It’s spring again, and that means it’s time for one of the most exciting events that Razorback nation may witness this season: the Red-White Spring Game.
To add to the excitement of spring football, an online ESPN poll showed that readers felt Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema would have the most success of the new coaches in the Southeastern Conference.
Bielema collected 40 percent of more than 9,700 votes cast. Second to Bielema, Gus Malzahn’s return to Auburn garnered 35 percent.
Though only four coaches are new in the SEC, the percentage of votes for the remaining two coaches is considerably less than Bielema’s and Malzahn’s.
Tennessee hired Butch Jones, who earned 18 percent of the votes. Ringing up last, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops had the fewest ESPN online readers who believe in him, with seven percent.
But what do these coaches take on and leave behind? Right now these teams are dangling between a season they wished never happened and a season for which they wish they had more time to prepare.
Most relevantly is Arkansas’ Bielema. The Razorbacks are coming off a lousy season, but though fans may feel like it, the Hogs’ last season was not the worst in the SEC. A record of 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the conference was not what anyone expected looking into the season.
Hope dwindled as interim head coach John L. Smith took the reins and drove the Hogs into the ground after the termination of former head coach Bobby Petrino. But now hope is beginning to be restored with Bielema, a man who pushed Wisconsin to a bowl game each year of his seven-year head coaching stint.
Each bowl game may not have earned Bielema a win, but any bowl is better than no bowl at all. Wisconsin managed to stay at the top of its conference as well, a feat Hog fans would be lucky to see happen in the near future.
Kentucky, arguably the worst team in the SEC’s 2012 season, hired Mark Stoops in hopes of making a 180 degree turn from the 2-10 overall record with no conference wins. Stoops left behind his defensive coordinator position at Florida State University to tackle the job.
During Stoops’ career at FSU, the Seminoles’ defense went from nationally ranked at No. 108 to an eventual No. 2. Kentucky made a thought-out decision in hiring someone who turned around a defense, as Kentucky allowed 372 points in 2012 compared to its 215 points scored.
Malzahn has the least to worry about in transitions of all the SEC coaches, as Auburn is exactly where he was as the offensive coordinator two seasons ago. Malzahn coached at Arkansas State last season, leading the team to a 9-3 record and a bowl.
Unfortunately, Malzahn inherits a 3-9 season at Auburn.. The hope is that Malzahn can take what he did at ASU and transfer it to Auburn to help earn at least one, if not more, conference win in 2013.
Finally, unbeknownst but not surprising to many SEC-West fans, Tennessee’s last season was bad. Tennessee hired Jones out of Cincinnati, where he led his team to two back-to-back seasons tied for No. 1 in the conference.
Tennessee’s one conference win in 2012 came over Kentucky, boosting Tennessee’s overall record to 5-7, which is the best season left over for a new SEC coach.
Arkansas fans may only wish well for Bielema as he tackles a new program, but I wish well to all the new coaches, in hopes that the SEC becomes the most competitive conference across the board, rather than just dominant at the top.
Tamzen Tumlison is a writer for the Arkansas Traveler. Her column appears every other Wednesday. Follow the sports section on Twitter @UATravSports.