In-season interim football coaches are 'sign of the times'

In-season interim football coaches are 'sign of the times'

November 14th, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Florida interim head coach Randy Shannon talks with quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina defeated Florida 28-20. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

ATHENS, Ga. — The Southeastern Conference now has three interim football coaches — Florida's Randy Shannon, Tennessee's Brady Hoke and Matt Luke of Ole Miss — in the same regular season for the first time in a history that dates back to 1933.

This is also the first football season that will be followed by an early signing period for high school prospects, with the inaugural 72-hour window set for Dec. 20-22.

Is this a coincidence, or will parting ways with a coach before the end of a season become the new norm?

"It may very well be," Georgia second-year coach Kirby Smart said Monday. "It's nothing that I've thought really long and hard about, but it could be the norm. Obviously, they're going to have to make a decision really fast, because that signing date is going to be right upon the end of the season."

This year's three SEC coaching changes have come about in different ways.

Tennessee associate head coach and defensive line coach Brady Hoke makes his way back to the locker room before an NCAA football game between Tennessee and Southern Mississippi at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Tennessee associate head coach and defensive line coach...

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

Mississippi interim head coach Matt Luke reacts during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. Arkansas won 38-37. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

Mississippi interim head coach Matt Luke reacts during...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart watches the action from the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college football against Vanderbilt, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart watches the action...

Photo by Mark Humphrey

Luke was the offensive line coach of the Rebels in July until receiving the interim tag after it was discovered that Hugh Freeze had made calls to escort services. Shannon was Florida's defensive coordinator before taking the temporary reins late last month once Jim McElwain's embellishment of claims that his players and family received death threats began to unravel. Tennessee tabbed Hoke to replace Butch Jones on Sunday, a day after the Volunteers suffered a 50-17 loss at Missouri that left them 0-6 in league play and with a losing streak against every SEC foe.

Florida and Tennessee have had prospects in recent days who were committed to those programs decide to open their recruitments. Obviously, the earlier a coach can be dismissed, the earlier an athletic director can begin the search to find the successor, who can begin salvaging his new school's recruiting class.

"Recruiting definitely enters into it, but I don't think it's solely the motivating factor," former Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley said. "I just think people want change, and they want it now, so much that it's hard to hold off to the end of the year when the inevitable is going to happen.

"It's another sign of the times."

As Georgia's athletic director, Dooley had to fire Ray Goff in 1995 and Jim Donnan in 2000. Goff was informed after a loss to Auburn in the next-to-last game of the regular season that he would not be retained; Donnan was informed that he would be out less than two days after a loss to Georgia Tech.

Goff and Donnan were allowed to coach their respective bowl games, which is an act that seems foreign now given all the interim coaches who have bridged the gaps in recent SEC seasons — Joe Kines at Alabama from the Mike Shula era to the Nick Saban era, Bryan McClendon at Georgia from the Mark Richt era to the Smart era, and D.J. Durkin at Florida from the Will Muschamp era to the McElwain era, just to cite three examples.

"In the situations I had, the players wanted their coaches to coach," Dooley said. "In the case of the bowl games, they wanted Coach Goff and Coach Donnan and not some interim coaches to do that."

McClendon is the only interim coach in Georgia history, heading the Bulldogs for only the TaxSlayer Bowl win over Penn State after the 2015 season.

Hoke is now Tennessee's second interim coach in five years, with Jim Chaney having replaced Derek Dooley, Vince's son, for the last game of the 2012 regular season. Chaney guided the Vols to a 37-17 thumping of Kentucky and is now in his second season as Georgia's offensive coordinator.

Smart didn't want to elaborate on the early signing period's potential effect on the timing of coaching decisions due to Saturday's impending test against Kentucky in Sanford Stadium. Kentucky's Mark Stoops now is the dean of SEC East coaches by a year over Vanderbilt's Derek Mason.

"Is that right?" Stoops said Monday at his news conference when informed of that fact. "Wow, that's scary. Wow. I don't get shocked in here too often."

Words to remember?

After being interviewed by CBS moments after Saturday's 40-17 thumping of Georgia, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn turned from the camera but could be heard exclaiming, "We whipped the dog crap out of them, didn't we?"

Smart was asked Monday about Malzahn's comments.

"I'll be honest with you," Smart said. "I think when you perform the way they did on the field, you earn the right to say really whatever you want. I don't get into what Gus says, and he probably doesn't get into what I say."

Staying with red

Georgia broke out its black jerseys last November for the first time since 2008 for a 35-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. With the No. 7 Bulldogs (9-1, 6-1 SEC) having their home finale this Saturday against the Wildcats (7-3, 4-3), it appears there will be no blackout this season inside Sanford Stadium.

At least to Smart's knowledge.

"I'm not really sure what color we're wearing," he said. "I think we wear red at home. We always wear red at home, as far as I know."

The Bulldogs are seeking a 6-0 mark in Sanford this year, which would be their first undefeated season at home since 2012.

Odds and ends

Georgia's game next Saturday at Georgia Tech will be televised by ABC at either noon or 8 p.m., with the kickoff time to be revealed Sunday. ... The Bulldogs hold a 56-12-2 series advantage over Kentucky and have won seven in a row. ... Georgia's net punting average of 42.4 yards is challenging the program record of 42.6 set in 2013.

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


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