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The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

A Sense of Urgency for New Coordinators

Aug 14, 2014
Tony Barnhart | SEC Network
Photo: AP

There is only one new head coach (Derek Mason, Vanderbilt) in the SEC for 2014 but there are a bunch of new coordinators coming in under varying degrees of pressure to fix something and to fix it right now.

Here they are, ranked by their sense of urgency:

1-Kurt Roper, OC, Florida:

Roper, the long-time protégé of Duke and Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe, inherited a train wreck at Florida. He is Florida's third offensive coordinator in four years and is trying to completely transform an offense that has finished 100th or worse in the past three seasons. In the spring Roper installed an up-tempo spread formation that will keep quarterback Jeff Driskel in the shotgun almost 100 percent of the time. It is a 180-degree turn from the power running game Will Muschamp envisioned when he became head coach at Florida three years ago. But after watching his team go 4-8 last season and finish last in the SEC in total offense and scoring offense, Muschamp is all-in on the change.

"It's something we had to do," Muschamp said of the change. "I'm excited about it and our players are excited about it."

I have Roper at No. 1 because if this experiment does not work and Florida has another losing season, Muschamp could be on his way out of Gainesville. I don't think that is going to happen. I'm not ready to call Florida this year's Auburn, but the Gators do bounce back.

"If a player has hope he has a chance," said Roper.

The Gators not only have hope. They have a system.

2-Jeremy Pruitt, DC, Georgia:

When Todd Grantham suddenly left Georgia to become the DC at Louisville, Bulldog fans were concerned.

It's not like they totally embraced Grantham, whose defenses for the most part underachieved given the talent available. Last season Georgia's defense only forced 15 turnovers (8 fumbles, 7 interceptions), which was No. 109 nationally. Georgia was 66th in third down conversion defense, giving up a first down almost 40 percent of the time. Georgia gave up 29 points per game. Grantham took more of an NFL approach and there were times when the players didn't know where to line up.

Those same fans were over the moon when Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left a national championship team to come to Athens where Will Friend, his roommate and teammate at Alabama, is the offensive line coach.

Pruitt made a couple of things clear in my meeting with him. His players will be in shape and the defense will be simple enough for the players to use their athletic ability without hesitation.

"It's not about what we as coaches know. It's about what the players know," said Pruitt. "You can't play fast if you're not in shape and you know what you're doing."

If Pruitt can improve the defense just a little bit, the Georgia offense is good enough to win the SEC East.

3-Lane Kiffin, OC, Alabama:

In my last few meetings with Nick Saban he had been hinting that the time had come to get a little more creative on offense. His teams have been built on simply overpowering defenses over the course of 60 minutes. And that basic philosophy won't change.

But when his previous coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, left for Michigan, Saban went outside of his comfort zone and hired Lane Kiffin, the former head coach at USC and Tennessee.

Saban had seen what Kiffin did in his one season at Tennessee in 2009. The No. 1 Crimson Tide, which would go on to win the BCS national championship, needed a blocked field goal on the last play of the game to beat the Volunteers 12-10.

"I really thought Lane was a fantastic coach," said Saban. "It was difficult getting ready for his team when he was at Tennessee."

Kiffin had moments as a head coach when he let his ego get away from him. That will not be a problem at Alabama, where there is no doubt who's in charge.

"I don't think there are any issues in how good a coach he is and how he relates to the players, which is really what we hired him to do here," said Saban.

Kiffin's No. 1 task will be grooming the quarterback to replace AJ McCarron.

4-Jake Spavital, OC, Texas A&M:

Spavital turned 29 years old on May 1 and is one of the brightest young minds in the game. At such a young age he has already worked under Kevin Sumlin, Dana Holgorsen, Kliff Kingsbury, and Gus Malzahn. The quarterbacks he has tutored include Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, and Johnny Manziel.

Sumlin hired him off Holgorsen's staff at West Virginia last season and made him co-offensive coordinator. He scripted practice and coached Manziel but Clarence McKinney, the other co-coordinator, called the plays. Before the Chick-fil-A Bowl with Duke, Sumlin announced that Spavital would be promoted to coordinator and take over the play-calling duties. McKinney remains on staff as the running backs coach.

Spavital's task this season is to prove there is life after Johnny Football. His choices at quarterback include a redshirt freshman, Kenny Hill, and a true freshman, Kyle Allen.

Sumlin's teams have always been able to move the ball. Spavital has to make sure that doesn't change.

"It's going to be interesting," said Spavital. "We have an experienced offensive line and running backs and we're young at quarterback. And our young quarterback gets to open at South Carolina (Aug. 28)."

5-Robb Smith, DC, Arkansas:

Chris Ash came with Bret Bielema from Wisconsin and served as the Razorbacks' defensive coordinator in 2013. It did not go well as the Hogs gave up 475 yards a game against SEC competition.

But then Ash was hired by Ohio State and Bielema decided to change his philosophy to combat the speed of the SEC.

"I thought we were mind-jamming our guys," said Bielema. "I want our guys to play as fast as possible and as physical as possible. I wanted our guys to think less and to play more."

So Bielema hired Robb Smith, formerly of the Tampa Bay Bucs, where he served as linebackers coach under Greg Schiano. Before that he was the defensive coordinator for Schiano at Rutgers. Schiano was fired last December so Smith was looking for a home.

It won't be easy in Fayetteville. Smith has a big-time defensive end in Trey Flowers, an All-SEC caliber player, but there isn't a whole lot of depth.

Bielema's formula for winning at Wisconsin called for running the ball and playing great defense. That formula doesn't work if you're just average on the defensive side of the ball.