New SEC coordinators are quite familiar with the league

New SEC coordinators are quite familiar with the league

July 10th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Alabama coach Nick Saban, left, and Florida coach Jim McElwain speak after the Crimson Tide's 29-15 triumph over the Gators in last December's SEC title game. McElwain was Saban's offensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa from 2008 to 2011 and is among the SEC's six head coaches who worked as a coordinator in the league.

Photo by David Goldman

South Carolina first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is at his fifth Southeastern Conference school, having worked on staffs at Ole Miss, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida.

Kevin Steele, Auburn's new defensive coordinator, is at his fourth SEC locale after previous stops at Tennessee, Alabama and LSU. New Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is at his fourth SEC school as well, having called Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee home, while it's the third league stop for first-year Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone following stints at Ole Miss and Auburn.

Steele actually had two coaching stops at Alabama, as did Mazzone at Ole Miss.

Bringing in or bringing back the familiar was the theme of the SEC's offseason hires, as 10 of the 14 members made at least one change at coordinator. The SEC's three new head coaches — Georgia's Kirby Smart, Missouri's Barry Odom and South Carolina's Will Muschamp — worked last year in the league as defensive coordinators.

"It's the best league in the country, and you know you have to bring your best every week," Odom said. "There are 24 hours in a day, and other coaches are spending it just like you are. It's an opportunity that you live for."

Hype for the upcoming season will intensify as the annual SEC media days event takes place Monday through Thursday in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover.

Arkansas, Florida, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt were the SEC schools that did not change a coordinator after last season. Only Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State didn't make changes following the 2014 season.

Smart, Odom and Muschamp give the SEC six head coaches who previously were coordinators in the league, with that trio joining Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Florida's Jim McElwain and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen.

"A lot of guys in our conference get opportunities, and it really speaks to the quality of coaches that this conference can attract," said McElwain, who was Alabama's offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide's 2009 and '11 national championship teams. "It makes for offseason studies to be kind of nuts, because you're breaking down film and it's not even a team you're playing.

"It's some guy's offense or defense from somewhere else, but that makes it kind of fun."

Muschamp doesn't need any help in getting around the SEC, having played at Georgia and having served one stint as LSU's defensive coordinator and two as Auburn's defensive coordinator. He is getting his second head-coaching opportunity in the league, having guided Florida to a 28-21 record from 2011 to 2014.

"It's one thing to coach in this league, and it's another to recruit," Muschamp said, "and I think that's what makes our league a little different. There is a competitive edge you have to have on the recruiting trail. It's very intense, and it's 365 days a year, and I think that separates our league a little bit from other leagues."

Alabama coach Nick Saban didn't hesitate in replacing Smart, his defensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa since 2008, with Jeremy Pruitt as the successor. Pruitt spent the past two seasons as Georgia's defensive coordinator but was Alabama's 2010-12 secondary coach.

That familiarity has made for an easy transition, according to Saban, but Malzahn chose to hire someone he had faced in the rugged Western Division by landing Steele after the latter's one season in Baton Rouge.

"He's got unbelievable experience in our league, which I think is very important," Malzahn said. "Our defensive coaches have really responded well to him."

Of the SEC's 13 new coordinators this season, 10 have prior experience within the league. The exceptions are Missouri's new duo of Josh Heupel and DeMontie Cross and LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

Heupel has spent most of his coaching career at Oklahoma, his alma mater, while Cross played at Mizzou during its Big 12 years and has been TCU's linebackers coach the past three seasons.

Aranda has been defensive coordinator at Hawaii, Utah State and, most recently, Wisconsin. He is LSU's third defensive coordinator in as many years, replacing Steele, who succeeded John Chavis, the second-year defensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

"I interviewed Dave, and he was the best interview by far," LSU head coach Les Miles said. "We liked Steele, and he knew the SEC and was an advantage that way, but when we lost him we wanted to go get the best. Dave was being pursued by several, and we're fortunate he chose the Tigers."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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