(This is the second in a three-part series on what some SEC coaches said about other SEC programs. They spoke on the condition they would not be identified. Part Two is about the SEC East–not counting Tennessee)
By Jimmy Hyams
Georgia won its first national championship since Herschel Walker was waylaying defenders and Vince Dooley as dishing out win after win.
That was 1980.
The Dawgs ended the 41-year drought thanks to a dominant defense and a former walk-on quarterback.
The defense should again be stout, the quarterback (Stetson Bennett)) is back, and so is the head coach (Kirby Smart) who put together the roster.
Can Georgia sustain success at a high level.
SEC coaches certainly think so.
“Kirby Smart knows how to recruit,’’ one SEC coach said. “He’s had a recruiting machine in place. The NIL makes the rich get richer. He’s positioned to compete with anybody on any amount (of NIL money) for any player, high school or college. They just had 15 drafted – that’s testimony to what I just said.
“At Georgia, the NIL was alive and well at least for the last four years, make no mistake about it.
“They don’t come to school just to be there. They’re coming for juice. Georgia has done a great job developing guys and getting those caliber players. The first pick of the draft did not make All-SEC (Trevon Walker) but he’s a helluva kid from a helluva family. He’s going to be a Julius Pepper-type guy, a dominant player in the league for 10-12 years. He’ll probably be a better pro than college player because of his position.’’
When you’ve got the No. 1 overall pick of the draft and he doesn’t make All-SEC, you know you’ve got talent. And many talented players return.
“They’ll be younger,’’ one SEC coach said. “They lost a lot of experience and talent, but they are still very talented. They can be as good defensively, despite their losses. We’ve asked that question for 15 years about Alabama, saying no way they can be as good as last year on defense because they lost all those players to the NFL. Well, the same applies for Georgia.’’
Billy Napier inherits a Florida team that went 6-7, lost to South Carolina and Missouri and lost its starting quarterback to the transfer portal.
Napier has already indicted he doesn’t have much depth.
“I don’t think Dan Mullen did a good job recruiting talent at Florida,’’ said an SEC coach. “He was a great offensive coach there, but ultimately he couldn’t control those kids.
“The same question goes for Billy Napier: can he manage those kids? Billy will recruit kids that fit his culture and personality and stay away from the guys that don’t. But the best kids in Florida often have an edge to them, and you’ve got to be able to handle them.
“Nick Saban is smart and can handle edgy kids. I don’t know if Billy (a former Saban assistant) is wired that way.’’
Despite the lack of depth, Florida does have good front-line players, one coach said.
“Florida should have as much talent as anyone,’’ the coach said. “Their starting 22 is good. They don’t have terrible depth, they don’t have any depth.’’
Success hinges on the play of athletic, but erratic, quarterback Anthony Richardson.
“They’ve got a really good quarterback (Anthony Richardson),’’ one coach said. “But like any quarterback, you’ve got to do what he does well and he can do some things really well.
“They’re very limited on the offensive line. But I will say this, if you’re going to be limited on the offense line, you’d rather be in the East (Division) than the West, minus Georgia.’’
The Gamecocks (2-8 in 2020) had player defections, played four different quarterbacks, got little help from an injured back who had over 1,000 yards the year before, yet managed to go 7-6, beat Florida and Auburn and down North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
“Shane Beamer has done a really good job,’’ one SEC coach said. “He inherited a mess. He turned it around. He exceeded everyone’s expectations. He kept kids in the program without them transferring, like (defensive tackle) Zacch Pickens, a potential first-round draft pick. Now it’s a matter of being consistent.’’
Carolina was also able to lure a quarterback with star potential.
“The thing that impressed me about Shane is he got a quarterback (Spencer Rattler) from Oklahoma to come,’’ one SEC coach said. “That talks about positive relationships. And the ability to recruit a high-level player at a program like South Carolina, which is middle of the road program in the SEC.’’
One coached noted: “They went 7-6 and won a bowl game playing four quarterbacks, none of whom were very good. Remarkable. I don’t even know how you describe that. That’s not supposed to happen. That speaks to coaching. Will Muschamp (the previous coach) wouldn’t have done that. To me, that’s a statement about going in a positive direction and inheriting a tough situation.
“Beamer brought in a culture shift that worked. I don’t think the culture was bad. It was different. I think he went in and got a group of guys to play hard, really hard, and they had success.’’
How would you compare Beamer to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney?
