SEC: Tommy Tuberville

Anybody projecting Auburn as a playoff contender is placing a lot of faith in potential.

This is a program that tumbled back to earth in 2014, falling from BCS National Championship game participant one season to 8-5 the next, with losses in four of its last five games. But the potential certainly exists for Gus Malzahn’s Tigers to make a playoff run.

For starters, the Malzahn-Rhett Lashlee combination has proven effective at putting points on the board. The Tigers lose a lot of skill talent – namely quarterback Nick Marshall, running back Cameron Artis-Payne and receiver Sammie Coates – but the offense will still have plenty of firepower.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Johnson
AP Photo/Butch DillAuburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson has done well in fill-in opportunities.
Quarterback Jeremy Johnson (57-135, 858 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs in his first two seasons) seems to be the front-runner to inherit the starting job, and he has been outstanding in limited playing time. Roc Thomas, Kerryon Johnson and junior college transfer Jovon Robinson are more than capable enough to carry the Tigers’ ground game. And Duke Williams and Ricardo Louis already have made some huge plays at wideout.

In other words, the offense will be fine. But how quickly will new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp be able to turn around a bunch that surrendered nearly 27 points and 400 yards per game in 2014? That’s the key to Auburn’s New Year’s Six hopes.

Adding Muschamp was an enormous coup for Auburn, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts getting results in his return to the Tigers. Auburn returns eight starters, plus star defensive end Carl Lawson should be back after missing the 2014 season following knee surgery.

If Muschamp makes an immediate difference and Auburn’s reloading offense clicks while facing a challenging early schedule – the Tigers face Louisville in Atlanta, visit LSU and host Mississippi State within the first four games – this team could make some noise.

They close the SEC schedule with games against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama, and all but the A&M game will be at home.

What could go wrong: Auburn’s defense has been a mess more often than not since Tommy Tuberville left town. The Tigers’ schedule is difficult enough that if Muschamp’s defense is slow to adapt to his teaching, Auburn could be out of the playoff conversation before midseason.

Preseason evaluations on the Tigers are mixed, with various college football writers ranking Auburn anywhere from second to 14th. Our own Mark Schlabach has the Tigers 12th in his Way-Too-Early Top 25 and the ESPN Stats & Information group ranks Auburn 18th in its Preseason Football Power Index.

Somewhere between those two spots feels like a reasonable place to rank the Tigers at this point. There are so many questions to answer that they simply are not a sure bet to jump back to the top of the heap in the challenging Western Division. They can get back there, but a lot of things will have to go right – much like they did during the Tigers’ unlikely run to the 2013 SEC title.

SEC morning links

November, 14, 2014
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In a piece posted Thursday on Grantland, writer Matt Hinton asked the question that all SEC fans are asking entering Saturday’s games: "Is Mississippi State really the best team, or just another victim for the Alabama Death Star?"

This is put-up-or-shut-up time for the unbeaten Bulldogs, who earned their No. 1 ranking by beating three straight top-10 teams this season. Winning at Alabama, where it has won twice since 1957, is a different animal entirely for a program with a history filled with long periods of mediocrity -- and worse.

This is where the Bulldogs can truly prove they belong among the sport’s heavyweights, much like Cam Newton and the 2010 Auburn team did when it won in Tuscaloosa en route to the BCS championship. In fact, there are several similarities between 2014 Mississippi State and 2010 Auburn, as identified by AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky on Thursday.

Nick Saban’s Alabama teams have made a habit of winning games like this, especially at home, which might be why the MSU program turned to a superhero to provide the theme for its pregame hype video. In the video, Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman character says, "I’m not afraid, I’m angry."

The Bulldogs probably need to summon all the anger inside of them to make it through this weekend unbeaten. Never mind beating LSU in Tiger Stadium or outlasting Auburn in Starkville, this is the biggest test of their season, and most college football prognosticators expect them to fail.

They will either prove them right or they’ll prove that they’re legit, just like Newton and Auburn did in 2010.

Around the SEC

The last time Missouri and BYU met -- as they will next November according to a scheduling arrangement announced Thursday -- was when BYU quarterback Steve Young led the Cougars past Mizzou in the 1983 Holiday Bowl.

The Tennessean’s Matt Slovin asks if Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs can lead the Vols (4-5) to a bowl game. They might need a win against Kentucky on Saturday to keep their hopes alive.

Texas A&M receivers Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones returned to form in last week’s upset win at Auburn.

His Florida State team edged Auburn 34-31 in last season’s BCS championship game despite Auburn gaining 449 yards of total offense. Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt gets another shot at the Tigers on Saturday.

Former LSU football and baseball player and MLB all-star Alvin Dark died Thursday at age 92.

The State’s "Big Game Graphic" reminds us that Florida was averaging 255 yards per game and 17.5 points per game before Treon Harris became the Gators’ starting quarterback, and 437 yards and 36 points in the two games since he entered the starting lineup.

