Tennessee ran off 58-year-old Phillip Fulmer and replaced him with 33-year-old Lane Kiffin. Mississippi State forced out 54-year-old Sylvester Croom and replaced him with 36-year-old Dan Mullen. Auburn said goodbye to 54-year-old Tommy Tuberville and replaced him with 46-year-old Gene Chizik.
For those keeping score at home: Three coaches who averaged 55.3 years of age have been replaced by three coaches who average 38.3 years of age.
Clearly, Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State will be younger in the head coaching position for 2009. But will any of the three be better?
At 152-52, Fulmer has one of the more imposing career records in college football. He won two SEC championships and one national in the 1990s. Critics say his best days are behind him, however, and that's a difficult argument to refute. After going 84-18 in his first eight years on the job (an .823 winning percentage), Fulmer went just 68-34 in his next eight years (a .667 winning percentage).
The erstwhile UT boss dominated lesser teams – going 16-0 vs. Kentucky and 15-1 vs. Vanderbilt – but struggled against the SEC's upper-echelon teams over the past five years. From 2004-2008 he went 1-4 vs. Florida, 0-3 vs. Auburn, 2-3 vs. Alabama, 1-1 vs. LSU and 3-2 vs. Georgia. That's a 7-13 record and a .350 winning percentage.
Fulmer's record for the past four years was 29-21 overall, 17-16 in SEC play. He posted losing seasons in 2005 (5-6) and 2008 (5-7). Two of his last three recruiting classes have been mediocre at best, so the odds of a quick turnaround were not good.
Still, Tennessee is taking a gamble that Kiffin (0-0 as a college coach, 5-15 as an NFL coach) represents an upgrade.
Auburn is taking an even bigger gamble. Tuberville was 85-40 with the Tigers, including a 13-0 season in 2004. His replacement, Chizik, has a 5-19 head coaching record after two undistinguished years at Iowa State.
Chizik appealed to Auburn brass because he coordinated the 2004 defense that helped the Tigers go 13-0, then coordinated the Texas defense that helped the Longhorns go 13-0 and win the 2005 national title.
His magic touch on defense disappeared when he got to Iowa State, however. The 2008 Cyclones ranked No. 110 among 119 NCAA Div. 1-A teams in scoring defense and No. 111 in total defense. By the way, Iowa State lost its last 10 games after a 2-0 start.
The smallest gamble of the three SEC programs was Mississippi State's. Croom went just 21-38 in five years at Starkville, including 10-30 in league play. His teams were notoriously inept on offense. The 2008 squad ranked No. 113 in total offense and No. 115 in scoring offense (15.3 points per game).
Croom was SEC Coach of the Year after going 8-5 in 2007, but that was simply because a superior defense carried another anemic offense.
Given Croom's struggle to produce points, it isn't surprising that MSU brass wanted an offensive mastermind to replace him. Mullen just might be their man. He coordinated a 2007 Florida offense that led the NCAA in scoring at 42.5 points per game and a 2008 Gator attack that ranks third nationally at 45.5.
Mullen has a reputation for cranking out star-quality quarterbacks, too. While assisting Urban Meyer at Utah, Mullen turned Alex Smith into the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. In 2007 he developed Tim Tebow into a Heisman Trophy winner.
Bottom line: The coaching in the SEC may not be any better in 2009 but it certainly will be younger.