REPORT: Tennessee Now Targeting Longstanding NFL Coach (Not Gruden) with Deep Ties to SEC, Nick Saban
According to a source well-versed in the incompetence of Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie, the Volunteer brass has shifted its focus away from the college ranks while trying to fill the coaching vacancy created by the termination of Butch Jones’ contract.
The search committee now appears to be inching closer to extending an offer to a longstanding NFL coach with deep ties to southern college football—as a player, as an assistant coach and as a head coach. Though not always indicative of success, the Vols like that their top target was an assistant under Nick Saban at both the collegiate and professional level. As a head coach he boasts a 1-1 record in bowl games. Most recently, Derek Dooley has been the wide receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys, though he did previously serve as the head coach and athletic director at Louisiana Tech and the head coach of the men’s football team at the University of Tennessee.
Currie expects bringing this one-time Volunteer home will truly unite the Rocky Top faithful, per my source.
Yesterday, I got this email:
I get a bunch of crap like this from back when people thought I was in the “media.” I ignore most of it. But what struck me here was the absence of Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. You see, the Broyles award goes to the top assistant coach in the country. You’ve probably heard of it because it’s something of a “who’s who” of future head coaches. Past recipients are some of the most well-known (and occasionally, most successful) head coaches in all of football—Gus Malzahn, Lincoln Riley, Tom Herman, Pat Narduzzi, Gene Chizik, Randy Shannon, Mark Mangino, David Cutcliffe, etc. Georgia’s Kirby Smart won it as an assistant at Alabama back in 2009.
But Mel Tucker didn’t make the cut as a finalist this year. Two defensive coordinators did: Kevin Steele (Auburn) and Jim Leonhard (Wisconsin). So how does Tucker’s unit stack up to those two? Well, that’s interesting, because he looks pretty damn good.
|Category||Georgia (National Rank)||Wisconsin (National Rank)||Auburn (National Rank)|
|Points Allowed Per Game||13.8 (5)||12.0 (1)||16.4 (9)|
|Yards Allowed Per Game||272 (4)||237 (1)||309 (13)|
|Passing Yards Allowed Per Game||159.4 (3)||156.4 (2)||183.0 (17)|
|Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game||112.5 (12)||80.5 (1)||125.8 (21)|
On a raw, un-adjusted basis, Georgia is better at defense than Auburn. The Bulldogs are allowing fewer points, fewer yards, fewer passing yards and fewer rushing yards.
This gets even more interesting when you account for level of competition. Wisconsin’s 12.0 points allowed per game is impressive. But, it’s a little bit less stellar given that on average Badger opponents (FBS only) are averaging just 25.8 points per game throughout the entire season. For context: 25.8 points per game would rank 84th in the nation (so that’s like Michigan or Kentucky’s offense). Put bluntly: the teams Wisconsin holds to low scoring totals don’t score a lot to begin with. Georgia’s opponents (FBS only) are averaging 29 points per game and Auburn’s foes are averaging 32.7. Those averages would rank 63rd and 36th respectively. So what’s that mean?
- Wisconsin is allowing 46.44% of its opponents’ season-long scoring averages.
- Georgia is allowing 47.65% of its opponents’ season-long scoring averages.
- Auburn is allowing 50.21% of its opponents’ season-long scoring averages.
- Wisconsin and Auburn have a Broyles finalist. Georgia does not.
The same pattern holds on a total yardage basis. Wisconsin’s FBS opponents are averaging 365.1 yards per game (if it we an individual offense, this would rank 97th nationally). In blunt terminology: the offenses that Wisconsin stifles week-in and week-out basically suck. For further context, only two of Wisconsin’s 12 opponents rank in the nation’s Top 60 in offensive yards per game. Auburn’s FBS foes are averaging 431.2 yards per game. If this were a single team it would rank 37th nationally. Auburn has played eight Top-60 offenses as measured by yards per game. Georgia’s opponents averaged 394.6 yards per game. This would rank 70th nationally. Georgia has played five Top-60 offenses by this measure. So what are the takeaways?