Tweet of the day

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A decade of Les: Building a persona

August, 4, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU’s head coach today, we’ll use each day this week to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at some of the wacky moments, gutsy decisions and memorable press conferences that helped define Les as the entertaining figure that he is today.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLes Miles has been known to keep things interesting on the LSU sideline.
 10. The Harlem Shake: LSU wasn’t left out of the “Harlem Shake” video craze that swept the nation last spring. In the Tigers’ version, it first appears as if they are participating in their regular “Big Cat” drill before Miles breaks into an awkward solo dance while the players “argue” behind him. Then the beat drops and mayhem ensues.

9. “It must have been the shoes:” The Legend of Les was already fully developed even before he filmed a 2011 backyard basketball video where he went from hapless to hero while playing against (and dunking on) two of his children. The secret weapon in Miles’ turnaround was a pair of purple-and-gold high tops sent by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt following an on-air conversation where he made fun of Miles’ all-white game shoes.

8. Les being Les: Unlike many of his buttoned-up counterparts, Miles has never been afraid to show off his oddball side. It’s not particularly unusual to see him answer a reporter’s phone during a press conference, clap like a weirdo or fill everyone in on the difference between Columbus Day and St. Patrick’s Day. Nor is it surprising to see him kiss a pig or rappel off the side of a 24-story building, all in the name of charity. Around Baton Rouge, that’s simply known as Les being Les.

7. Crazy wins vs. Tennessee, Florida: Another example of Les being Les is how his teams have found some wild ways to win (and occasionally lose) ballgames. Two perfect examples came in back-to-back weeks in 2010, when LSU beat Tennessee and Florida to miraculously improve to 6-0.

First, the Tigers were on the verge of a devastating home loss to Tennessee -- and it looked like that’s exactly what happened when the Volunteers thwarted LSU’s last-gasp effort to score at the goal line. However, the referees determined that on the chaotic final play, the Vols actually had 13 defenders on the field instead of the allowed limit of 11. The ensuing penalty gave LSU one final chance to score, and Stevan Ridley plowed into the end zone on that play to give LSU a 16-14 victory.

Miles caught plenty of grief over the next week about LSU’s sloppy final moments in regulation before the Tennessee penalty bailed out the Tigers. It would have been understandable if he became a bit gun shy, but timidity is not in Miles’ DNA. When the Tigers’ final drive stalled late in the Florida game, Miles sent out Josh Jasper to attempt the game-tying field goal -- or so we all thought. Instead, holder Derek Helton flipped the ball over his head to Jasper on a fake field goal, and the kicker’s 5-yard run achieved a first down that kept the drive alive.

The Tigers eventually scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Jarrett Lee to Terrence Toliver with six seconds to play. It was yet another example of how you never know what to expect when Miles is making decisions on the sideline.

6. Fourth downs vs. Florida: Miles already had an SEC West title on his résumé when his third team at LSU in 2007 became one of the most impressive college football squads of the 2000s. There are plenty of moments from that BCS championship season that helped cement Miles’ risk-taking reputation, but among the most memorable were his decisions to go for it on fourth down against Florida over and over. In all, Miles and the Jacob Hester-led Tigers went for it on fourth down five times. They achieved a first down or a touchdown all five times in knocking off the defending BCS-champion Gators 28-24 in one of the greatest games ever played at Tiger Stadium.

 5. “Give them a big kiss on the mouth:” It’s difficult to say whether Miles is better known for the wacky things he says behind a microphone or for the gutsy -- and sometimes crazy -- calls he makes on the field.

We’ve already discussed a couple of the crazy calls. Now let’s touch on one of the most memorable press conferences. Following a narrow 2012 win over Ole Miss, he launched into a profane rant that evolved into a standup comedy routine. In response to a story that characterized receiver (and former hotshot recruit) Russell Shepard’s college career as a disappointment, Miles vehemently defended the contributions his seniors (including Shepard) had made to the program.

The rant ended with Miles instructing those within earshot, “You go find them, you throw your arms around them, you give them a big kiss on the mouth … if you’re a girl,” before breaking into a wacky grin as the reporters in attendance laughed.

4. Touchdown bomb against Auburn: In yet another perfectly Les moment from the 2007 season, Miles’ Tigers were in position to kick the game-winning field goal while trailing Auburn 24-23 in the final minute.

Tommy Tuberville’s defense might have expected LSU to down the ball in the middle of the field to set up a more manageable kick, but Miles had other ideas -- and the unorthodox call caught Auburn off guard. LSU quarterback Matt Flynn dropped back and hit Demetrius Byrd with a 22-yard touchdown pass with just 1 second showing on the clock. The enormous risk had paid off, and two weeks after the amazing Florida win, the Tigers delivered some more Miles magic.

