Coaching Carousel Heats Up For SEC Assistant Coaches

The top of the coaching carousel has been busy this season, with 26 head coaching vacancies created this year. While there are still time for more changes, that does not match the 33 coaching changes from last year, a record since Baseball America began cataloging the coaching carousel in the Almanac in 2002.

Looking beyond the changes in head coaches, however, shows this has been a volatile summer for assistant coaches, especially in the pressure-packed Southeastern Conference.

Ten of the 28 full-time assistant coaching jobs in the SEC have changed hands this offseason, one fewer coaching change than in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 Conference and Pac-12 Conference combined. Half of the SEC’s 14 schools have changed recruiting coordinators in the last six weeks. That comes on the heels of six schools hiring a new recruiting coordinator last offseason.

The reason for the changes this year have been varied. Brad Bohannon and Tony Vitello were hired away from being recruiting coordinators at Auburn and Arkansas, respectively, to become the head coach at Alabama and Tennessee. Three other recruiting coordinators were caught up in head coaching changes and two more were simply replaced.

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, who has 15 years of experience in the SEC, said he wasn’t sure there was one explanation for the rate of the recent turnover.

“Some guys are advancing their career and doing what they want to do, which is be a head coach,” he said. “I think it’s like anything else, when a lot is given a lot is expected, I guess. There’s a little more pressure to win.”

Bohannon’s and Vittelo’s moves were examples of the hottest trend for hiring head coaches in the SEC. Five of the eight head coaches hired by SEC schools in the last 20 months were assistants at other schools in the conference.

Auburn coach Butch Thompson, who was an assistant coach in the SEC for 13 years before becoming a head coach in October 2015, said he thinks the hiring patterns in the conference are cyclical.

“For ever and ever I wanted to be head coach before now, but I never got an opportunity before this time with Auburn,” he said. “For my first 10 years in the SEC nobody was going to hire an assistant coach to be a head coach. The last time it was kind of in cycle, you got (Kevin) O’Sullivan and (Tim) Corbin out of it. It seems like it cycled back around.”

Between Florida hiring O’Sullivan away from Clemson in June 2007 and Thompson joining Auburn, an SEC school hired a head coach from the assistant ranks just three times, and in all three cases it was an internal promotion. Thompson’s hiring seemed to break the dam, as four other assistants have since risen to the head coaching ranks.

It is unclear whether the current trend will be able to continue much longer, however. After so much turnover among the SEC assistants, only eight have been full-time assistants in the league for at least four seasons.

Mississippi recruiting coordinator Carl Lafferty is the longest continuously tenured full-time assistant coach in the SEC (Jerry Meyers has totaled 14 years as South Carolina’s pitching coach over two separate stints sandwiched around six seasons as Old Dominion’s head coach). Lafferty was promoted from volunteer assistant to a full-time position in 2008, and last year landed the first top-ranked recruiting class in any sport in school history. Ole Miss’ Mike Bianco is also the longest-tenured head coach in the conference, at 17 seasons.

Another outlier from the churn has been Florida, the reigning national champion. O’Sullivan hired assistant coaches Craig Bell and Brad Weitzel shortly after he arrived in Gainesville in 2007 and the trio has been together for 10 seasons. Even volunteer assistant coach Lars Davis has been at Florida for three seasons, longer than 18 full-time assistant coaches in the league.

After the Gators’ won the SEC regular-season title, O’Sullivan cited the continuity of their coaching staff as one of the reasons for their success this season.

“Brad and Craig been with me for 10 years,” O’Sullivan said. “They do an unbelievable job. They’re so instrumental in success. Lars Davis is a star—he’s going to be a super coach. We’ve only had two strength coaches, we’ve had continuity in our staff. Ann Hughes, our academic advisor, has been with us our whole ride, I’ve known (director of operations) Buddy Munroe since I recruited him to Clemson.

“We’ve had a nice run at this thing.”

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