Monday, January 18, 2010
Looking back at the decade in the SEC
By Chris Low
The last decade in the SEC was wrought with sweeping change just about everywhere you looked and the kind of on-the-field dominance that made everybody else around the college football landscape envious.
Five times over the past 10 years, an SEC team hoisted the crystal BCS national championship trophy at season’s end.
LSU won in 2003 and 2007, Florida in 2006 and 2008 and Alabama in 2009.
And that’s not even counting Auburn in 2004. The Tigers went 13-0, but never got a chance to play for the national title.
Tim Tebow became the first sophomore in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy.
Coaches came and went at a dizzying pace, and even the leadership at the top of the conference changed hands. Roy Kramer, the father of the BCS, retired after leading the conference through expansion, and Mike Slive took over when he was appointed as the seventh SEC commissioner in 2002.
During the decade, every school had at least one coaching change. And if you include everybody, there were 31 different head coaches who held the reins at some point.
Alabama led the way with five.
The first one, Mike DuBose, was on the scene during the whole Albert Means scandal, which led to the Crimson Tide being placed on NCAA probation and handicapped the program for a large chunk of the decade.
But the most recent one, Nick Saban, led the Crimson Tide back to the promised land. They’re coming off their first national championship in 17 years, and in doing so, extended their streak of being the only school in the SEC to win a conference title in every decade since the league was formed in 1933.
The decade said goodbye to Steve Spurrier, who left Florida following the 2001 season to take his shot in the NFL. He only lasted two seasons with the Washington Redskins and was back in the SEC in 2005 -- but not with the Gators.
Spurrier wanted a new challenge and took on a big one, trying to elevate South Carolina into an SEC contender. After five seasons in Columbia, Spurrier is still looking to break through. He’s lost at least five games every season he’s been at South Carolina.
Saban is also on his second stop in the league this decade, although he’s found success much quicker than Spurrier the second time around. Saban won a national title at LSU in 2003 and was lured to the NFL in 2005 when he took on the Miami Dolphins’ head job.
Like Spurrier, Saban lasted two years and was back in the SEC. But much to the chagrin of the LSU faithful, he was at Alabama.
In his last two seasons, he’s 17-1 in SEC games and became the first coach in the AP poll era (since 1936) to win national titles at two different schools when Alabama defeated Texas in the Citi BCS National Championship Game.
The decade also saw the first black head football coach in SEC history when Sylvester Croom was hired at Mississippi State in 2004. Croom faced with a major rebuilding job and took over a program riddled by NCAA sanctions. The Bulldogs won eight games, including a bowl game, during his fourth season, but a 4-8 season the next year and a struggling offense were too much for him to overcome.
Not even Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer, who won a national title in 1998 and was the dean of the league, was immune from the league's cannibalistic ways. He was fired following the 2008 season, his second losing season in four years.
Urban Meyer hit the league in 2005, fresh off a BCS bowl appearance at Utah.
Everybody wondered if his spread-option offense would work in the SEC. The next year, a guy named Tim Tebow walked onto campus, and the Gators proceeded to win two of the next three national championships.
In the process, Tebow became the first sophomore in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy. He also earned the distinction that same season of being the first major college football player ever to run and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season.
Before he was done, Tebow broke Herschel Walker’s SEC record for career rushing touchdowns, racking up 57. He also passed for 88 touchdowns, shattering Danny Wuerffel’s SEC record for career touchdown responsibility.
Two of the last three Heisman Trophy winners were bred in the SEC. Alabama running back Mark Ingram won it this past season, becoming the first player in Alabama’s storied history to win college football’s most prestigious individual award.
And lastly, the decade said goodbye to a broadcast legend when Larry Munson, 87, retired from the booth two games into the 2008 season. He called Georgia games for 42 years, keeping fans on the edge of their seats every step of the way.