3. The Mad Hatter: Miles has been given plenty of nicknames through the years -- some more family-friendly than others -- but the one that seems to resonate most is “The Mad Hatter.” ESPN’s Rece Davis apparently gave Miles that one, in part because of the white ball caps that awkwardly sit atop his head each fall Saturday and in part because of Miles’ general craziness that we’ve already covered, even if he once told sideline reporter Holly Rowe, “Understand something, it’s the hat I wear. There’s nothing mad underneath it.”

2. Eating grass: Shortly after LSU scored the go-ahead touchdown in a 2010 win against Alabama – just before the Tigers attempted a two-point pass that would put them up 21-14 – CBS’ TV cameras caught Miles in the middle of an unusual ritual that he said dates back to adolescence. He leaned down, pinched a blade or two of grass and put it in his mouth.

Miles has made hay out of his grass-eating ways since then, even participating in an ESPN commercial that gleefully ridiculed the practice.

1. “Have a great day:” One of the most unorthodox moments from Miles’ first nine seasons at LSU came when he participated in an impromptu press conference BEFORE the 2007 SEC championship game in order to shoot down a report that he was preparing to leave to coach at his alma mater, Michigan.

Miles told those in attendance that, “I’ve got a championship game to play, and I’m excited about the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play in it. … Please ask me [about Michigan] after. I’m busy.”

His smirking line to close, “Have a great day,” was so memorable that LSU added those words to the rear door of the football team’s equipment hauler.

SEC lunchtime links

June, 18, 2014
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Let's take a quick spin around the SEC and check out what's happening in today's lunchtime links:

• Tommy Tuberville once snapped off six consecutive wins against Alabama when he was the coach at Auburn. Tuberville will have a considerably more difficult beating the Crimson Tide again if a plan comes together for his Cincinnati club to host Alabama in 2015.

• Mike Slive of the SEC and Jim Delany of the Big Ten discussed with USA Today's George Schroeder on Tuesday how they remained committed to the notion of legislative autonomy for the NCAA's biggest conferences to develop their own set of operating guidelines.

• With all the departures from Georgia's secondary this offseason, junior college transfer Shattle Fenteng could be an important player for the Bulldogs. He told the Athens Bannner-Herald's Marc Weiszer this week that he hopes to grab a starting job in the fall.

• Missouri athletic director Mike Alden addressed college football scheduling with the Columbia Daily Tribune's Steve Walentik on Monday night.

• Georgia (versus Clemson), Alabama (versus West Virginia), LSU (versus Wisconsin) and Ole Miss (versus Boise State) are all comfortable favorites in marquee nonconference games to open the season. Phil Steele takes a look at the Vegas lines for a ton of big games throughout the 2014 season.

• Speaking of which, the Charleston Post and Courier is already starting to take a look at that first week's matchups for South Carolina (Texas A&M) and Clemson (Georgia).

• Everyone has an opinion about Johnny Manziel, it seems. Here's former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn sharing his. Spoiler alert: he doesn't speak in glowing terms about Johnny Football's off-the-field behavior.

• How about a sweet story involving a former SEC quarterback? Little George Gring got to practice this week with his favorite player, Cam Newton, after the Carolina Panthers selected him with the first pick in the “NFL Make-A-Wish Draft.

• Now that the athletic year at Florida has ended, the Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley takes a look at the top 10 stories of the year from Gators athletics.

SEC's lunch links

May, 30, 2014
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It’s the time you’ve all been waiting for: Lane Kiffin speaks! The good folks at Al.com were on hand for a speaking engagement for the former USC-head-coach-turned-Alabama-offensive-coordinator.

Malzahn named AP coach of the year

December, 23, 2013
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Auburn is headed to the VIZIO BCS National Championship, and Gus Malzahn can add another accolade to his resume. On Monday, the Tigers' first-year coach was named the AP national coach of the year after orchestrating one of the greatest turnarounds in college football.

“It’s very humbling,” he told the AP Monday. “Any time you get awards like this, it’s a team thing, as far as our staff and our players. It’s been fun to be a part of this year.”

Malzahn took over an Auburn team that finished 3-9 in 2012 and failed to win a conference game for the first time since 1980. In his first season, the Tigers went 12-1, won the SEC championship and will play Florida State for the national championship. Only Hawaii’s 8.5-game turnaround from 1999-2000 matches Auburn’s one-year improvement.

Malzahn received 33 of the votes, edging Duke’s David Cutcliffe (17 votes) for the honor. Cutcliffe led the Blue Devils to their first-ever 10-win season. Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio each received three votes.

Malzahn becomes the second Auburn coach to win the award. Tommy Tuberville was named the AP coach of the year in 2004 after leading the Tigers to an undefeated season. It’s the fifth time an SEC coach has won the award, which was created in 1998.

AUBURN, Ala. -- All Corey Grant ever wanted was a shot.

He grew up in Auburn's backyard, but the four-star running back committed to cross-state rival Alabama in the Class of 2010 based on a pitch the Crimson Tide staff gave him, promising to open the offense and utilize his blazing speed. Had he stayed home and signed with the Tigers, he would've been a part of the 2010 BCS National Championship team.

