Three SEC schools and four ACC schools went looking for new coaches this offseason. As these leagues sometimes do, they chose different methods to accomplish their goals.
The SEC schools – South Carolina, Georgia and Missouri – chose to roll the dice, going with unproven hires with big upsides. The ACC schools – Miami, Virginia, Syracuse and Virginia Tech – went with more established candidates.
The three coaches hired by SEC schools – Will Muschamp at South Carolina, Kirby Smart at Georgia and Barry Odom at Missouri – have an average age of 41 and have been a head coach in 49 games combined. The four coaches hired in the ACC – Mark Richt at Miami, Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia, Dino Babers at Syracuse and Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech – have an average age of 50 and have been a head coach in 440 combined games.
Muschamp is the only new SEC coach with any head coaching experience, and he believes his four years at Florida gives him an advantage the second time around.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Anytime you go through an experience and you look back at the positive things that happened and the things you may have done a little differently, certainly the experience helps.”
That’s something Smart and Odom won’t have to lean back on during the 2016 season. Smart, formerly the defensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban, recently joined SEC Network host Paul Finebaum to talk about the challenge of taking your first head coaching job in a league as demanding as the SEC.
“Working for Nick, he has done a great job of educating coaches,” Smart said. “He develops coaches just like he develops players. He doesn’t make decisions above you. He makes them with you. You learn by being part of his organization. There are a lot of decisions to be made in that seat. That’s the most unique thing is the decision making every day.”
Both Smart and Odom previously have been coordinators in the SEC, which gives them some experience in management in the league. There are now six SEC coaches – Muschamp, Smart, Odom, Florida’s Jim McElwain, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn – who previously worked as coordinators in the league.
That will help Odom and Smart, McElwain said.
“The opportunity to be a coordinator in this league can help you in a lot of ways,” he said. “It’s an honor to be a head coach in this league.”
It’s also a learning experience, Muschamp acknowledges.
“Anytime you get in a new situation, understanding your fan base, understanding your football team and setting the culture and the foundation of your team and those are the things you have to get into place,” he said. “I wouldn’t say they are challenges, that’s just part of the job.”
As is learning on the job, especially for the newcomers in the SEC.
The first year
USC will be trying to improve on last year’s 3-9 record under new coach Will Muschamp. A look at how the head coaches since 1966 did in their first season at USC:
How they did
His best season was 7-4 in 1969 with an ACC title.
His teams won eight games in 1979 and 80.
Beat Pacific, Richmond, Cincinnati and Navy in only season.
Beat Southern Cal 38-14 to set up 10-win season in 1984.
Lost 45-0 to Clemson and never won more than 6 games.
Won Carquest Bowl but never won 7 games again.
Scored 10 or less in nine games. Won 8 in 2000 and 9 in 2001.
Won five SEC games in a row, including win against Florida.