The Southeastern Conference is having more than a bad hair day. The entire season is looking bed-head messy.
Louisiana State football coach Ed Orgeron resembled a baggie floating in the ocean while explaining how the Tigers lost to Troy on Saturday. Tennessee coach Butch Jones was similarly deflated after the Vols lost to Georgia by 41 points.
These are tough times in wide swaths of the south, where “SEC Speed” is offset by coaching slippage.
And the Big Ten loves it.
The script has flipped. The best coaches are settling in the north to further invigorate a Big Ten Conference that five years ago suffered from a coaching talent gap. The SEC, meanwhile, is taking it on the chin as Orgeron and Jones cling to jobs, Kevin Sumlin remains on the hot seat at Texas A&M and Hugh Freeze left Ole Miss after getting caught with a young miss or two.
How did we get here? Simple. Urban Meyer got here. Then James Franklin got here. Then Jim Harbaugh got here. The SEC’s loss has been the Big Ten’s gain. Meyer left Florida and landed at Ohio State in late 2011 after a year away from coaching. Franklin left Vanderbilt for Penn State in 2014.
“Florida hasn’t been the same since Meyer left, and somebody else (from the SEC) should have hired James Franklin,” said Dan Wetzel of Yahoo.com, offering a national perspective on the rise (Big Ten) and fall (SEC) of coaching talent.
Franklin’s success at PSU surprises me. I pegged him as a style-over-substance guy but it appears I was wrong, or maybe I misjudged the most important responsibility of any coach, which is recruiting. To that end Franklin is among the best, sort of the Dabo Swinney of the Big Ten.
“The Big Ten took the best young coach in the SEC,” Wetzel said.
Then came along Harbaugh, who for all his goofiness is a gifted recruiter.
“If you’re a great quarterback, you at least have to consider Jim Harbaugh,” Wetzel said. “I mean, he went to the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick. It’s all about your head coach. Everyone has a big stadium and updated locker room.”
Harbaugh has the coaching chops to help recruits reach their ultimate destination, which is the NFL. So does Meyer, whose track record of turning amateurs into pros includes 19 Buckeyes being drafted over the past two years alone, including eight in the first round.
“In the SEC, outside of Nick Saban, what coach (is a recruit) interested in listening to?” Wetzel said.
Orgeron? Jones? Bret Bielema at Arkansas? I don’t think so. The SEC also lost established coaches when Steve Spurrier retired from South Carolina and Georgia fired Mark Richt after the 2015 season. Richt’s replacement, Kirby Smart, looks like he has the Bulldogs back on track, but the conference still cannot match the Big Ten’s recent hot hires, which include P.J. Fleck at Minnesota, Jeff Brohm at Purdue and D.J. Durkin at Maryland.
Throw in Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, Kirk Ferentz at Iowa and Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern and the Big Ten is deep in coaching talent, with only Mike Riley at Nebraska and Lovie Smith at Illinois struggling to find traction at what once were competitive programs.
“You look around the SEC and there are only a few coaches whose fan bases are really happy with them,” Wetzel said. “They’ve hired a lot of assistants and fired a lot of good coaches because they couldn’t beat Nick Saban.”
You might recall that Saban left Michigan State for the SEC when he joined LSU in 2000. Payback time is at hand with some of the nation’s best coaches finding new homes in the Big Ten.