Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A crazy week in the South Eastern Conference
Nov. 30, 2017
Here’s a quick look at the SEC — the good, the bad and the (Big Orange) ugly from the past weekend. The league hasn’t had this kind of craziness in quite some time. It may be a record.
Consider these while we all wait for the start of Jon Gruden’s introductory press conference as Tennessee’s next head coach to begin …
Auburn beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, which cost Auburn $250,000 (for fans going onto the playing field to celebrate the victory), cost Alabama a clear path to the College Football Playoffs and likely cost Arkansas a chance to hire Gus Malzahn.
How did the Tigers do it? Simple, they played the better game and had the better gameplan and executed it to a higher degree than Alabama. Auburn lined up and won the game, it wasn’t given to the Tigers. Certainly, Alabama didn’t play its best game against its rival, but Auburn had a lot to do with that. Bad snaps from center are one thing, not being able to run the football as it has most of the season, getting production that enhances the rest of the offense, was another, and that cause and effect was brought on by Auburn’s defense more than Alabama’s own troubles.
So now, Auburn heads to the SEC Championship Game to face a Georgia team looking to avenge the beatdown it received from Auburn just a couple of weeks ago. You can bet Malzahn’s quote of “We beat the dog crap out of them,’’ following the win over the Dawgs is being played on a continuous loop around the Georgia practice field and locker room.
Should Auburn repeat its success against Georgia and win the SEC crown, it is headed to the College Football Playoff. If Georgia wins the title, it has a good chance of being tabbed as one of the four teams to play for the national title. For Alabama, who has to sit out this week’s dance, to make it to the playoffs, it’s more than likely going to need some help from others. The deadline for this column was prior to the Tuesday night announcement of the CFP rankings, but it was expected Alabama would not be among the top four. That means someone (or more than one) in that group has to lose this week for Alabama to have a chance to get back in the playoff mix.
But if Alabama makes the playoffs and Auburn wins this week and is also in the playoffs, think of craziness that would be in place if the teams met again in a playoff semifinal, or better yet, in the national championship game.
On Sunday, things became even more interesting. Dan Mullen left Mississippi State for Florida in what is a great hire for the Gators. Mullen had accomplished almost everything possible at MSU – heck, they were the top-ranked team in the country for a few weeks a couple of seasons ago – and he’s the right fit for the Gators. I believe he’s a much better fit than first choice Chip Kelly would have been.
That leaves the Bulldogs with a coaching vacancy. Don’t be surprised to hear the names of a couple of Alabama coaches surface in the search – Troy’s Neal Brown and UAB’s Bill Clark. Both have done outstanding jobs at their respective schools – Clark should be a national Coach of the Year candidate this season – and would be excellent picks.
Ole Miss decided to stay the course and erased the interim tag from Matt Luke’s title and gave him a new contract as the Rebels’ head coach. For sure, it would have been difficult for Ole Miss to find someone who wanted the job more than Luke, whose family has a strong history with the program. Time will tell if it’s the right decision, but it’s certainly not a bad decision.
That honor goes to the Tennessee fan base and new AD John Currie. Currie had an agreement in place for Greg Schiano to replace fired Butch Jones as the next head coach. But backlash from the Big Orange fan base led to Currie rescinding the offer, probably to the delight of Schiano once he realized what was ahead for him in Knoxville. Some didn’t like the hire because it wasn’t Gruden, some because they didn’t like his record at Rutgers and with the Tampa Bay Bucs and some suggested it was because they believed he turned a blind eye to Jerry Sandusky’s crimes when Schiano was an assistant coach at Penn State.
Many have come to Schiano’s defense, including the AD at Ohio State, where he is currently employed, and a Penn State Board of Trustees member who is reviewing every aspect of the Sandusky case who noted that any claims suggesting Schiano was involved in a cover-up of the abuse are false. Currie, because of the social media backlash and protests on campus, ended the agreement even though he said Schiano was vetted extensively before offering him the job. The whole situation puts Tennessee in a terrible light.
Now, it’s likely only a coach with Tennessee ties – USC offensive coordinator and former Vols’ QB Tee Martin has been mentioned; apparently Duke head coach and former Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe told the school he wasn’t interested – will take the job. All other coaches will sidestep what, on the outside, appears to be a dumpster fire.
Former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin should get his agent a nice gift. After he was fired Sunday as head coach it was reported Sumlin will received the $10.4 million still owed him via his buyout clause within 60 days. Even better, unlike most such contracts, if Sumlin gets another job – Arizona State, which fired its coach Sunday, is the rumored next stop for him – it doesn’t affect what A&M has to pay out; Sumlin gets the full $10.4 mil … within two months. A nice vacation is ahead for the Sumlin family.
Arkansas, with Malzahn apparently out of the picture now, also has to find a new coach after firing Bielema as he stepped off the field following a season-ending loss to Missouri. Where will the Razorbacks turn now? LSU’s Ed Orgeron righted the ship after a shaky start and appears safe and Missouri’s Barry Odom, who seemed a certainty to be fired, turned things around late and now there’s talk he and school officials are working on a contract extension.
Mark Stoops at Kentucky it seems will get at least another season and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp appears to be making progress with the Gamecocks, who played well at times this season. Vandy’s Derek Mason has done a credible job and should be OK, too. The coach who is the second-safest in the league behind Nick Saban at Alabama is his former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, now the leader of the Georgia program, which has a chance this weekend to win the SEC championship in just his second season at the helm. But like his time at Alabama, the focus is on beating Auburn this week.
If one thing has been reaffirmed this week it is that if nothing else, SEC football ain’t boring.