Said one coach: “They don’t see the glass half full. They see the glass overflowing. I think it worked for Shane Beamer (at SC). I don’t think there’s any question about that. But that approach, if they’d lost some of those that were really, really ugly wins, we wouldn’t be talking about (the positive approach).
Kentucky won 10 games for the second time in four years and the fourth time in program history.
The architect behind the success: Mark Stoops.
“I think Mike Stoops does as a good a job as anybody in the SEC,’’ one SEC coach said. “The guy has been amazingly consistent. He’s done a helluva job.
“Kentucky is not a great football state. He’s got a great culture and he does a great job developing talent. Kentucky has really good leadership in the athletic department and they give Stoops the support he needs, unlike what we’ve seen at South Carolina and Tennessee the past 10 years. South Carolina and Tennessee would love to have Kentucky’s record over the past 10 years.’’
One SEC coach thinks Kentucky will be strong as long as Stoops is there: “I think they’ve got a program to where they re-load. Alabama re-loads to win a national championship. Kentucky re-loads to win 8 or 9 games. They re-load to be the best they can be. There’s not a drop-off. They’re very consistent. And history says that ain’t been done very many times (at Kentucky), not in our lifetime.
“Their culture is really good and the evaluation in recruiting is really good. Off the cuff, I’d say they probably do as good a job of developing players to be the best they can be of anybody in SEC.
“Stoops recruits guys nobody says will even play in the SEC and they’re being drafted in the 3rd or 4th round.’’
Eli Drinkwitz is 11-12 in two seasons in the SEC.
While the Tigers were trounced by Tennessee and Georgia and Texas A&M, the Tigers beat Kentucky and Florida.
“I don’t think that guy (Eli Drinkwitz) has elevated the program,’’ one SEC coach said. “I think it’s dipped. Gary Pinkel did a great job. With Barry Odom, the program leveled off. With Eli, they’ve dropped off and they’re not competitive or consistent. I think he’s in trouble. Anymore, you better start winning in your third season or they’ll fire your butt.’’
One SEC coach thinks it’s tough to win at Missouri: “Missouri is a hard job, It’s like South Carolina. Missouri is not going to be a big portal player so you’ve got to get them out of high school and develop them. It’s hard to recruit to Missouri. They’re probably the most outpost team there is in the SEC.
“Pinkel did a great job evaluating, and the players played hard, played smart and didn’t beat themselves. They found ways to win games. That’s what Drinkwitz needs to do. That ain’t hard but it ain’t easy. Don’t beat yourself is rule No. 1.’’
Missouri has struggled on defense in recent years, allowing 62 points to Tennessee, 35 to North Texas and 43 to Georgia.
“They were so bad on defense the first six games, really bad,’’ one SEC coach said. “They couldn’t stop the run at all. Teams had huge rushing yards against them. They tweaked some things and finished better than they started.
“Missouri has a uniqueness that is different from the rest of the SEC and makes it hard for them to win in the SEC.
Vanderbilt hasn’t won a conference game in two years. It is 1-24 in SEC play over the past three years.
Since 2009, it has had seven seasons with one or fewer SEC wins.
“I just think Vanderbilt is the enigma of the SEC,’’ one SEC coach said. “I don’t think Vanderbilt played any better with Clark Lea than they did the year before with Derek Mason. It’s just a hard job. It’s good for the academic image of SEC. But it’s hard to win there.
“Academics is not a priority in the SEC, but it is at Vanderbilt. At Vandy, if you had a team with a 4.0 (grade-point average) and 2-10 record, you could keep your job. That means as much as a 10-2 record and 2.0 GPA.’’
Vandy did win nine games in back-to-back years within the last decade – a credit to former coach James Franklin.
“James Franklin did the best coaching job,’’ one SEC coach said. “But he had perfect timing because Georgia and Florida and Tennessee were average. James hit it at the perfect time. The East was not powerful. But to James’ credit, he won and got to a bowl game. If you get to a bowl game at Vanderbilt, that’s a story. He also did a good job of evaluation and acquiring talent in and around Nashville. That’s what this guy (Lea) has to do.’’
One SEC coach said the best think about Vanderbilt is “it’s in Nashville and when you graduate with degree, that means something.’’
Said another coach: “Vanderbilt is such a hard job, and I’m not saying just academically. It’s the lack of resources they have in terms of imagine, facilities, everything. It’s not who they’re having to play on Saturday. That makes it difficult to recruit. You can do a great job at Vanderbilt and because of the schedule, win just 3 or 4 games.’’