Mike Strange: Like moths to an SEC flame, the coaches come

Mike Strange
Tennessee coach Butch Jones talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Wednesday, July 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)$RETURN$$RETURN$

Photo by Dave Martin

Tennessee coach Butch Jones talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Wednesday, July 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)$RETURN$$RETURN$

Butch Jones grew up in little Saugatuck, Mich. He’s still getting used to the southern ambience of East Tennessee.

When the SEC football coaches are in a room together, however, Jones should feel right at home.

Coaches raised in the South are now in the minority in the SEC fraternity. If the 14 coaches were to vote in a geographic bloc, the Midwest would carry the day.

Three of the four newcomers are Midwesterners, bringing the total to six who grew up wearing parkas and listening to Big Ten games on the radio while they shoveled snow off the driveway.

Jones joins Bret Bielema of Arkansas, who’s from upstate Illinois; Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, born in Alabama but raised in Indianapolis; and three colleagues who hail from Northeast Ohio: LSU’s Les Miles, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel.

Alabama’s Nick Saban is a West Virginian. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin got his edge on the Jersey border in Pennsylvania. The biggest cultural adjustment has to be Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, a New Hampshire native who attended a small college in Philadelphia.

There are still a few Southern drawls to be heard in the coaches’ meetings:

South Floridian Mark Richt of Georgia; Mississippi-born Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss; Arkansas native Gus Malzahn of Auburn; Florida’s Will Muschamp, a Georgia Bulldog born and bred; South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, from Johnson City.

What does it all mean?

Perhaps only that the world is getting smaller and flatter. Football-wise, an X is an X, an O an O.

But there is a message in the geography. It speaks to how big of a business college football has become.

Follow the money, not the alma mater.

For decades the giants of Southern football were mostly Southerners.

Paul Bryant, Shug Jordan, Vince Dooley, Frank Broyles, Charlie McClendon, Pat Dye, Johnny Majors, they all grew up on Dixie football.

So did the next generation: Spurrier, Phillip Fulmer, Houston Nutt, Billy Brewer.

There were a couple of Texans in the mix, Tennessee’s Robert Neyland and Ole Miss’ John Vaught. But rarely did a coach come from north of the Mason-Dixon Line to leave a lasting impact. Go back to World War II and beyond and Vanderbilt’s Dan McGugin and Alabama’s Frank Thomas were a couple of Notre Dame men.

With Kentucky’s firing of Joker Phillips last winter, there isn’t a current SEC coach employed by his alma mater.

That’s not to say Alabama fans don’t worship the ground their West Virginia-born Kent State grad walks on. Or that UT fans haven’t embraced Ferris State alum Jones and his Michigan Mafia with open orange arms.

Speaking of Kent State, did you know Saban and Missouri’s Pinkel were Golden Flash teammates? Or that Bielema and Stoops both played for Hayden Fry at Iowa?

Or, that there are four Big Ten alums coaching in the SEC compared to two SEC alums?

LSU’s Miles, a Big Ten guy, has apparently found contentment on the bayou. Starting his ninth year, he’s No. 2 on the Tigers’ career wins chart with 85. Saban is already No. 3 on Alabama’s chart.

Bielema was No. 2 at Wisconsin and could have become No. 1 in time if he hadn’t bolted south for Arkansas.

So perhaps the more obvious message is that the SEC’s dominant decade — with no end in sight — sends out a beacon that reaches from sea to shining sea. Coaches come, like moths to a flame.

If you can win, it doesn’t matter if you’re from Saugatuck or Savannah.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 15

richvol writes:

The best coaches want to coach in the best league against the best coaches. You can't be the best if not competing against the best.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

The SEC has become the "New York" of CFB. If you can make here, you can make it anywhere.

volforeverandever writes:

Anyone noticed that southern cal and their ace coach are at 45 on rivals,all SEC teams are ahead of them except Missouri one spot back at 46.Doesn't look like many top prospects want to go to the bottom on the sinking ship.Alot of wasted talent on that roster.Looks like ole kiffy did us a large favor looking back.He couldn't cut it in the SEC and he is trashing usc.Everyone thought Al Davis was crazy.

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas has always made me scratch my head. Wisconsin is not a bad football school. Great atmosphere, passionate fans, and a supportive administration. Had Bielema jumped ship for LSU, Florida, UT, or UGA, I would totally understand...but Arkansas has got to be a hard place to recruit. Plus, you walk into the SEC West, which (now that Ole Miss has decided to actually play football) has to be the most competitive division of college football in America. In the Big10, who did he really have to compete against? Only Ohio State.

Franklin to Vandy makes sense. Malzahn to Auburn makes a lot of sense. Jones to UT makes sense. Bielema to Arkansas...doesn't make sense to me.

I guess that he wants to prove that he's the best and make a name for himself, but Arkansas isn't really going to be a springboard to Florida, UT, UGA, or Bama.

I don't know. I don't get it.

VolNWA writes:

in response to DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho:

Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas has always made me scratch my head. Wisconsin is not a bad football school. Great atmosphere, passionate fans, and a supportive administration. Had Bielema jumped ship for LSU, Florida, UT, or UGA, I would totally understand...but Arkansas has got to be a hard place to recruit. Plus, you walk into the SEC West, which (now that Ole Miss has decided to actually play football) has to be the most competitive division of college football in America. In the Big10, who did he really have to compete against? Only Ohio State.

Franklin to Vandy makes sense. Malzahn to Auburn makes a lot of sense. Jones to UT makes sense. Bielema to Arkansas...doesn't make sense to me.

I guess that he wants to prove that he's the best and make a name for himself, but Arkansas isn't really going to be a springboard to Florida, UT, UGA, or Bama.