- Wisconsin is allowing 64.92% of its opponents’ season-long averages for yards per game.
- Georgia is allowing 68.92% of its opponents’ season-long averages for yards per game.
- Auburn is allowing 71.66% of its opponents’ season-long averages for yards per game.
- Wisconsin and Auburn have a Broyles finalist. Georgia does not.
Georgia’s defense, which ranks fifth in points allowed per game and fourth in total defense, is at a minimium comparable to Wisconsin. As such, Mel Tucker should, like Jim Leonhard, be considered for the Broyles Award. Further, Georgia’s defense is better than Auburn’s defense on an absolute and opponent-adjusted basis. It seems like Tucker should be ahead of Kevin Steele on the list.
To be sure, Auburn beat Georgia a few weeks ago, but all of the data above includes that matchup. And as Auburn fans will be quick to point out now that they want to distance themselves from two early losses, the season is more than just a game or two.
That’s all I got/
Just two short years ago, a disappointing Georgia win over alleged rival Georgia Tech was enough to get long-time Bulldog head coach Mark Richt fired. The prudence of that decision remains to be seen. On one hand, only beating the Yellow Jackets by six points may very well be a fireable offense. On the other hand, Mark Richt is now 18-5 at Miami and knocking on the door of a playoff appearance.
We can debate whether Richt deserved more time at Georgia until we’re blue in the face, but in the two years that have since transpired we have learned rather definitively that Greg McGarity made at least one poor personnel decision in late 2015. And that was the hiring of Kirby Smart.
There’s plenty to like about Kirby Smart (his infectious need to be displeased, his enthusiastic jumping about on the sideline, etc.), but in just two short years and 25 total games, Smart has already carved out Georgia’s positioning within the national landscape and it is not one of prominence. In doing so, he has rather concisely fragmented college football into four buckets of schools:
- Teams that Georgia always beats.
- Teams that Georgia should (but does not) always beat.
- Teams that always beat Georgia.
- Teams that have not yet been lucky enough to play Georgia.
An honest assessment of the four categories above renders an unacceptable result from Kirby Smart.
Teams that Georgia Always Beats
This is an interesting collection of programs that can really be broken down into a handful of sects (pronounced: sex).
- FCS Teams: Nicholls State (2016), Samford (2017)
- Non-Power 5 FBS Teams: Louisiana-Lafayette (2016), App State (2017)
- Traditionally Bottom-Feeding SEC Schools: Missouri (2016 / 2017), South Carolina (2016 / 2017), Kentucky (2016 / 2017), Mississippi State (2017)
- Teams Who Have Never Won a Conference Championship Game: TCU (2016), Notre Dame (2017)
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2016)
This is about as strong as the case for Kirby Smart gets. His Georgia program is better than FCS teams, non-Power 5 teams, crappy SEC teams, teams that never win their conference championship game and UNC.
Seriously, that’s as good as it gets.
Teams Georgia Should (But Doesn’t) Always Beat
This is where things really go south for Kirby Smart’s track record.
- He is 1-1 vs. Tennessee, a program that recently fired its coach.
- He is 1-1 vs. Florida, a program that recently fired its coach.
- He is 1-1 vs. Auburn, a program that was recently considering firing its coach.
- He is 1-1 vs. Vanderbilt, a program that should never beat Georgia.
- He’s 1-1 vs. Georgia Tech, a program that should never beat Georgia.
Teams that Always Beat Georgia
Ole Miss. The Rebels, at least under former coach Hugh Freeze, never lost to Georgia. In the interest of transparency, this list seems likely to grow.
Look, if you’re an FBS team in a Power 5 conference and you occasionally win your conference, you ought to feel really good about playing against Georgia. Because the only teams Kirby Smart consistently beats hail from smaller divisions, smaller conferences, weaker traditions or Chapel Hill. Alabama has to be excited about the SEC Championship Game. Whoever draws Georgia in a bowl game has to be excited.
