fiasco hire in 2003, Mike Shula was brought in AFTER spring drills, to install his system. Predictably, the 2003 team had problems. Low on talent, and with systems newly installed during two-a-days, Bama struggled to a 4-9 finish. Shula’s second team managed 6-6 with a horribly injury-depleted squad, then Shula’s 3rd squad started the season 9-0. Again feeling the effects of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, Bama finished 10-2. Shula’s 4th regular season culminated in a 6-6 regular season finish, and he was fired at the end of it. Tenure: 3.92 years.
Nick Saban was quite the coach-hiring coup for Bama. Replacing interim coach Joe Kines, Saban started off strong his first year, but lost the last 4 regular season games to finish 6-6. An Independence Bowl win over Colorado lifted that to 7-6. In 2008, Saban’s squad bowled over their first 12 opponents, to win the SEC West, and they entered the SEC Championship game at 12-0. Humbling losses to Florida, and Utah in the Sugar Bowl followed. Still, after strong recruiting classes, Bama is figured to among the best in the West, in 2009. Tenure: 2 years and counting.
Auburn (average tenure: 9.18 years)
Pat Dye had already made himself an Auburn icon with an SEC title in 1983. After some struggles in 84 and 85, Dye’s teams won three straight SEC titles from 1987-89. The mortal blow was delivered by Steve Spurrier’s first Gator team, in 1990. Auburn went into Gainesville ranked 3rd in the nation, and the top two teams had already lost. That night, Spurrier’s troops destroyed Auburn, 48-7. It was a blow that would take 3 years to recover from. Insult followed injury at the beginning of the 1991 season, as the Eric Ramsey tapes started being made public, and Dye finished with 5-6 and 5-5-1 records in his last two seasons. On the eve of the 1992 Iron Bowl, Pat Dye resigned. Tenure: 12 years.
Terry Bowden was the youngest head coach hire in Auburn history, and saddled with NCAA probation, he won his first 20 games. Bowden proved not to be adept at keeping the larder stocked, nor at pleasing the powers that be, and he resigned in the middle of the 1998 season. Bowden’s name is still cursed at Auburn, despite him having the best modern day school winning percentages. Tenure: 5.55 seasons.
After interim coach Bill Oliver failed to win the support of the majority of Tiger boosters, Tommy Tuberville was hired. Tuberville appeared to be well on his way toward building a championship program, with an SEC title game appearance in just his second year. The following year, a 6-1 start disintegrated into a 7-5 finish. Particularly galling was a 31-7 home loss in the Iron Bowl, in which Auburn players seemed unprepared, and frankly, scared. Tuberville re-trenched with new coordinators, but two years later, another suspect season gone 6-5 seemed likely to be Tuberville’s doom. As a practical lame duck, Tuberville beat Alabama, and the Auburn administration was caught in some behind-the-back maneuvering towards Tuberville’s replacement. The Auburn faithful were outraged, and Tuberville was granted new life. With a third chance, Tuberville finished 13-0 in 2004, and narrowly missed out on an opportunity to play in the BCS Championship game. Tuberville failed to capitalize on the subsequent recruiting bonanza, though, and a steady decline followed. Desperate after a couple of years of sub-par offense, Tuberville elected to bring in offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. No one in the coaching staff, from Tuberville on down, was effectively able to lead this change, Franklin was fired mid-way, and Auburn had a bomb-out season, finishing 5-7. In post-season contract negotiations, Tuberville abruptly resigned, paving the way for the curious Gene Chizik hire. Tenure: 10 years.
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