Now that the Auburn coaching search saga has come to an inauspicious conclusion, we can begin to think about which teams came out winners and which losers in their coaching searches in what's been another busy year on the SEC coaching carousel.
Auburn (Fired Tommy Tuberville; Hired Gene Chizik)
First, the good. While Chizik has not been a successful head coach, he was one of the hottest prospects in the country a few years ago after winning 29 straight games as a DC at Auburn and Texas. Chizik's Auburn defense in 2004 was especially impressive. The Tigers led the country in total defense that year, giving up only 11 ppg and leading the Tigers to an undefeated season. From a philosophic standpoint, Chizik is known for effective, aggressive scheming and players that use solid fundamentals.
Now, the bad. First of all, firing Tommy Tuberville, possibly the most successful coach Auburn has ever had, was a bad move. It reeked of desperation in the wake of Nick Saban's success at Alabama. I have news for Auburn: if you thought you were never going to lose to Alabama again and that the Tide were never going to again compete for SEC championships, you were wrong. Firing a coach for not keeping Alabama down forever was shortsighted. You should have endured this year patiently and gave Tuberville a chance to fight back next year.
As for Chizik, whatever his virtues as a coordinator might be, he has been a colossal failure as a head coach. The guy has won five games in two years at Iowa State. That's horrible, even by ISU standards. Some Chizik defenders have said that winning at ISU is just too hard, but that's not true. The Cyclones have been to five bowls in this decade and were 9-3 and ranked as recently as 2000. Iowa State may never be a powerhouse, but a good coach can do better than 2-10 there. That Chizik has failed to perform at ISU when traditional Big XII North powers Nebraska and Colorado are down further illustrates his terrible performance in Ames.
Moreover, the fact of the matter is that Auburn should be able to do better than this. It's one thing when you're a school without money or tradition and you get stuck with a questionable coach. It's another thing when you're Auburn, one of the more storied programs in the NCAA and a consistent winner over the last decade. Auburn should have had their pick of the litter, but due to a ruined reputation in the wake of the Tuberville affair and a bungled hiring job by AD Jay Jacobs, they got Chizik. This, to my mind, is one of the worst hires I've ever seen. It makes Alabama's hiring of Mike Shula look like pure genius.
Take a look at MSU and Tennessee after the jump.
Mississippi State (Fired Sly Croom; Hired Dan Mullen)
This, I think, was a pretty solid move. While I thought Croom deserved one more year, I can't blame MSU too much for letting him go. He wasn't getting it done and was likely headed for another tough season in 2009. Hiring Mullen as Croom's replacement wasn't very splashy, but this is Starkville we're talking about. They had very little chance of attracting a really hot name, as MSU lacks the tradition, facilities, and bank account to hire one of the better coaching prospects. Guys like Chris Petersen can wait it out and hope to get a better offer down the road. MSU's best hope was to find a promising assistant, and they found that in Mullen. Mullen's resume speaks for itself; he's led some of the best offenses in the country as Urban Meyer's OC at Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida, and he's also known as a top-flight developer of QBs from his experience with Alex Smith and Tim Tebow. Mullen will have to prove that he can collect talented assistants and have success recruiting at a school that usually picks up the dregs of the southeast, but as a long-time assistant under Urban, you know Mullen has good training in those departments.
It's worth saying that this appears to be a better hire than Chizik to Auburn. While Mullen may not turn out to be a great head coach, at least we don't know that he is a failure, as Chizik has already proven to be.
Tennessee (Fired Phil Fulmer; Hired Lane Kiffin)
My general intuition is that this is a decent but not great move. I can certainly understand Tennessee's move to push Fulmer out the door. The Great Pumpkin had an amazing run in Knoxville, but the program had clearly begun to flounder below expectations since the disastrous 2005. The 2006 team was pretty good, but the 2007 SECCG team was only succesful due to a string of flukey wins and the 2008 team's performance speaks for itself. Tennessee can do better, so it was time to make a move.
Hiring Kiffin, however, is a move of uncertain merit. He has a good name due to his father's reputation and his stint with Oakland, and that should help him bring in recruits. He has also convinced Dad to come be his DC, an undoubtedly good choice as Monte Kiffin has long been known as one of the best defensive coaches in football. He may also nab Ed Orgeron from the New Orleans Saints staff, a hire that will pay off in the recruiting department. Kiffin is known for good recruiting and player development at USC and also brings NFL coaching experience to Knoxville.
All of that said, Kiffin has yet to truly prove that he can be a succesful head coach. His time in Oakland was a disaster, although we can conclude that the problems there went beyond Kiffin himself. He has no college head coaching experience. My thinking is that a program like Tennessee would have done better to go with a proven winner at the head coaching level. They should have taken a longer look at candidates like Chris Petersen, Turner Gill, and Skip Holtz, as all three of those coaches have proven more than Kiffin. Instead of considering these guys, they went with Kiffin due to his name, choosing to make a splash with the media rather than hiring the best available candidate. While Kiffin may turn out to be a great coach, not going with a more proven coach is always a mistake when you're a program like Tennessee and can get the guy you want.