What makes a good college football coach job? What makes one bad?
It is a topic that evokes endless debate every time it comes up. Nothing seems to get fans so fired up as to see their favorite school not ranked high enough in hypothetical job rankings. It’s all silly, but with the coaching carousel soon to be screwed up, it’s about the time we all discuss whether USC or LSU is the better job.
Athletic came into action early this week with a series that looked at the coaching carousel that included a story of the toughest jobs in college football. Three SEC schools ranked high on the obscene list, with Vanderbilt not surprisingly leading the way. Athletic’s study considered Vanderbilt the toughest Power 5 job and the third toughest overall behind Connecticut and Massachusetts. Vanderbilt is pouring money to improve its facilities, a much-needed development, but it will always stay in the ultra-competitive SEC.
Vanderbilt was not the only SEC school to make the list. The next two most difficult SEC jobs, according to The Athletic, may surprise some people. Auburn and Tennessee, two programs that have won national championships in the last 30 years, placed in the top 10 of the toughest Power 5 jobs. A group of 5 assistants rated it in history as: “The Tennessee and Auburn people are terrible.” Auburn and Tennessee have a reputation for being overly involved with influential boosters who try to make one-sided decisions for the program as illustrated in stories like this from Auburn’s latest coaching search.
Auburn and Tennessee received two first-place votes for the hardest job, one less than Alabama. “I tend to think the jobs with the highest and most unreasonable expectations are the hardest, which means I think a place like Alabama is a really hard job,” a longtime administrator told The Athletic.
It is a common refrain that has also been awarded to Auburn and Tennessee over the years. However, there is significant job pressure at every big-time job, as fans and university leaders expect a return on their large investments. It becomes dangerous when a school’s fanbase’s expectations do not match reality, usually due to a lack of awareness that the college football landscape has changed, and just because Nebraska was amazing in the 1990s does not mean it will be in 2021. .
When assessing whether a job is good or not, there are a few common crucial factors that are referred to. How good is the recruitment base within a four-hour radius? How big is the fan base and is it willing to invest in the program? How nice are the facilities?
Quite possibly, however, the most important factor is adjustment. When I have previously talked to coaches, agents, search consultants and advertisers about it, customization is a critical factor that is consistently mentioned. What does it mean? This means that there is institutional support from top to bottom to help the football program achieve its goals. This means that all the key people calm down in the same direction. This means that when something is considered a significant investment, it is made.
When I recently spoke with former Georgia head coach Mark Richt, he explained that this is one of the biggest benefits Alabama has over many of its peers. Nick Saban does not get everything he wants, but it certainly feels like that for other coaches. When Saban tells his bosses or the program’s boosters that he needs something, it’s typically done, and that’s an important point in the equation. He does not have to beg to get paid for his top assistants.
“Alabama is completely inside from the governor and down,” Richt told me. ‘They understand the importance of Alabama football, and so does the president of the university, so does the AD, and so do the boosters and everyone else. It takes money to hire all these extra coaches and try to keep your coaches. ”
Again, this is not the only factor when considering whether a job is good or not. You can win big with institutional issues, the same as how you can fight even if everyone is working hard to be successful. But with this perspective in mind, here’s a suggestion on how SEC jobs rank from 14 to 1. These lists are all subjective, as many factors can be weighed, but I have focused on prioritizing institutional alignment, and which job provides a coach best shot to win big.
14) Vanderbilt (16-36 record last five years): The school is trying to lift the program, but it is hard sled. From strict academic standards to inadequate fan support compared to many other SEC programs, this is by far the most challenging job in the conference.
13) Missouri (29-25 record): Outside of Vanderbilt, Missouri is the strangest fit in SEK. Gary Pinkel showed that you can win with a solid cut in Missouri, but it will only get harder for the Tigers when Texas and Oklahoma join the conference.
12) Mississippi State (30-32 record): We have seen that this school can be a national challenger as Dan Mullen and Dak Prescott had the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 at some point in 2014. But it’s not an easy job to compete in the SEC West and play in a state that is better suited to support one SEC school rather than two.
