It’s rough, it’s tough, it’s every headache you can ask for and more. We’re talking SEC football here, and if you don’t believe me ask Mark Stoops. Actually, he’ll beat you to the punch. Don’t ask, he’ll tell.
“People are out of their minds if they don’t understand what you go through in this league,” the Kentucky coach said after his team whipped Louisville to finish its regular season 9-3 overall and 5-3 in the SEC. “They’re clearly out of their minds.”
It’s all about the challenge. Either you want it, or you don’t. That was clearly spelled out in a seismic week on the college football coaching carousel. Brian Kelly wants the challenge. Lincoln Riley, well, let’s just say he looked elsewhere.
Kelly is now the head football coach at LSU. He was the head football coach at Notre Dame. Prestigious job there, for sure. And whatever you may think of Kelly — there’s plenty not to think much of — he was successful in his time at South Bend, going 92-39 in 12 seasons, including a BCS title game appearance in 2012 and CFP appearances in 2018 and 2020.
(My first memory of Kelly came after his Central Michigan team lost 45-36 to Rich Brooks and Kentucky in 2006. After the game, Kelly complained bitterly about how his was clearly the better team and should have won the game.)
Kelly didn’t win a national championship at Notre Dame, however. LSU’s last three coaches (Nick Saban, Les Miles and Ed Orgeron) have done exactly that. The program has a strong recruiting base in the state of Louisiana, which produces a ton of top-level football talent. And it has the support of an administration that has proven it wants to not just win in football, but win big.
“I came down here because I wanted to be with the best,” said Kelly in his introductory press conference. “The resources are outstanding. Listen, you’re looked at in terms of championships here. I want that. I want to be under the bright lights. I want to be on the Broadway stage. That’s what my passion is.”
As a Southerner with a real Southern accent as opposed to this fake one Brian Kelly put on to play the crowd, I’ll just say:
This ain’t right. https://t.co/ddHq1ZSqYO
— Scott Fowler (@scott_fowler) December 3, 2021
Did Lincoln Riley share that passion? Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Riley is now the coach at Southern Cal. He was the coach at Oklahoma, a school that had recently dominated the Big 12 but is moving into the big, bad SEC in the near future, no later than 2025.
There were reports Riley was not entirely on board with the decision to change conferences. There were also reports that Riley was wooed by LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward before Woodward turned to Kelly. In the end, hours after Oklahoma’s loss to Oklahoma State, Riley announced he was headed to Los Angeles to revive the Trojans.
It’s a challenge, sure, but an easier one. USC has fallen on hard times in recent years, but it has a great tradition, a tremendous recruiting base in California and an easier conference in which to compete. That’s just fact. To date, the last Pac-12 team to make the College Football Playoff was Washington in 2016. The last to reach the CFP title game was Oregon in 2014.
Actually, the hire that flew under the radar last week came at Florida, where Scott Stricklin tabbed Billy Napier to clean up the Dan Mullen implosion. Napier’s last three Louisiana teams were 32-5 heading into Saturday’s Sun Belt title game versus Appalachian State. The 42-year-old coached under Dabo Swinney at Clemson, Jimbo Fisher at Florida State — the year after Mark Stoops left for Kentucky — and Nick Saban at Alabama. He’s known as a relentless recruiter, an area where Mullen fell short.
How will Napier recruit in Gainesville? How will Kelly recruit in the South? Those are the important questions. That’s the main reason Georgia Coach Kirby Smart is at the top of the league right now. Smart has out-recruited everyone else.
Bottom line: The SEC is a brutal league, and it’s not going to get any easier when Texas and Oklahoma join the fold. Listen to Mark Stoops. He’ll tell you. Either you want that coaching challenge, or you don’t.
College Football Playoff Selection Show
What: The Top 25 rankings will be revealed and the participants in the national semifinals (Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl) will be named. Afterward, matchups for other bowl games will be announced.