Not to worry, Grant surely would get a ring while at Alabama, right?

Wrong. The role he thought he was going to play in Tuscaloosa never panned out, and he transferred to Auburn after his freshman season. He was back home, but he had to watch his former team win back-to-back national championships.

The state of Alabama has claimed the past four crystal balls, and Grant doesn't have a ring to show for it. But none of that matters.

"I'd rather play than sit on the bench and get rings," Grant, now a junior, said.

[+] EnlargeCorey Grant
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCorey Grant finally is playing, which means more to him than winning rings while on the sideline.
That's how he always has been.

Grant grew up around football. His father, Ike Grant, was a football coach for 33 years and would take his son with him to work as soon as Corey was old enough to walk. Corey would cut the grass. He would watch film. He would hang out in the weight room with the players. He was always working, always around football.

"Corey didn't have no other choice than to be the kind of kid that he is, simply because I was a football coach and no stranger to hard work," said Ike, the 10th child of 14.

More than anything else, Ike wanted his son to be a good person, but he could see at an early age that Corey was going to be a special athlete. When Corey started walking, it wasn't long before he was running around the house. In pee-wee football, they would toss him the ball and Corey would outrun everybody.

It continued into high school, where he emerged as one of the top prospects in the state.

"Corey had a tremendous junior year," Opelika coach Brian Blackmon said. "Corey had a really big upside. He played a little bit at a bunch of different positions as a sophomore for us. His junior year, though, he had an incredible year. A lot of big plays."

Stanford was the first to offer Corey a scholarship. Auburn was the first SEC school to offer back when Tommy Tuberville was still the head coach. He had double-digit offers but chose Alabama over both Auburn and Florida, which was also in the mix.

But Corey never found a fit while he was in Tuscaloosa.

"He went to Alabama, but we could tell during preseason that he wasn't really happy," his father said. "He wasn't really sure. Midway through the season, we really knew it, because when he'd come home, he would kind of indicate that, and he would always regret going back."

Corey stuck it out through the next spring, but when freshman running back Dee Hart arrived in January and passed him on the depth chart, the writing was on the wall. It was time to move on.

There was just one problem. Nick Saban wouldn't release Corey's scholarship if he chose to play for another SEC school. The Alabama coach knew the caliber of athlete he had and didn't want to have to compete against him for the next two or three years.

That left Corey with very few options. Ultimately, he wanted to come home and play for Auburn. But to do that, he was forced to walk on to the program and live at home for the first year. He would wake up at 4 a.m. and drive to the football complex every morning for practice. It wasn't easy, but it was the only way.

"I think Corey was just happy to be home," Blackmon said. "Corey's a very driven kid. He had to go back and earn it all over again. He went from a four-star, highly recruited kid to a walk-on, having to earn it again."

Corey won multiple team awards the year he walked on and eventually earned a scholarship. But when former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left for Arkansas State, Corey's opportunity to play left with him. The local kid was working hard and doing everything the right way, but his opportunity never came.

"He's had a hard road, simply because when he got to Auburn, he had to sit down, because Coach Saban wouldn't release him," Ike said. "Then the next year, he stood on the sideline and nobody gave him an opportunity.

"All the coaches would say he's a great kid, he's a great athlete, he's a hard worker, he does what he's supposed to, but he never got that opportunity. He's had a struggle with that."

Flash forward to this season. Malzahn returned to Auburn as head coach, and, in turn, Corey has become an integral part of the rushing attack. He's one of four Tigers with more than 500 yards rushing, and he leads the SEC in yards per carry (9.9) with a minimum of 50 attempts. He had 53 yards and a touchdown on just six carries last week against Georgia.

"He's one of the faster guys probably in college football," Malzahn said. "He's been a speed guy, but he's gotten a lot better at running in between the tackles and doing the things that a normal running back does. He's an outstanding player and an even better person."

It would have been easy to stay at Alabama. He might never have seen the field, but he'd have been part of two national championship teams. Some of his teammates knew they were never going to play but stayed anyway for the shot at getting a ring.

But that's not Corey. His father once asked him about the rings, to which he responded, "Daddy, it don't make no difference if you're not happy."

Corey's finally happy, and he'll get his shot against his former team this Saturday in the Iron Bowl. If Auburn wins, he might even get a chance to play for a ring.

Being forced out in the SEC

August, 16, 2013
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Head coaches are hired to be fired in the SEC. OK, not really, but it sure seems that way.

The league will have four new head coaches this season, and only six of the 14 coaches have been in their current jobs longer than two seasons.

The leash is shorter than ever. Consider this: Georgia's Mark Richt is the dean of SEC coaches at the same school. He's entering his 13th season in Athens. Dating back to when Richt was hired at Georgia in 2001, there have been 43 different head coaches at the other 13 SEC schools, which includes Missouri and Texas A&M.