11) South Carolina (record 25-29): There is plenty of fan support in South Carolina, but the Gamecocks have not been really relevant since 2013 and have to deal with in-state power Clemson getting a lot of attention. If we made levels instead of rankings, it would be in the same school as the two schools ranked above it.
10) Kentucky (36-20 record): Yes, Kentucky will always be a basketball school, but it’s a perfect example of how institutional adaptation can play a significant role. University President Eli Capilouto, AD Mitch Barnhart and football coach Mark Stoops have this season shown what can be achieved in Kentucky when everyone is on the same page.
9) Ole Miss (record 24-27): Ole Miss has many of the same concerns as Mississippi State, but is considered the best of the two Mississippi SEC jobs in the industry. There have been plenty of upheavals at Ole Miss over the last decade, but there is enough institutional support to succeed.
8) Arkansas (15-37 record): The big benefits of the Arkansas job are that it is the only SEC school in the state, there are quite a few very wealthy boosters willing to invest in the program, and there is a lot of fan support regardless of the program’s record. The recruitment base is not as good as other SEC schools that hold it back here, but Sam Pittman has shown that it can be nationally relevant when Arkansas has the right fit.
7) Tennessee (record 24-29): Tennessee has been wandering in the wilderness for more than a decade now, going from failed coaching rentals to failed coaching rentals trying to regain magic in the 1990s. There is fantastic fan support here and you can recruit the talent needed to win big, but the school has not been able to attract top class talent to this job in recent recruitments, showing how the reputation of this job is enjoyed.
6) Auburn (37-20 record): The good: The fan support, the facilities and the access to the best recruits give every coach a chance to be a national competitor. The bad: Alignment has been hard to find at Auburn to say the least, and there is intense pressure to be better than Alabama. However, there is no doubt that you can win big at Auburn, and that makes it a job in the upper class.
5) Texas A&M (37-18 record): The school has lots of well-heeled boosters who are willing to invest heavily in the program, making this job very attractive. You have an excellent recruitment base, though you may always play second-fiddle in-state to Texas. This is a job where you can win a national championship.
4) Florida (record 37-18): Florida has it all – great recruitment base, great fan support and great tradition. This job may be more difficult than some of them over it given the competition in the state against Florida State and Miami, though it has not been a major issue in recent years. This is a top 10 job nationally.
3) Georgia (50-9 record): As rival fans love to point out, Georgia has not won a national title since 1980. The school has access to the most prolific recruiting area in the country and has recently begun making several financial investments as a new $ 80 million football training facility price tag. Georgia’s reluctance to engage in the facilities and coaching of salaries arm race may have held it back some earlier, but those days are over. This is an incredible job.
2) LSU (42-15 record): The last three LSU head coaches won a national championship here. The fact that Ed Orgeron was one of them considering his coaching struggles elsewhere may be one of the best selling points in how good this job is. These are the kind of jobs that big name coaches would fight against each other to get.
1) Alabama (56-5 record): The sport’s two greatest coaches ever, Nick Saban and Bear Bryant, both made the most of their victories here. The tab and institutional support is off the charts and gives everyone in the job here a great chance to win big. It is the best job in the country when it comes to adjustment and ability to win.
What you need to read to get caught:
As part of that coaching series, The Athletic has a great story to tell Tennessees wild 2017 coaching search. It becomes difficult for a school to make a bigger mess in a search than Tennessee did that year.
By sticking to Tennessee, Adam Sparks made one nice job retelling what happened when Lane Kiffin left after just one season.
ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg has one thorough overview of what could come in this year’s wagonl. He touches on jobs like LSU, Miami and USC.
The last man to retire so surprisingly upset about Alabama that we saw last Saturday saw the fight like the rest of us. Read former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcias thoughts on Zach Calzada and his memories of a victory over the tide.
Mike Rodak looks at offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s decision coach from the cabin in light of Alabama’s offensive games last weekend.
Mine Sunday SEC column says it’s up to Alabama now to either prove that Texas A&M was a blip or instead a revelation that this team is too flawed to win big.
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