(This is the fourth in a four-part series on what SEC coaches had to say about other SEC programs. The coaches agreed to be quoted but not identified. Here is a look at the rest of the SEC West.)
Texas A&M hired Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State and gave him the richest contract in the history of college football: 10 years at $7.5 million a year.
So far, Fisher’s hire hasn’t paid dividends. The Aggies were 8-5 last year.
Fisher’s predecessor, Kevin Sumlin, was fired for averaging eight wins in his last five years.
Fisher has assembled a nice roster. Now it’s time to pay off.
“This is a big year for Jimbo,’’ said one SEC coach, “They fired Kevin Sumlin for winning eight games. They won’t be satisfied with eight or nine wins, not paying Fisher what they’re paying him.’’
One coach likes A&M’s personnel: “When they get off the bus, they’re as pretty as any team in the league. I just think Jimbo Fisher is still getting his philosophy and indoctrination into the program.
“They look like an NFL team, and they’re talented, but they’re not real physical.
The Aggies have one of the top returning quarterbacks in the SEC. But one SEC coach isn’t very high on Kellon Mond.
“Kellen Mond is in his third year,’’ said one SEC coach. “He has the ability to play at a level that can win the league. And Jimbo has slowly but surely helped him. But Mond is too inconsistent. Out of 60 plays, he’ll play 10 unreal. Then the other 50, not so much.’’
The Aggies defense is a concern.
“I think front wise they’re getting close,’’ one SEC coach said. “The back end on defense, they’re missing a few pieces. They don’t match up well with elite SEC receivers yet, but they’ve improved.
“The previous staff didn’t do a good job of recruiting defensive players. They’ve done better under Jimbo, but they don’t have difference makers.’’
After marginal success as a head coach at Tennessee and USC, Kiffin did well as Alabama’s offensive coordinator and as head coach at Florida Atlantic.
That led Ole Miss to roll the dice on Kiffin.
One SEC coach likes Kiffin as an offensive mind.
“Lane Kiffin is a really, really good football coach and he has the ability to create things in terms of taking what he has, doing what they do best, and creating mismatches and problems for a defense,’’ the coach said.
“The big key is, can they improve the defense? If they can make as much improvement as they did when (defensive coordinator) Mike McIntyre took over defense (2019), if the new guy can keep that going and raise it more, they’ll be fine.’’
Kiffin might have a weapon at quarterback.
“Lane will figure out something with that running quarterback (John Rhys Plumlee). Lane did a really good job with Jalen Hurts (at Alabama).’’
One coach sees Kiffin having success at Oxford: “I don’t think Ole Miss is that far off from being a consistent bowl team.’’
But it might hurt Kiffin not to have had spring workouts.
“For a new coach (not having spring practice) was a huge disadvantage,’’ the coach said. “If you’ve got a new system on either side of the ball, it doesn’t have to be a head coach change, if it’s a coordinator change, when you’ve got a complete new room or complete new system, either way, that’s a disadvantage.’’
Kiffin’s biggest challenge is getting top-notch prospects.
“Lane has got to do a great job of recruiting,’’ the coach said. “They don’t have many guys that could have played at Alabama. It’s a hard job talent wise; he’s just got a few guys that can play at this level. But Lane will beat you with his coaching.’’
The Bulldogs rolled the dice hiring Mike Leach from Washington State.
Will his spread pass-happy office make a splash in the SEC?
“Mike Leach does it a different way,’’ one SEC coach said. “He does it his way but he’s very successful doing it that way and he’s done it at two places (Texas Tech, Washington State) where it’s tough to win.
“Can it work in the SEC? Yes. It really comes down to executing and finding mismatches. He knows how to teach what he executes and how to find mismatches.’’
Leach brought in a toy from the Pac-12, quarterback K.J. Costello from Stanford.
“I don’t know how well the transfer quarterback will do,’’ one coach said. “It’ll be interesting to see. The pass rush in the SEC is different than most Power 5 Conferences across the board. There’s elite ones in Big 10 and Pac 12 and Big 12 and ACC, but it’s pretty rare on an SEC Saturday that the defense doesn’t have a guy that will get your attention rushing the passer on both sides of the field.’’
One coach thinks Leach might put up big offense numbers, even if he doesn’t win a lot.
“Leach’s quarterbacks put up big numbers, but that is his philosophy,’’ the coach said. “It’s like saying BYU put up big numbers in the 1980s. Well, they threw it twice as many times as anyone in college football.
“Sixty-five passes a game for Mike Leach is just a normal game. So the numbers part of it are a bit skewed. That’s OK, Nothing wrong with it. But it’s more about yards per completion and yards per rush.
“They’re going to go from a run game and trying to pound you to playing finesse. Leach will have a lot better athletes at Mississippi State than Washington State. But you never know with Leach. You can’t count him out because he can score points.
“ Who knows at Mississippi State? Leach will draw up plays on a napkin.’’
Arkansas has gone winless in the SEC in back-to-back seasons. That doesn’t bode well for first-year coach Sam Pittman.
“Probably the biggest talent deficit from the upper level (of the SEC) to the next group that I’ve seen in a few years,’’ the SEC coach said. “Couple that with the fact their spirit got broken (with back to back 0-8 SEC records) it makes it hard, especially when you’re in the SEC West and staring down the barrel of Alabama, LSU, Auburn and A&M.
“It affects your play on the field. Through leadership, you can create and generate a fighting spirit, but after a while, and it’s human nature, you’re going to have guys lose all hope.’’
Arkansas is a difficult job in the SEC, one coach said.
“That’s a tough program to win at in the SEC,’’ the coach said. “Sam Pittman hired good coordinators and that’s important for any first-year coach.
“You’ve got to let (offensive coordinator) Kendal Briles do what Kendal wants to do, but you’ve got to manage him when you’re ahead in the game and he just does his own thing. If you’re up 21 points with three minutes to go in the half, don’t give the other team the ball back. I’m sure Kendal has grown from his experience at Florida State.
One coach liked Pittman luring a former SEC head coach: “I thought Barry Odom was a good defensive coordinator (in college) but not a great head coach.’’
How big is the rbuilding job?
“It’ll take Pittman a while to get that thing turned around. Hell, they haven’t won a conference game in over two years. But they do have a quality running back (Rakeem Boyd) and that will help.’’