The Good: Last week, I wrote and talked to Josh (@RailbirdJ) about how I could not imagine anyone leaving a top-5 coaching job in the Big Ten to take a second tier job in the Southeastern Conference. After a few days of reflection and reading various sources, I now think Bret Bielema leaving the Big Ten for the SEC was a smart move.
Under the current playoff system, which changes in 2014, navigating your way to the National Championship Game is much easier in the SEC than it is in the Big Ten because of the consistently high quality of competition. As is obvious with 2012 champion Alabama, a team does not need to win or even play in its conference's championship game in order to reach or win the National Championship. In the new system this is not likely to change much since the polls will ultimately have less significance with the post-season selection committee.
In a conference like the Big Ten, where the perception is that only one or two teams are good enough yearly to play in the National Championship Game, the likelihood of a second-tier team making the game is significantly lower.
Originally, I thought Bielema was going to receive a significant pay increase to coach at Arkansas, but the difference is only $400,000. Bielema says he did not move for the money, but moved to Arkansas because of the salary flexibility it allowed him to pay assistants and retain them. He says this in an interview with the Dan Patrick Show:
“The difference between last year’s salary and this year’s salary will be 400,000 dollars and that is not why I made the move. My assistant coaches salary jumped and almost doubled and I’ve lost a lot of coaches in the last couple of years and it was an opportunity for me to have some resources to hire some assistant coaches and keep them to build something that has never been done here at Arkansas.” - Bret Bielema on Dan Patrick Show 12 December 2012.
When put in this perspective the move makes sense for Bielema. He clearly is not interested in making a ton more money, but in building a program in a conference where competition is tough and the conference itself will give more opportunities to win than the Big Ten can.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the surprising move of Tommy Tuberville from the Texas Tech to Cincinnati. The general feeling is that Tuberville wanted out of Texas Tech and most in Lubbock will not miss him. Tuberville’s record at Texas Tech was 20-17 in three seasons. Tuberville will likely build a "winner" at Cincinnati because he is a good coach and because the conference is weak.
Some argue that he is leaving the south to coach in the north to return to the south, mainly the SEC. While that makes sense on some levels, I do not understand why he couldn't have re-made his image at Texas Tech. The Big XII is and will remain a BCS conference under the new playoff system.
Tuberville is considered football royalty, and yes he did have an incident with an assistant earlier this year, but the change does not seem to make sense on its face. Many view this is as a way to find a coach who is more comfortable playing a more up-tempo offensive game versus the defensive game that Tuberville is used to coaching.
It is hard to imagine a scenario where Tuberville actually increases his salary by leaving for a school in the Big East where all of its power football members left for other conferences and where its television contract is the smallest of the BCS conferences.
The Big East loses its automatic qualifying status in the 2014-2015 season, and I would be surprised to see Tuberville with the program much longer after that transition is made. Only Tuberville’s successes and failures will determine if he can parlay Cincinnati into another top-tier job or if he’ll be stuck at the mid-major level for the foreseeable future.
Tuberville was en route to re-building his image at Texas Tech and has seemingly taken a step in the wrong direction while Bret Bielema takes a step in the right direction in his zeal to win and fill the bank accounts of his valuable assistants.