The reality is that you're always on the hot seat if you're coaching college football in this day and age. But we've also seen that making a change, especially when it's a longer-tenured coach, doesn't always guarantee success.

Look at what happened at Texas A&M after R.C. Slocum was forced out, and look at what's happened at Tennessee following Phillip Fulmer's ouster. By the same token, when Auburn and Tommy Tuberville parted ways in 2008 after 10 years together, the Tigers won the national championship two years later under Gene Chizik. But then two years after that, Chizik was gone following a 3-9 season, Auburn's worst in 60 years.

Here's a closer look:
Coach on the bubble: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

SEC precedents: Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee and R.C. Slocum, Texas A&M.

Phillip Fulmer, 152-52-1 at Tennessee

[+] EnlargePhillip Fulmer
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesAfter Philip Fulmer was fired Tennessee hasn't won more than seven games a season.
Prior to his arrival: Fulmer was promoted from offensive coordinator after veteran head coach Johnny Majors was forced out toward the end of the 1992 season. Fulmer took over a program that had won SEC championships in 1989 and 1990 and played in the Fiesta Bowl in 1991. But after a promising start to the 1992 season that included wins over Georgia and Florida with Fulmer serving as interim head coach, the Vols lost three straight when Majors suddenly returned to work after missing the first part of the season while recuperating from heart surgery. To this day, Majors and Fulmer don't speak, and Majors holds Fulmer responsible for being part of the group that Majors says conspired to push him out after 16 seasons at his alma mater. It's a charge that Fulmer adamantly denies.

Why he was fired: Fulmer led Tennessee to its first national championship in nearly 50 years in 1998, and from 1995-98, the Vols went 45-5 and won two SEC titles and a national title. He won 10 or more games in nine of his 16 seasons, and Tennessee made five SEC championship game appearances in his last 12 seasons. But the program dipped toward the end of Fulmer's tenure with a pair of losing seasons in 2005 and 2008. The Vols also lost badly to rivals Alabama and Florida in each of Fulmer's final two seasons and dropped 14 of their last 20 games to nationally ranked foes. With much of the Tennessee fan base growing increasingly restless, the final blow for Fulmer was a 29-9 loss to Alabama in 2008. Tide fans all but took over Neyland Stadium that night, and the only thing left at the end of the game was a sea of crimson.

The aftermath: The Vols haven't won more than seven games in a season since Fulmer's ouster and have suffered through three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1909-11. They've lost 14 of their last 16 SEC games, and Butch Jones is Tennessee's fourth head coach in the last six years. Some fans have pinned the blame on Fulmer for leaving the cupboard bare and his last couple of recruiting classes not panning out. Others point to Lane Kiffin's tumultuous 14-month reign as what triggered the downfall of the program. Kiffin's highly ranked 2009 signing class turned out to be a dud, and he bolted for USC just weeks before signing day in 2010. The bottom line is that Tennessee has endured one of its worst stretches of football in school history after firing a coach who was inducted last year into the College Football Hall of Fame and won 98 SEC games. The only coaches who've won more are Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, John Vaught and Vince Dooley.

R.C. Slocum, 123-47-2 at Texas A&M


Prior to his arrival: Texas A&M was rolling along as a Southwest Conference power under Jackie Sherrill, who guided the Aggies to three straight league titles from 1985-87. But NCAA problems caught up with the Aggies, and they were placed on probation for recruiting violations. Sherrill resigned under pressure following the 1988 season, and Slocum was promoted from defensive coordinator to be Texas A&M's new head coach.

Why he was fired: Slocum was Texas A&M's head coach for 14 seasons from 1989-2002 and won three Southwest Conference championships and one Big 12 championship. He won nine or more games eight times and had four straight seasons of 10 or more wins from 1991-94. The Aggies finished in the Top 25 of the final polls 10 of his 14 seasons. But in Slocum's last four seasons, he never won more than eight games and dipped to 6-6 in his final season. Even then, he never had a losing record overall, and his only losing record in league play came that final season in 2002 when the Aggies finished 3-5 in the Big 12. Slocum was 7-7 against rival Texas, but lost his last three to the Longhorns. The final loss to Texas was a 50-20 blowout. As fate would have it, Slocum promoted Kevin Sumlin to offensive coordinator during the middle of his final season, and Texas A&M beat then-No. 1 Oklahoma with a true freshman quarterback. But after Slocum was fired, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops snatched up Sumlin, who was instrumental in recruiting Adrian Peterson to Oklahoma after Peterson had also shown heavy interest in Texas A&M.

