One down. Three to go. And it's just getting started.
Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn all relieved their head coaches of their duties. Following not-up-to-par years, each program methodically and quite expectedly made a change at the top of their respective football programs.
Kentucky was the first to announce that Joker Phillips would not return next year and they have been the first to announce a replacement. Florida State Defensive Coordinator, Mark Stoops (yes, that Stoops - brother of successful Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and not so successful at Arizona Mike Stoops) will take over a program that has not been competitive since Rich Brooks brought them to back respectability, they were 2-10 this year and 0-8 in SEC play. Stoops is unproven as a head coach and it is yet to be seen if he can turn the program around. But if Vanderbilt can win eight games, there is no reason to believe that the right person couldn't turn Kentucky into a perennial winner.
Tennessee was next, relieving Derek Dooley with one game left in the season. Tennessee won only one game in the SEC this year and that was against Kentucky (see above) in their last game after Dooley was fired. Since winning a National Championship in 1998, Tennessee has fired Philip Fulmer, hired Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley and have fallen out of the national conversation. This is unacceptable for a program that has six national championships to boast about. So the latest rumor surrounding the program was that a former Tennessee alum with trucks loads of money who just bought the Cleveland Browns and just happens to be the governor of Tennessee's father, wanted to give John Gruden part ownership in the Cleveland Browns if he would sign on the dotted line to bring UT back to national prominence. Gruden was a graduate assistant at Tennessee and met his wife, who was a cheerleader at the time, while he was there. Gruden has since dispelled the rumors but the talk won't go away anytime soon. At least not until they hire a head coach not named Gruden.
Then the Razorbacks joined the fun. Officially. Though AD Jeff Long was patient and quiet about John L. Smith's future, the fact of the matter is, Louisiana Monroe dethroned Smith the second QB Kolton Browning crossed the goal line in OT to secure the biggest upset of the college football season over then #8 Arkansas. So John L. Smith not returning was a foregone conclusion, the media knew it, the fans knew it and based off of the way the players played the rest of the year, they knew it too. Apparently someone forgot to tell Smith because he came out a few weeks ago and said he wanted to remain the head coach at the University of Arkansas. That's cute. I want to inherit millions of dollars, move to St. Thomas and open a shrimp taco shack on the beach. Back to reality. Smith is no longer the head coach at Arkansas and there is no million dollar inheritance in my future. Give Jeff Long credit, once the season ended he didn't wait to make an announcement. The day after the LSU game Smith was "reassigned". And just yesterday rumors began running rampant that the Razorbacks have an offer on the table to lure Les Miles away from conference rival LSU. And not just any offer, it would be the biggest in college football, 5 years at $27.5 million. Time will tell if Miles is using it as leverage with the LSU administration to get more money for himself and his assistants. If LSU calls his bluff, it wouldn't surprise me if Miles walks. In the landscape of college football coaching, a coach only has leverage a few times in his career and he better use it when he has it. And money talks. What would surprise me is if the Tigers didn't do everything in their power to keep him. All he does is win. Even if he is a little peculiar in doing it.
So next up is Auburn. Last week I mentioned that if Gene Chizik's fate wasn't already decided, a win against Alabama would give him some leverage heading into the offseason. At this point, it's a moot point because not only did they not win, they got embarrassed. And Gene Chizik lost his job. Auburn has been quiet to this point, but it's early in the hiring season. They have a ton of money on the Plains and it's as attractive a job as there is. With Arkansas and Tennessee garnering much of the rumor-mill media attention right now, the Auburn faithful will get restless and rumors will begin to swirl. Before you know it, Bo Jackson will be returning as head coach and Charles Barkley will be coming on board as his defensive coordinator.
One thing is for certain, over the next few weeks there will be a lot of money offered and accepted for coaches to take over programs that expect to win now. And if they don't, they may be looking for some real estate on the beach in St. Thomas. Doesn't sound too bad if you ask me.