I don't know. I don't get it.

It’s a little more rational than you think. From what I’ve heard, while Wisconsin is a decent football school, there administration doesn’t fully support the team.

Assistant coaches were not allowed to make more than $200,000 per year, which drove a number of them away (see Paul Chryst). And having fluidity and cohesion in your cohesion coaching staff is very challenging when assistants keep on leaving, which may have frustrated Bielema.

SevenT writes:

in response to DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho:

Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas has always made me scratch my head. Wisconsin is not a bad football school. Great atmosphere, passionate fans, and a supportive administration. Had Bielema jumped ship for LSU, Florida, UT, or UGA, I would totally understand...but Arkansas has got to be a hard place to recruit. Plus, you walk into the SEC West, which (now that Ole Miss has decided to actually play football) has to be the most competitive division of college football in America. In the Big10, who did he really have to compete against? Only Ohio State.

Franklin to Vandy makes sense. Malzahn to Auburn makes a lot of sense. Jones to UT makes sense. Bielema to Arkansas...doesn't make sense to me.

I guess that he wants to prove that he's the best and make a name for himself, but Arkansas isn't really going to be a springboard to Florida, UT, UGA, or Bama.

I don't know. I don't get it.

You really shouldn't put UT in the same sentence with LSU, Florida, Bama or UGA.

UT belongs in the same sentence with Ark, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vandy.

murrayvol writes:

in response to DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho:

Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas has always made me scratch my head. Wisconsin is not a bad football school. Great atmosphere, passionate fans, and a supportive administration. Had Bielema jumped ship for LSU, Florida, UT, or UGA, I would totally understand...but Arkansas has got to be a hard place to recruit. Plus, you walk into the SEC West, which (now that Ole Miss has decided to actually play football) has to be the most competitive division of college football in America. In the Big10, who did he really have to compete against? Only Ohio State.

Franklin to Vandy makes sense. Malzahn to Auburn makes a lot of sense. Jones to UT makes sense. Bielema to Arkansas...doesn't make sense to me.

I guess that he wants to prove that he's the best and make a name for himself, but Arkansas isn't really going to be a springboard to Florida, UT, UGA, or Bama.

I don't know. I don't get it.

You obviously don't know much about Bielema's situation at Wisconsin.

Couldn't pay his assistants enough to keep them. Got tired of playing musical chairs with quality people for lack of funds.

murrayvol writes:

in response to VolNWA:

It’s a little more rational than you think. From what I’ve heard, while Wisconsin is a decent football school, there administration doesn’t fully support the team.

Assistant coaches were not allowed to make more than $200,000 per year, which drove a number of them away (see Paul Chryst). And having fluidity and cohesion in your cohesion coaching staff is very challenging when assistants keep on leaving, which may have frustrated Bielema.

Exactly. Should've read your post before responding to Duane.

murrayvol writes:

Yankees.....in the SEC! How'd they evah get in? - Apologies to M. Mitchell

CrankE writes:

in response to DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho:

Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas has always made me scratch my head. Wisconsin is not a bad football school. Great atmosphere, passionate fans, and a supportive administration. Had Bielema jumped ship for LSU, Florida, UT, or UGA, I would totally understand...but Arkansas has got to be a hard place to recruit. Plus, you walk into the SEC West, which (now that Ole Miss has decided to actually play football) has to be the most competitive division of college football in America. In the Big10, who did he really have to compete against? Only Ohio State.

Franklin to Vandy makes sense. Malzahn to Auburn makes a lot of sense. Jones to UT makes sense. Bielema to Arkansas...doesn't make sense to me.

I guess that he wants to prove that he's the best and make a name for himself, but Arkansas isn't really going to be a springboard to Florida, UT, UGA, or Bama.

I don't know. I don't get it.

Arkansas has Tyson Chicken and Wal-Mart-a couple of monster corporations. They also have Jerry Jones as an alumni.

The required resources seem to be there for some really great stuff to happen at Arky. Petrino started to unlock some of that before he fell off the bike.

Arkansas did what I wished UT would have done in 2010. Hire an interim coach, take your time, target your man, and close the deal. Was the 2012 season dismal for Arkansas? Yes. (I know stuff's bad...) Would it have been any better had they made a rush hire? Probably not.

...but I got this guy...
When Bielema was hired though, you could have heard a pin drop. It was an eye-opener in Arkansas and nationally. At that point, the administration and AD could look people in the eye and tell them, "THIS is why we waited."

I hope things get crowded in the SEC West.

Olddogsrule writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Yankees.....in the SEC! How'd they evah get in? - Apologies to M. Mitchell

"Frankly muh deah, Ah don't give a damn"! As long as thet Michigander gits it done!

No 'pologies uhtall.

DC82_Vol writes:

in response to SevenT:

You really shouldn't put UT in the same sentence with LSU, Florida, Bama or UGA.

UT belongs in the same sentence with Ark, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vandy.

That is what I heard Bielema say in an interview that Wisconsin did not want to pay for assistant coaches. He wanted to go to a place that fully supported the football program.

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to SevenT:

You really shouldn't put UT in the same sentence with LSU, Florida, Bama or UGA.

UT belongs in the same sentence with Ark, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vandy.

Which leaves UK in the same sentence as fligm, poo and pus.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

I just can not picture Saban playing football
Was he the holder or something?? Spurrier looks even less like a past player but won a heisman

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to SAMA_BUCKS:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Will be interesting how Chaney does with a lesser passing game..He had a decent year last year but his offense was often way to predictable and he tipped his hand a lot and good DC's ate it up..His playing calling inside the 10 yard line was awful

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features