The aftermath: Until last season, when Sumlin returned to Texas A&M as head coach, the Aggies had struggled mightily to match the success they enjoyed under Slocum, who was inducted last year into the College Football Hall of Fame. Since Slocum's departure in 2002, Texas A&M has won more than seven games in a season only three times, and one of those came last season when Sumlin guided the Aggies to an 11-2 finish. They also haven't won a conference championship since Slocum was shown the door 11 years ago. Texas A&M was just 3-6 against Texas under the two coaches who followed Slocum -- Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman. Last season marked only the second Top 25 finish by the Aggies in the final polls since Slocum was forced out. Also, until last year, the Aggies had lost 29 of their last 36 games against nationally ranked opponents post-Slocum, who remains Texas A&M's all-time winningest coach.

Paying SEC coaches to go away

January, 28, 2013
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Former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley didn’t stay unemployed for long.

He’s taken a job with the Dallas Cowboys as their receivers coach. Obviously, Dooley won’t make the kind of money he did as the Vols’ head coach ($2 million per year), but he’s also not hurting for dough. He walked away from Tennessee with a $5 million buyout.

The money that SEC schools have paid out to coaches just to go away over the past six years is staggering.

Ole Miss just recently settled with former coach Houston Nutt and paid Nutt a lump sum of $4.35 million to complete its remaining financial obligation to Nutt, who had a $6 million buyout payable over five years when he was fired toward the end of the 2011 season.

Ole Miss saved $500,000 by negotiating the $4.35 million lump sum with Nutt.

If you go back to the end of the 2007 season when Nutt received a $3.5 million settlement after he and Arkansas parted ways, SEC schools have doled out a staggering $38.65 million in buyouts.

That’s right, nearly $40 million for coaches not to coach.

And that’s just the head coaches.

Granted, just about all of these settlements were payable in installments that were spread out over several years.

Still …

Here’s a rundown:
  • Houston Nutt, Arkansas (2007) -- $3.5 million
  • Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State (2008) -- $3.5 million
  • Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee (2008) -- $6 million
  • Tommy Tuberville, Auburn (2008) -- $5.1 million
  • Houston Nutt, Ole Miss (2011) -- $5.5 million
  • Gene Chizik, Auburn (2012) -- $7.5 million
  • Derek Dooley, Tennessee (2012) -- $5 million
  • Joker Phillips, Kentucky (2012) -- $2.55 million

The King is coming home.

Kliff Kingsbury threw for 12,429 yards and 95 touchdowns at Texas Tech. A decade later, he has officially become the Red Raiders' new head coach at 33 years old with just five years as a collegiate assistant under his belt.

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt didn't spend much time dwelling on any hurt feelings he may have felt when Tommy Tuberville skipped town for Cincinnati just a day after looking Hocutt in the eye and telling him he was committed to the Red Raiders.

Tuberville was never embraced in Lubbock, Texas, the way the Pirate of the Plains -- Mike Leach -- was during his decade-long run. His quick exit to a lesser job proved he never embraced Lubbock, either.

This time around, that won't be a problem. Minutes after news broke, the fan base's No. 1 choice was clear. Bring Kingsbury back home.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris emerged as another leading candidate, but Wednesday, Hocutt made his choice clear.

The fans will surely approve, and if they haven't already started celebrating in the streets, they're not far off. Even the college-aged Tech fans would remember Kingsbury's efforts on the field. Now, can he prove himself on the sidelines?

Make no mistake, hiring Kingsbury is a risk. Hiring Morris would have been a risk, too.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury, a star quarterback at Texas Tech a decade ago, is returning to coach the Red Raiders.
Rolling the dice with Kingsbury is the right move for Hocutt. Both Morris and Kingsbury might be The Next Big Thing in coaching. Both might bust. Neither has run a program from top to bottom in college.

But Hocutt needed to fire up his fan base after three unremarkable years under Tuberville, a man who never got the slack from fans that Leach would have gotten. Kingsbury will get those breaks. He'll get their patience.

If Hocutt swings and misses on Kingsbury, not a soul in Lubbock will blame him. If he'd swung and missed on Morris, while Kingsbury flourished elsewhere? That would've been an unforgivable mistake that very well could have cost him his job.

And if Hocutt swings and connects with the next star in Kingsbury? Well, all he'll have done is reignite what was one of the most promising programs in the Big 12 before Leach's exit. Perhaps he has discovered Mike Gundy 2.0, one of the game's best coaches who sees this job as his final destination when others might not feel the same way.

Kingsbury will be one of the game's youngest coaches, and this was an opportunity few other major programs would have afforded him. Hocutt handed the keys to his program to one of the game's most promising coaches, and it's an easy sell. If his history in Lubbock isn't enough, his résumé under Kevin Sumlin makes it clear why his services were so coveted.

Case Keenum was one of the most productive quarterbacks in NCAA history, and less than a week ago, Kingsbury's new quarterback, Johnny Manziel, became the first-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

Oh, and that Super Bowl ring from 2004 as a reserve player (coincidentally with Kansas coach Charlie Weis as the OC and the Patriots' Bill Belichick at the helm) won't hurt to bring into high school kids' living rooms, either.

