So now that Tennessee has finally found someone to head its football program, the SEC has filled its four openings for head coaches.
Now which school made the best hire?
Arkansas-Bret Bielema: The coach at Wisconsin for seven years, Bielema, 42, left his Midwestern roots to replace Bobby Petrino/John L. Smith in Fayetteville. Bielema played at Iowa for Hayden Fry, then coached under Fry in Iowa City. He joined former Fry assistant Bill Snyder at Kansas State for two years before being hired by Barry Alvarez to be Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator.
After Alvarez retired, Bielema became head coach in 2006 and immediately led the Badgers to a 12-1 record and a Rose Bowl bid. He was 68-24 in seven seasons in Madison and just led Wisconsin to its third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance, although the Badgers went only 8-5 this past season.
Auburn-Gus Malzahn: Malzahn, 47, was a high school coach in Arkansas before joining Houston Nutt’s staff at Arkansas in 2006. He spent one unhappy year there before being hired by Todd Graham at Tulsa. After two years there, Malzahn was hired by Gene Chizik to be the offensive coordinator at Auburn. In 2010, with Cameron Newton as quarterback, Auburn won the national championship.
Malzahn spent one more year at Auburn before becoming head coach at Arkansas State this past season. His team went 9-3 and whipped Middle Tennessee 45-0 to win the Sun Belt Conference championship. When Chizik was fired after a 3-9 season, Auburn coaxed Malzahn into returning, this time as head coach. Malzahn has already hired veteran coach Ellis Johnson to be his defensive coordinator.
Kentucky-Mark Stoops: Stoops, 45, is the youngest of four brothers in the famous Stoops coaching family. His brother Bob won a national title at Oklahoma. His brother Mike was head coach at Arizona, where Mark spent six years as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator. Like his brothers, and Bret Bielema, Mark Stoops played for Hayden Fry at Iowa before embarking on a coaching career.
Stoops spent the past three years at Florida State, where he inherited a Seminoles defense that was ranked in the 100s and turned it into a unit that finished this past season ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense. Stoops already has hired FSU defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot to be his defensive coordinator and is thought to be pursuing Texas Tech assistant Neal Brown to be his offensive coordinator.
Tennessee-Butch Jones: Jones, who turns 45 next month, is from Michigan and played college football at Ferris State. He was an assistant under Brian Kelly at Central Michigan, then spent two years as Rich Rodriguez’s wide receivers coach at West Virginia before succeeding Kelly as head coach at Central Michigan. In three years there, Kelly led CMU to a 27-13 record.
When Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame, Jones succeeded him there as well. After a rough 4-8 first season, Jones has led the Bearcats to a 19-6 record over the past two years. He is 50-27 overall as a head coach and was linked to coaching searches conducted by Kentucky, Purdue and Colorado before finally being hired by Tennessee.
Note: ESPN Sports Nation poll has Stoops 4th out of the four hires.