One of the things that has been pretty consistent in the last few years is the coming and going of coaches and the early departure of star players. I don't know if this can be addressed fully in one short article, but it continues to be a problem.
Just look at the last few seasons, we've seen new head coaches at every school in the SEC West, but one......Mississippi State. We got Houston Nutt in place of Danny Ford in 1998. We got David Cutcliffe in place of Tommy T in Oxford and Tommy T in place of Tommy B in on the plains at Auburn in 1999. We welcomed Nick Saban to the SEC in 2000. Coach Fran made his debut in 2001 in very difficult circumstances at Alabama. The SEC's most competitive division changes career plans for a lot of aspiring coaches, just ask Mike Dubose and Gerry Dinardo.
How easy it would have been in 1996 for the powers that be at Mississippi State to have replaced Coach Sherrill. Yeah, we beat Alabama and Ole Miss to round out the year and the decision was made to retain Jackie. The season was a failure in most views, but Coach Sherrill put together a string of 4 straight winning seasons, which included an SEC championship game appearance, a 10-win season, and 3 straight bowl games. I think a lot of credit is due to Larry Templeton and others for making a decision that wasn't very popular with some folks.
Jackie and his staff didn't disappoint over the next few years and I expect a strong rebound this season from the gridiron Dawgs. Just imagine what life would have been like had we not won the SEC West in 1998 or won the Peach Bowl in 1999. What if we, like the other schools in the SEC West, were just getting to know our new coach.
One of the neatest things I've learned in life is that a fast horse never runs long. The SEC has seen more than its share of fast horses looking to set the conference on its ear. We now call those people TV analysts!
Let's get up to date on the SEC West. Not a lot to report in some locations, but we'll give it a shot.
Alabama - Andrew Zow and Freddie Milons are finally gone. Both players made appearance in post-season All-star games as well as the Alabama record books. Zow holds 5 passing records for the Tide and Freddie Milons caught more passes than any Tide player before him.
The biggest news out of Tuscaloosa is that junior All-SEC linebacker Saleem Rasheed has declared for the NFL draft. He will leave a huge gap in a defense already hurting from graduation.
Arkansas - QB Zac Clark has been granted his release from the Arkansas football team. With the emergence of option QB Matt Jones, Clark became expendable. Arkansas played 5 different players at QB this season and it appears Clark was the odd man out.
Star tailback Cedric Cobbs has been suspended indefinitely for an off-the-field incident. I am sure Cobbs will be back for spring practice, but Nutt seems determined to send a message. This is Nutt's biggest test of integrity with off-the-field disruptions. He has suspended players before, but not the caliber of Cobbs. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out in the coming weeks.
Auburn - This is old news to most, but offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and defensive coordinator John Lovette have both resigned effective Jan 1, 2002. The search is on, but no timetable has been set by Coach Tuberville, who just signed a big, fat extension.
In other news, QB Daniel Cobb has been granted a 6th year of eligibility due to medical hardship. This is huge news for the Tigers. Cobb was the more productive QB between he and Jason Campbell. Cobb lacks the mobility of Campbell, but has the better arm.
LSU - Well, it is now official, LSU is rebuilding. As if LSU could afford to lose any underclassmen, they lost their best two. All-American WR Josh Reed and the south's top linebacker, Treverance Faulk, have both left school for the NFL draft. The losses continue to mount for the Tigers. The top three offensive linemen, top three defensive linemen as well as the top backup, along with both safeties are all graduating. When you throw in the fact that Rohan Davey is gone, it makes you wonder if those Saban-to-the-NFL rumors have any truth in them?
On a positive note, LB Bradie James wasn't happy with his draft projections and has decided to return to Baton Rouge for his senior season. LaBrandon Toefield has undergone his 2nd successful off-season knee surgery in as many years. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Ole Miss - Well you knew his mouth would get him in trouble sooner or later. Don Lindsey was fired as defensive coordinator of the Ole Miss Rebels earlier this month. I knew when he made the comments about how poorly recruited his defense was he wouldn't be there long. Lindsey has been replaced by Clemson defensive chief Reggie Herring. Herring has been at Clemson for 8 years and has a decent reputation, but he is the 3rd DC in as many years under coach Cutcliffe.
Ole Miss signed a top juco RB in Ronald McClendon out of Butler CC. He is expected to replace the departed Joe Gunn, while Columbia High School standout Jamal Pittman makes the adjustment from 3A football to the SEC.
Mississippi State - Not much to report that hasn't been reported already. It's all quiet on the Starkville front, which is just how I like it. Our folks have been on the recruiting trails hard and have 28 commitments, including the top three players in the state of Mississippi - two of whom are Parade All-Americans. Many folks say last year was a down year in Mississippi recruiting and this year has a bumper crop. If that's the case, I can't wait for the next few Egg Bowls!
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.