Hocutt's loyalty to his fan base and former legends in the program will be rewarded. The fans will support Kingsbury even if the team struggles as he learns how to be a head coach. If Kingsbury wins, the likelihood he leaves is lessened significantly compared to any number of other coaches Hocutt could have hired, especially Morris.

Kingsbury is the new man in charge thanks to a gutsy, but supported move from Hocutt. If he didn't do it now, he might never have gotten another chance.

SEC lunch links

November, 8, 2012
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Our Thursday stroll around the league:

Lunchtime links

November, 2, 2012
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Checking out the SEC links on a Friday.
Leaving one's job can be pretty awkward. For college football coaches, it usually is. Rarely do we see an amiable mutual parting in these situations.

As we continue to take a look at the coaches we love to hate this week, we're looking at SEC coaches who have left their respective schools in a lurch.

We already discussed Bobby Petrino's more than awkward departure at Arkansas, so we're going with three other recent departures that happened unexpectedly.

Let the bad memories return:

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesLane Kiffin was 7-6 in his one season at Rocky Top and was cited for failure to monitor an atmosphere of compliance within the Vols program.
Lane Kiffin, Tennessee: He left for USC in 2010 after one season at Tennessee. Kiffin replaced longtime Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer in 2009 and was immediately confrontational with other SEC coaches, and that sort of arrogance was something that had to be a little attractive to Tennessee's fan base. However, his lack of production on the field made his pompous attitude laughable. Through all the chirping, he delivered a 7-6 season, which might go down as the most celebrated 7-6 season in SEC history. He talked so much about all the good things he'd do at Tennessee, but whined about not having enough talent. Then he built up his first signing class, but it eventually turned into nothing more than a paper tiger. Kiffin suddenly left Tennessee for USC just three weeks before national signing day in 2010. During his uncomfortable news conference, in which he announced his departure, Tennessee fans showed up in droves to wish him a not-so-safe trip to Cali. Kiffin left under the protection of police and left Tennessee with an NCAA cloud hanging over its head, which got the school a visit from the NCAA infractions committee. Kiffin and his staff's recruiting practices prompted an investigation that resulted in two years of probation for Tennessee. The NCAA found that Kiffin and his staff had committed 12 secondary violations, but Kiffin wasn't penalized. Derek Dooley took over for Kiffin in 2010 and has dealt with a laundry list of player and attrition issues. He has gone 11-14 in his two years.

Urban Meyer, Florida: He announced that he'd be stepping away from coaching in 2010, but is now coaching at Ohio State. There was no question that Meyer was one of the best coaches to swing through Gainesville. During his six-year tenure, he won two national championships and took the Gators to three SEC championship games. But it was the way he left that sent Gator Nation into a frenzy. First, he announced his retirement for health reasons a couple of weeks after the loss to Alabama in the 2009 SEC championship game. His retirement barely lasted 24 hours, but Meyer and Florida were never the same. The 2010 season was a major step back, as Florida went 8-5, and Meyer stepped away again after the regular season concluded. Meyer said he was taking time off because of his health and his desire to spend more time with his family. Then, he took over at Ohio State (one of his dream jobs) for the fired Jim Tressel. But it wasn't just leaving Florida for a Big Ten school barely a year later that upset Florida fans. It was the fact that he left new coach Will Muschamp with what Meyer himself deemed a broken program. Muschamp dealt with discipline and attrition issues during his first season, in which he went 7-6. While Meyer was the king of winning the recruiting ranking game, he too often missed on character.

Tommy Tuberville, Ole Miss: He left Ole Miss after the 1998 season for Auburn. Tuberville took over a struggling Ole Miss program in 1995 and helped the Rebels to three winning seasons in four years. But four years wasn't what the Ole Miss faithful expected to get from Tuberville; he made it seem that he would be there for much longer when he uttered those now-infamous words: "They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box." That pine box apparently had to be filled with money, as just a couple days after he emphatically stated that he wanted to stay in Oxford and be the Rebels' coach, he took a pay raise that doubled his salary and headed off to Auburn. Soon after Tuberville left without so much as telling his players, Ole Miss fans donned T-shirts inspired by the movie "Liar, Liar" with Tuberville's face on them instead of Jim Carrey's. Tuberville went 7-3 against his old team during his time at Auburn. David Cutcliffe, Tuberville's replacement, guided Ole Miss to five winning seasons in his six years, including a 10-win season that ended with a Cotton Bowl victory.

The evolution of Steve Spurrier

April, 18, 2012
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville dropped by South Carolina’s spring practice a few weeks ago and brought along his son, Tucker, to chat with Steve Spurrier.

Tucker, a quarterback, would like to come back to the South and play college football -- and he's interested in possibly walking on at South Carolina.

Tuberville and Spurrier matched wits in some epic SEC battles back when Tuberville was at Auburn and Spurrier at Florida.

