We have to look no further than Tuscaloosa, Ala., to see how coaches can make a difference to a football team. Nick Saban has led Alabama to three national titles in his six-plus years on the job, and the Crimson Tide might just win it again this year.
For the 10 years before Saban hit town, Alabama was just another program. Mike Dubose, Dennis Franchoine, Mike Price (listed officially, but he never coached a game), Mike Shula and Joe Kines (interim coach) combined for a 67-54 record as the head coach during that time.
Saban has won 76 of the 89 games he has coached at Alabama. Big difference, I suppose.
Who knows what makes Saban so great. Perhaps it’s his hard-nosed approach. Maybe his discipline is top-notch. Then maybe he’s just good at what he does. Either way, he has been a perfect fit at Alabama.
No one can argue about Steve Spurrier. You might not like him, but the man is one heck of a football coach. The work he did at his alma mater at Florida was remarkable, but he has made South Carolina a winning program in his eight-plus years in Columbia.
The previous three coaches with the Gamecocks (Lou Holtz, Brad Scott and Sparky Woods) had a combined record of 81-96 in 15 seasons. Spurrier has won 72 games and lost only 39 in his tenure.
Gene Chizik must be given some credit for the national title he helped Auburn win in 2010, but we all know quarterback Cam Newton was the main reason the Tigers won. Chizik was an odd choice to replace Tommy Tuberville anyway, considering Chizik was 5-19 in his two years as head coach at Iowa State.
Take away Auburn’s 14-0 record in the title season and Chizik was 19-19 in the other three seasons with the Tigers. That’s why he was fired after last season, and he’ll be lucky if he ever gets another big-time head coaching job.
But look at what his replacement has done this year. Gus Malzahn has led Auburn to a 7-1 record entering Saturday’s game against Arkansas. He obviously looks like a good fit thus far.
So is Malzahn just better than Chizik? The records say yes. Sometimes a coach just has what it takes to get the most out of his talent, and even though many still wonder how talented the Auburn roster is, Malzahn is doing something right.
It’s incredible what Tennessee has been through with its head coaches. First the Volunteers fired Philip Fulmer, whose time had just come to an end after a long, successful run. Then they had the Lane Kiffin disaster, followed by three subpar years under Derek Dooley.
The Volunteers hope they’ve found a winner in Butch Jones, who had success at Cincinnati and Central Michigan as a head coach. It’s perhaps too early to tell, but Tennessee at least looks better this year, which might be good enough for a fan base that has been through a lot the past four years.
James Franklin has found some magic at Vanderbilt, a program that has been at the bottom of the SEC East forever. Maybe he’s just a good fit, or maybe he’s just a good coach. Either way, it’s interesting how he has found success when other coaches have failed in Nashville.
Florida has Will Muschamp, and he seems to be stuck in the middle a bit. Is he another Ron Zook, a coach who wasn’t successful after replacing Spurrier, or can Muschamp become another Spurrier or Urban Meyer, two coaches who won national titles?
But the most interesting SEC coaching situation is at Georgia, where Mark Richt has had great success, particularly more than his two predecessors -- Jim Donnan and Ray Goff. But in his 13th year, the debate will rage on about whether Richt ever will lead Georgia to a national championship. At some point, the long leash he has been on will run out if he never accomplishes the ultimate goal.
The coaching profession is volatile and dangerous, but there’s little doubt the success of a football program is directly tied to the man in charge.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org