Florida’s loss — well, 21 of them during the last four seasons — might wind up being Auburn’s gain.
Tigers coach Gus Malzahn won the offseason sweepstakes to secure fired Gators coach Will Muschamp’s services as a coordinator for the 2015 season.
“It was very competitive,” Malzahn said Tuesday during a teleconference with SEC West coaches. “I think a lot of people obviously wanted him. I think he’s the best in the business at what he does. … We recruited him pretty hard.”
Muschamp only went 28-21 as Florida’s head coach, but he’s still considered one of the top defensive coaches in the country — and Auburn can use all the help it can get after allowing 26.7 points per game.
“Our guys really responded well to coach Muschamp and our new defensive staff …,” Malzahn said. “They’re taking on his personality.”
The Gators never finished worse than sixth in the SEC in scoring defense or allowed more than 21.1 points per game under Muschamp, who served as a graduate assistant (1995-96) and defensive coordinator (2006-07) at Auburn.
Muschamp also previously served spent time as defensive coordinator with LSU and Texas. He spent 2005 as an assistant head coach with the Miami Dolphins.
“It definitely helps me having a guy who’s been a head coach in our league, because our league is very unique,” Malzahn said. “He brings a lot of experience and he brings a lot of trust, too.”
More highlights from the SEC West division coaches’ teleconference:
ALABAMA — No decision has been made in the search for Blake Sims’ replacement as Alabama’s starting quarterback.
“The sooner we get to where we can zero in on the first-, second- and third-team guy, the happier we’ll be,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “That’s not something we can force. We’re going to let it happen, not make it happen.”
Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, who lost the starting job to Sims early last season, was the presumed favorite entering the offseason.
Coker failed to impress this spring, including during the Alabama spring game when he went 14 of 28 for 183 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
David Cornwell, who went 12 of 24 for 110 yards with a touchdown and two picks, is among the Tide quarterbacks, including Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman, who are pushing Coker.
ARKANSAS — Coach Bret Bielema said one of the primary goals ahead of the 2015 season is building depth along offensive and defensive lines.
“Probably the biggest marked improvement we’ve had in our program is offensive and defensive line depth,” Bielema said. “The D-line, in particular, we’re now probably eight-player deep, maybe even 10-player deep. We feel we can go into a game in the SEC and have a good rotation, not have a huge drop-off.”
Bielema singled out sophomore defensive end Jamichael Winston — a 6-foot-4 and 250-pound Pritchard, Ala., native — as a player who made a leap forward.
Winston had 26 tackles, including two for a loss, last season.
LSU — Defense has defined LSU under Les Miles in many ways, but the defense is in flux without John Chavis, who had been LSU’s defensive coordinator for the last six seasons.
Chavis, who also served as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator from 1995-2008, bolted for Kevin Sumlin’s staff at Texas A&M during the offseason.
But Miles isn’t worried.
“Defensively, it’s an easy adjustment to Kevin Steele,” Miles said of his new defensive coordinator. “We’re still going to play fast and aggressive.”
Steele has coached defense at Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Baylor, Florida State, Alabama and Clemson as well as serving as the Carolina Panthers’ linebackers coach during 1995-98.
“We like Kevin Steele,” Miles said. “We like how we’re running the defense here, and I think we’ll be as productive as we’ve been.”
LSU also added former Mississippi and Southern California head coach Ed Orgeron as its defensive line coach during the offseason.
MISSISSIPPI — Bo Wallace might not have wrapped up his Rebels career for the season for ages he hoped or fans expected, but his departure still leaves a significant void.
Wallace appeared in 39 games and completed 747 of 1,186 passes for 9,534 yards with 62 touchdowns and 41 interceptions as a three-year starter.
“I just want consistency in understanding and being positive, getting us in positive plays and taking care of the football,” Freeze said. “Really, who can manage the drives? Who can make the difficult throws, and who’s not too greedy and doesn’t try to be too aggressive when we don’t need to be? We’ve got a good defense.”
After spring practice, Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze declared that sophomore Ryan Buchanan had a slim edge on junior college transfer Chad Kelly, who led East Mississippi to the NJCAA national championship last fall.
DeVante Kincade also worked his way into the conversation during the spring.
MISSISSIPPI STATE — Five former Bulldogs were picked during the 2015 NFL Draft and another seven signed free-agent contracts, including cornerback Justin Cox, who signed with the Chiefs.
That makes 12 players for Dan Mullen to brag about helping earn an NFL chance.
“It certainly helps an awful lot when you are going out there recruiting when young guys around the state of Mississippi are looking at schools and they can look and say, ‘Hey, I can go to Mississippi State and not only do I have the opportunity to get my degree … the opportunity to play for a team that has the chance to be the No. 1 team in the country and play for championships and then the ability to get developed and have a chance to go on to the NFL,’” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
Much like Missouri, where Gary Pinkel’s program has a track record of turning overlooked high school talent into stars players at the college level, Mullen said development is key for the Bulldogs.
“It’s not just the four- and five-star guys,” he said. “At our program, a two- or three-star are also going to get the opportunity to go on to the NFL. That’s such a huge deal, and I think people around Mississippi get to see all that.”
TEXAS A&M — Kyle Allen was devastated when he didn’t win the starting quarterback job for the Aggies last season.
“Here’s a kid who really went through a lot last year,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Two weeks before the season, he probably won’t admit it, but when (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks) coach (Jake) Spavital and myself sat down and talked to him that he wasn’t going to start, I think that crushed him. He had a hard time with that, because he competed very well and it was a close race.”
Kenny Hill won the job out of camp and started the season strong, but his performance dipped considerably during Southeastern Conference play and he was suspended for two games in late October amid a three-game losing skid, giving Allen an opportunity.
Allen, who completed 118 of 192 passes for 1,322 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a true freshman, led the Aggies to a win against Auburn and a victory against West Virginia in the Autozone Liberty Bowl, prompting Hill to transfer to TCU.
“Coming out of that, I think he has a lot of confidence,” Sumlin said. “His biggest challenge as we sat down with him in January was, ‘Let’s talk about your leadership role now. You’re not a first-year player now. You’re a returning starter as a quarterback.’”