The Georgia Bulldogs are currently 4-3 under Kirby Smart after an ugly loss to Vanderbilt.
In the loss to Vanderbilt, Kirby Smart showed his inexperience as a head coach. Penalties and alignment issues plagued the Bulldogs all game long and there was a general lack of identity.
Most of these issues that Georgia has right now should be fixed over time as Kirby Smart learns valuable head coaching lessons the same way every great coach before him had to. If he is the head coach of destiny, that shouldn’t be an issue for him.
After all, Mark Richt went 8-4 in his first year at Georgia with losses to South Carolina, Auburn, Florida and Boston College. Richt led Georgia to a 13-1 record and a SEC Championship in his second season. Kirby Smart could very well do the same at Georgia.
Or he could end up like most other coaches who got their first head coaching job in SEC. That is one statistic that is not on Smart’s side. Most of those coaches, failed.
Since 1997, 15 men received the first head coaching job of their careers in the SEC. Eight of them were fired, three are still with their school but two of those may not be for long, two were hired this past January, and two left on their own. But only one of them can call themselves a successful head coach to this point.
If Kirby Smart ends up as a success in the SEC, he will be a total rarity. Lets take a quick look at Smart’s contemporaries. The other guys who made their head coaching debut in the Southeastern Conference.
The ones who were fired
As previously mention, nine of the 15 were fired.
Alabama 1997-Mike Dubose
Dubose was hired under the worst of circumstances. Alabama was being hit hard by the NCAA because of recruiting violations from the Gene Stallings era. DuBose did lead the Crimson Tide to a SEC Championship in 1999, but a total collapse in 2000 led to a 3-8 season and DuBose being fired. His record at Alabama was 24-23 and 16-16 in the SEC.
Ole Miss 1998-David Cutcliff
Cutcliff had mild success at Ole Miss but he could never lift the Rebels into the upper echelon in the SEC West. After finishing 10-3 in 2003, the Rebels went 4-7 in 2004 at Cutcliff was fired. Ole Miss was 44-29 with him as head coach, and 25-23 in the SEC.
Georgia 2001-Mark Richt
By leaps and bounds, the most successful head coach on this list. Richt was fired after not being able to win enough champions at Georgia. The Bulldogs won a lot, but it wasn’t enough in a conference with little patients, a national title streak, and one elite program. Richt’s record at Georgia 145-51 and 83-37 in the SEC.
Florida 2002-Ron Zook
Zook had big shoes to fill when he became head coach replacing Steve Spurrier. Zook had Florida nowhere near the success they had in the 1990’s and he was fired before the 2004 season ended. His record at Florida was 23-14 and 16-8 in the SEC.
Mississippi State 2004-Sylvester Croom
Croom was the first African-American head coach in SEC history, but he only had one winning season in five years as head coach. he was tasked with building a program that had never been successful, but was unable to do so. He was fired after going 21-38 overall and 10-30 in the SEC.
Ole Miss 2005-Ed Orgeron
While Cutcliff was fired for not building on his own success at Ole Miss, Orgeron was fired for not maintaining that success. In three years, he amassed a record of 10-25 and 3-21 in the SEC.
Kentucky 2010-Joker Phillips
Phillips was the second African-American head coach in SEC history, and just like Croom, he was having to build a program from the ground up. However, he was promoted to that job after having been with Wildcats since 2003. He was a great offensive coach but didn’t translate well to head coaching. Phillips finished 13-24 and 4-20 in the SEC.
Florida 2011-Will Muschamp
Probably the coach with the most misfortune on this list. In his four years at Florida, he had three offensive coordinators. Plus, he wasn’t left a stable program in 2011. Still, he never found success at Florida besides his second season. He actually failed to lead Florida to a bowl game in 2013. The Gators went 28-21 with Muschamp, 17-15 in the SEC.
The ones still around
Mississippi State 2009-Dan Mullen
Mullen has turned Mississippi State into one of the scariest opponents in the SEC West. They are always competitive, and very often they’ve been able to pull off upsets. The Bulldogs went 10-3 in 2014. Since he was hired in 2009, Mississippi State has enjoyed the most prosperous era in the programs history. The Bulldogs are 57-39 with Mullen as head coach but they’re 27-32 in SEC play.
Kentucky 2013-Mark Stoops
Make that three head coaches from Kentucky. After this year he might be moving to the fired list. Kentucky is 15-27 with Stoops and 6-22 in the SEC.
Vanderbilt 2014-Derek Mason
Mason has been just as unsuccessful as Stoops, but they do play much better than the Wildcats. The Commodores are very good on defense and all they need is an offense to be decent. Plus, Vanderbilt beat Georgia last week in Athens which helps his case. Although that might have only bought him an extra year. he’s 10-21 as head coach and 3-17 in the SEC.
The one’s who left
Kentucky 2001-Guy Morriss
Best known as the coach whose team doused him with Gatorade right before they gave up a game-winning hail mary to LSU. Morriss went 2-9 in 2001, but improved to 7-5 a year later. He left however to take over as head coach of Baylor in 2003.
Vanderbilt 2011-James Franklin
What Franklin did in three years at Vanderbilt is nothing short of phenomenal. The Commodores have never won an SEC title and they haven’t been a good, consistent program since the 1910’s. Franklin led them to three straight bowl games and back-to-back 9-4 seasons and finished in the top 25. Who does that at Vanderbilt. His record was 24-15, and 11-13 in the SEC. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, that quick success led to Penn State offering Franklin a job. The Pennsylvania native couldn’t refuse.
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Clearly this is not the most prestigious list in college football, but it’s one that Kirby Smart will always be a part of.
One could argue that most of these coaches just weren’t cut out for being head coaches, and I would not argue, in fact I would agree. But wouldn’t you rather find out that these guys couldn’t be good head coaches on a smaller stage first, rather than bring them into your SEC school and immediately throw them to the wolves?
As a Georgia fan, I hope Kirby Smart is a rarity and that he ends up like Mark Richt (Hopefully with more championships), and not like Joker Phillips or Ron Zook. But looking at these last 14 coaches, history is not on his side.