“We’re standing over there watching one of our inside drills in practice, and I said, ‘Tommy, did you ever think I’d be a spread offense coach running the ball 70 percent of the time?’ ” cracked Spurrier, whose Gamecocks averaged more rushing yards (192.1) than they did passing yards (181.5) last season.

And they did it with a quarterback, Connor Shaw, who was the second-leading rusher on the team. Shaw, whose specialty is the zone read, churned out 525 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

It was a far cry from Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun days at Florida, when the Gators threw it all over the ballpark and regularly averaged more than 300 yards passing.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireSteve Spurrier saw his Gamecocks average more yards on the ground than through the air in 2011.
“What we did then was throw it around a whole bunch, get a lead and then try to run it,” Spurrier said.

But these days, the Head Ball Coach leans to the run and isn’t ashamed to admit it.

In a lot of ways, he’s reinvented himself, but stops short of saying that he’s undergone a total transformation.

“It’s just what we do best right now,” Spurrier said. “If that’s what we had done best back then (at Florida), that’s what we would have done. We beat Penn State in the 1997 Citrus Bowl, and Fred Taylor ran it 43 times (for 234 yards).”

Still, Spurrier has proven over the past couple of seasons that he’s not too stubborn (or too programmed) to adjust to his personnel.

When you have Marcus Lattimore sitting back there in the backfield, it’s an adjustment that comes pretty naturally.

“You can only call so many pass plays,” Spurrier said. “Two years ago, when we were playing Georgia, I think that’s when it hit me. We were up 14-3, and to start the fourth quarter, [Stephen] Garcia got sacked and fumbled, but we recovered it.

“There was about nine minutes left, and I told the guys up top, ‘We’re not going to throw it again. We’re going to keep giving it to Marcus until they stop him.’ When your defense is playing well, you just keep running it. And if we don’t make it, we’re not going to give them anything.”

The Gamecocks expect to get a healthy Lattimore back in the fall and should again have one of the better defenses in the SEC. Plus, Shaw simply isn’t a pocket passer. His forte is moving around and making things happen with his arm and legs, although he’s working hard on becoming more efficient from the pocket.

In South Carolina’s spring game last Saturday, Shaw was 6-of-7 for 128 yards and two touchdowns. On the first play of the game, he hit Damiere Byrd with a 70-yard touchdown strike.

“When you throw, throw, throw and the ball hits the ground, the clock doesn’t go,” said Spurrier, who doesn’t understand the current fascination with trying to run 100-plus plays.

“Everybody is all hung up on how many plays you get. That means your defense is going to be out there a bunch, too. I remember when time of possession used to be an important stat. Now, all of a sudden, they think it’s cool to have a bunch of plays and how quickly you score.”

Spurrier said a big part of the Gamecocks’ success last season was tied into their time of possession. They finished third in the SEC (31:34), behind Georgia and Alabama, and were also third in third-down conversions and second in fourth-down conversions.

South Carolina was 24-of-31 on fourth down, which Spurrier said was the best of his career. And in 42 red-zone chances, the Gamecocks scored 32 touchdowns.

“We’re going to keep doing what we do best, which is why we’ve been able to accomplish a bunch of firsts around here,” Spurrier said.

And, yes, we’re still going to see a few new ball plays, too. That’s a Spurrier staple.

“We’ll still hit some balls. We hit some last year,” Spurrier said. “We finished fourth in the conference in total offense, which is the highest we ever have here.

“It just may look a little different.”
Texas A&M added a familiar face to its staff Tuesday by hiring former Aggie defensive lineman Terry Price (1986-89) to coach Texas A&M's defensive line.

Price isn't just familiar with Texas A&M but he's very familiar with the SEC. Price returns to College Station, Texas, after spending 16 years as an assistant coach in the SEC.

After brief stints with Texas A&M and Western Kentucky in the early 90s, Price joined Tommy Tuberville's staff at Ole Miss, where he coached the Rebels' defensive line from 1995-98. He then left with Tuberville to Auburn, where he coached from 1999-2008. In 2009, Price returned to Oxford, Miss., and joined former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt's staff until Nutt was fired in 2011.

He then temporarily reunited with Tuberville at Texas Tech in December of 2011, before accepting an offer from new Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin.

"I am extremely pleased to name Terry Price as our defensive line coach," Sumlin said. "He is an Aggie, an SEC coaching veteran, a terrific recruiter and an even better person."

Price's defensive lines are known for having a very aggressive style with a point of putting continuous pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The 2005 Auburn defensive line was tied for first in the SEC in sacks (38) and also recorded an 11-sack performance in the 28-18 win over Alabama.

With Price's history inside the SEC, he'll be a very welcomed addition to Sumlin's coaching staff. Sumlin has said he wants to get bigger, stronger and mentally tougher on the defense line, and what better way than to hire someone with vast experience coaching SEC defensive linemen?

To improve in an area that is so important in the SEC, Sumlin went out and got someone who knows exactly what it takes to be successful up front in this league.

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