And that’s not a good thing for a program like Georgia. Does an 11-1 regular season record matter if all you’ve done is win most of the games you were supposed to win? It’s time for another change in Athens. It’s time to bring Mike Bobo home.
-The Kirby Smart Hater
As Georgia squandered its Number 1 ranking on Saturday afternoon, Kirby Smart quietly accomplished something that no other coach in the history of college football has done.
Smart moved to an even .500 record against four of the most revered coaches in the modern era of college football.
- Auburn’s Gus Malzahn: Kirby Smart is 1-1 against Malzahn, who is no longer on the hot seat.
- Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason: Kirby Smart is 1-1 against Mason and his powerhouse Vanderbilt program.
- Tennessee’s Butch Jones: Kirby Smart is 1-1 against the not-yet-fired Jones.
- Florida’s Jim McElwain: Kirby Smart is 1-1 against the canned leader of the Gators.
No other coach in America has managed to post a 4-4 record against what is collectively referred to as the SEC’s Fantastic Four, and the fact that Smart is exactly 1-1 against each worthy foe is flatout astounding.
Keep it up, Kirby.
–The Kirby Smart Hater
Dude’s note: I typed and published this from my phone. Pardon typos or formatting disasters.
Look, I get the temptation. “This is just like [insert embarrassing Georgia loss here] all over.”
But it’s not. I don’t think. Or maybe it is. Either way, it doesn’t really matter.
There are only two possibilities as it relates to Georgia’s face plant against Auburn.
- This is who Georgia is. The past nine games were a mirage. Georgia is Georgia and the Bulldogs cannot and will not ever change that no matter who’s roaming the sideline.
- This is not who Georgia is. It stings and it’s a harsh, all-too-familiar reminder of recent history. But this performance was an anamoly.
If we take the bearish stance (option 1 above) then at least we know the truth now. We get three extra weeks to write off a surefire SEC Championship Game loss to whoever wins the West. We can adjust expectations accordingly and pretend we’re happy to be there while simultaneously wishing we had somehow been screwed out of winning the East. If the real Georgia showed itself on Saturday, the outcome of the Auburn game itself doesn’t matter because the Dawgs were never going to accomplish anything noteworthy anyway.
If we take the bullish stance, then this game really doesn’t matter either. The Dawgs weren’t expected to have a 12-0 regular season and they won’t. We might get another crack at Auburn or we may get a crack at Auburn’s big brother. The loss sucks, sure. But we kicked Auburn’s tail pretty consistently as of late despite the fact that Auburn has been to two National Championships in this decade. Something was bound to give. And the notion that Georgia could go to the playoff without winning the SECCG and in doing so become the first second team from a conference to make it…well that never seemed likely.
There is an obvious, guttural reaction that is to say, “Oh no. Not again!” after a game like this. But aside from the outcome of one single game this team is nothing like recent Georgia squads.
Georgia doesn’t “always get blown out in big games” as the narrative still asserts. Just ask number three (possibly number 2 after tonight) Notre Dame. Ask number 16 Mississippi State (currently tied with Alabama at the half) about how Kirby Smart’s teams never show up. Ask division rivals Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina about how ill-prepared this Georgia team is.
I think we saw an outlier from Georgia against Auburn. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Georgia is better than Auburn. It just means Georgia isn’t normally 23 points worse than Auburn — or anything close to that.
Irregularities happen in college football. Frankly, that’s why I love the sport. But I think it’s much more likely that one of Georgia’s 10 performances this year was an irregularity as opposed to nine of them. And that’s what separates this team in my mind.
Don’t get me wrong — that sucked. I wish it didn’t happen. But unlike years past, I’m not totally sold on the notion that it will happen again.
That’s all I got/
PS: Hate to say I told you so.