published Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Greeson: Which new SEC coach will last?

Less than three months from the start of the college football season, the three first-year SEC head coaches have paced, prowled and propelled themselves and their programs into perplexing positions of uncertainty.

And that's not a bad thing.

Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, Auburn's Gene Chizik and Tennessee's Lane Kiffin are first-year SEC coaches because 2008 was at best a forgettable experience for each program.

So, with change the eternal springboard of optimism -- especially in the SEC where football pays the bills and apathy is a much more dangerous emotion than anger -- enter three new coaches with clear goals and an even clearer sense of purpose.

Sadly, each has no clearly proven answer at quarterback and each has crystal clear concerns offensively, but that's a discussion for another day (and possibly the biggest reason Sly Croom, Tommy Tuberville and Phillip Fulmer were told goodbye after last season).

Granted, the days of decade-long tenures at today's college programs are a thing of the past, gone forever like drop kicks and helmets without facemasks. The unyielding pressure, the 340 work days a year and the obscene salaries make head-coaching seasons just short of dog years on the conversion scale.

But which of the three new SEC coaches on the block will be around long enough to be embraced rather than embattled?

Mullen has the benefit of having the lowest expectations of the three and possibly in the league. He has the least head-coaching experience of the new trio, but considering Chizik and Kiffin are a combined 10-34 as head coaches, that also is not all that bad.

What Mullen does have is the steepest hill to climb.

After winning two BCS championship rings as Florida's offensive coordinator, he is used to high-powered players running a high-octane offense. In Starkville, offense has been less about high speed and more about hi-jinks.

"I went from a guy at quarterback who was a Heisman winner to guys (Tyson Lee, Chris Relf) trying to learn the offense," Mullen told the Commercial Appeal of Memphis earlier this spring. "A couple of times I found myself biting my lip because we weren't executing at the high level I wanted."

Either Mullen will have to change his lofty level of expectations for the immediate future or drive himself nuts watching his Bulldogs surprise one SEC team a year and struggling to be bowl-eligible every season. But at MSU, that may be good enough for at least one extension.

In truth, I'll take Mullen leaving Mississippi State rather than the other way around.

Chizik has plenty in common with Kiffin. They both assembled impressive staffs of assistants and done admirable jobs of generating enthusiasm rather than hand-wringing from programs coming off disastrously disappointing seasons.

Chizik has been a little more subdued than his Vols counterpart, but Auburn's recent recruiting jaunt in luxury vehicles throughout the state of Alabama was either a stroke of genius or desperation, depending on the color of your lucky game-day T-shirt.

That said, Chizik could easily be the one of this trio who still is planning on the SEC Media Days in the summer of 2017 -- and trying to line up some type of grass-fueled limo for the eighth annual "Tiger Prowl."

Kiffin is the biggest unknown. His approach has been either electric or idiotic depending on whom you ask. He has the least amount of time but the highest ceiling.

In five years, Kiffin's Volunteers either will be on the short list of teams in the running for a national title or they likely will no longer be KIffin's Vols. It's hard to see any other way out.

Either way, Vols officials and fans got exactly what they said they wanted -- something different than the status quo. And different is always good, especially three months before the season when no one has lost an SEC game yet.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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WhitePineVol said...

It's not just something different than the status quo at Tennessee. If you read between the lines, expectations of players has been higher and it's a tighter run ship than it was before. We'll see this translates to.

June 17, 2009 at 4:54 p.m.
moonpie said...

Tighter ship?

I hope so.

If NCAA violations are evidence of how well things are battened down, then we're in trouble.

I'll jump on the Lane train if he can 1) keep us out of trouble with the NCAA, 2) get our kids to the NFL or to graduate, and 3) win.

So far, all Lane Kiffen has done has run his mouth.

Given how easy the Vols schedule is this year, he should win 8 without having any coaching talent. 9 wins is expected. Seven, or fewer.... he's even more suspect than O.J.

June 17, 2009 at 10:45 p.m.
Salsa said...

Those so called "secondary violations" are nothing. Ohio State has something like 400 and nothing has been done to them. They are like parking tickets.

June 17, 2009 at 11:43 p.m.
dtconnelly said...

I think Kiffin has four gates to hit, and he won't hit all of them this year: an 8-game-win baseline, a big win against a traditional rival (Florida, Georgia, or Alabama) included in or in addition to the 8-game baseline, a January 1st or later bowl game, and win the SEC East/SEC outright.

Realistically, I think he wins the eight games, and I think he sneaks up on one of the rivals. That should get him to the bigger bowl game. SEC ranking, this year, would be gravy.

If he does the above, he's got room to breathe. His recruiting will take care of the house longterm.

June 18, 2009 at 12:03 p.m.
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