- Chris Low, College Football
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South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier looked around the room recently at a meeting of SEC head football coaches and couldn't help but notice that he was in the minority.
No, it had nothing to do with his customary visor, and he wasn't drawing up ball plays on a napkin or looking at his watch and wondering if he'd make his tee time.
"I got to thinking, 'Where are all the guys who played football in this league over the last 30-some years?'" Spurrier recounted. "You don't see many former players from the league coming back [to the SEC] to be head coaches anymore."
Over the past decade, there have been a few such as former Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom (Alabama), former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips (Kentucky) and former Auburn coach Gene Chizik (Florida). And before Nick Saban took over at Alabama, former Alabama quarterback Mike Shula headed up the Crimson Tide's program.
Currently, though, Spurrier and Florida's Will Muschamp are the only two. Matter of fact, more of the current SEC head coaches played their football in the Big Ten -- Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Kentucky's Mark Stoops at Iowa, LSU's Les Miles at Michigan and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin at Purdue.
I guess if you can't beat them, then join them … right?
Muschamp played at Georgia in the early 1990s under Ray Goff, who quarterbacked the Bulldogs to an SEC championship in 1976 under Hall of Famer Vince Dooley, who played at Auburn under another Hall of Famer by the name of Ralph "Shug" Jordan.
I don't think it really matters. I do think it's important to have somebody on the staff that's familiar with the tradition, the recruiting territories, just the lay of the land in the SEC.
"-- Pat Dye on SEC coaching experience
Notice a trend?
There was a time when playing in the SEC was almost a prerequisite for becoming a head coach in the SEC.
In fact, when Spurrier returned to Florida in 1990 to coach his alma mater, eight of the 10 SEC head coaches at the time also played their college football in the SEC.
One other, Alabama's Gene Stallings, might as well have played in the SEC. He was one of the "Junction Boys" under the legendary Bear Bryant at Texas A&M and later followed Bryant to Alabama, where Stallings was an assistant on Bryant's original coaching staff with the Tide.
The SEC blood ran deep in those days, and if you didn't have that blood running through your veins, it was difficult to get a shot as a head coach in this league.
"There are a lot of coaches from wherever, a lot of different coaches from different places," said Spurrier, who won the Heisman Trophy at Florida in 1966. "That's the nature of coaching now. Guys work their way up.
"You don't even have to have played football to be a coach now. That happens all over the country."
Auburn Hall of Famer Pat Dye was one of those SEC-bred head coaches that was the norm when Spurrier took the reins at Florida in 1990. Dye won four SEC championships at Auburn from 1981 to 1992, but he played at Georgia. He was a two-time All-American for the Bulldogs in 1959 and 1960 under Hall of Famer Wally Butts.
"I'm not sure there's anybody alive who understands this conference as well as I do or has been a part of it as long as I have," said Dye, whose first coaching job came as an assistant under Bryant at Alabama. "My mother grew up in Athens [Ga.], and I started following the SEC in the '40s."
So when Dye says the current lineup of head coaches in the SEC is as impressive as he's seen, that's some pretty heady stuff.
"From top to bottom, I think it's the strongest," Dye said. "Now, that's just my opinion, but look at how many outstanding head coaches we have in this conference."
Look at their backgrounds, too. Most of the current head coaches didn't sniff an SEC playing field in college. Their alma maters range from Ursinus College, to Kent State, to Iowa, to East Stroudsburg, to Henderson State.
"I don't think it really matters," Dye said. "I do think it's important to have somebody on the staff that's familiar with the tradition, the recruiting territories, just the lay of the land in the SEC. If a staff came in and didn't have anybody from the SEC, they wouldn't understand the culture of these folks.
"I mean, it's different here. There are good football programs everywhere. But this thing down here, and you can call it what you want to, but it's a monster."
Here's the other thing: Having one of your own in the SEC can really get nasty if you're not winning or if the program dips for any reason.
At Tennessee, it ended badly for both Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer. Similarly, Billy Brewer's departure at Ole Miss and Goff's exit at Georgia weren't very pleasant.
And remember how hung up Alabama once seemed to be on hiring one of its own?
Well, the guy from Kent State has done all right, although that crimson-coated beast he's created in Tuscaloosa gets bigger and more insatiable all the time.
Even Mike Slive was practically a foreigner when he stepped in as SEC commissioner in 2002.
"When I had my opening press conference, I had never been to an SEC institution, and it's worked out OK," Slive said. "I'm a Northerner by birth and a Southerner by choice."
The only pedigree SEC fans want in a coach is that he's a winner, and that's whether he won a Heisman Trophy, played in the Big Ten, played in Division III or didn't play at all in college.
There was a time when playing in the SEC was almost a prerequisite for becoming a head coach in the SEC. That's not the case anymore.