The sidelines of the SEC West will certainly look different come the 2020/21 college football season, as two schools have hired new head coaches. Mississippi State and Ole Miss have both made changes at the top, hoping that new leadership will change their fortunes.
It’s not surprising that these schools have made coaching changes, seeing as they finished fifth and sixth in the SEC West last season. However, the names that were brought in were legitimately shocking.
The SEC West, one of the most competitive divisions in the entire country, is not known for being particularly innovative. The schools that dominate the division, recently Alabama and LSU, play a smash-mouth, in-your-face style of football. These new coaches will certainly be looking to change that.
Mike Leach-Mississippi State
The Bulldogs’ new man in charge is certainly not the prototypical SEC head coach. Mike Leach, known more for his witty one-liners and bizarre interviews than his coaching successes, will certainly bring some energy to a program that finds itself stagnating. Mississippi State has a record of 29-23 over the last four seasons.
On the field, Leach is an offensive savant, and will attempt to implement the air raid in a conference that hasn’t seen much of it. Last season, Leach’s Washington State Cougars led the Pac-12 in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Mississippi State fans are undoubtedly hoping that Leach, who has a career record of 139-90, will reinvigorate the program and have the Bulldogs competing for the third spot in the division.
Lane Kiffin-Ole Miss
He’s baaaaaacccckkkkk! Kiffin returning to the SEC after three years at FAU is akin to the prodigal son coming home. After being forgotten at the stadium by Alabama following the 2016 national championship game, Kiffin is out for blood.
While he doesn’t run the same thrilling offense as Leach, Kiffin is a winner who knows how to rebuild a program. The past three seasons at FAU, two of which culminated in Conference USA titles, have proven that Kiffin can take a comparatively small program and turn it into a conference powerhouse. Now at Ole Miss, with better facilities and a massive recruiting advantage, Kiffin has to show that he can win in a much more competitive conference.
What it means
It may be too early to say, but the SEC West looks to be stacked going into next season. LSU and Alabama will stay on top, as usual, but the fight for third is going to be fascinating. Both Mississippi State and Ole Miss will have high expectations after the new coaching hire. Auburn and Texas A&M are perennial contenders, and even lowly Arkansas made a change at head coach to try and regain relevance.
Additionally, the hires show a change in the SEC mindset. Gone are the days of hiring an old-timey “football guy” or whoever happens to be standing next to Nick Saban. The smaller SEC programs are looking to be creative in their head coaching choices. This means we get the opportunity to see a different kind of SEC football.