UGASports - The Cycles of Change in the SEC
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The Cycles of Change in the SEC

Ed. Note: The following was posted on one of the UGASports.com message
boards by long-time patron Dawg151 this weekend. In our ongoing effort to
provide the best news and viewpoints on Bulldog sports, we are spotlighting this
outstanding essay by a fan.
The Cycle of Change in the Southeastern Conference
On January 4, 2002, the Southeastern Conference lost it's most dominating
head coach since Bear Bryant stalked the sidelines for the Alabama Crimson
Tide. Steve Spurrier left the University of Florida Gators to possibly
pursue a coaching position in the National Football League. He left after
coaching the Gators for the past twelve seasons, compiling an overall record
of 122-27-1 in 150 total career games. His winning percentage at Florida
during his tenure at the helm was nearly 82% and had a winning record
against every other SEC school. When he entered the Southeastern Conference
as the coach of the Gators, he entered into a conference that was steeped in
tradition and history, but at the same time staunch in it's methods of
playing the game of football. Before Spurrier arrived, the consensus among
SEC schools and it's coaches was that the best way to win a football game
was to run the ball and on occasion pass after it had been set up with the
run. Immediately upon his arrival, Spurrier implemented a new scheme of
offense that is now used by a large portion of the college football world.
His "Fun-and-Gun" offense changed the way football was played, not only in
the SEC, but also in almost every conference around the nation. Needless to
say, this coaching style that Spurrier brought to the SEC was far from the
norm that the SEC had been used to in it's storied history. What's even
more incredible about it is that it worked almost overnight. Spurrier
accepted the Florida coaching job in 1990 and proceeded to rule the SEC over
the next twelve seasons, winning six conference titles and one national
title in 1996.
With Spurrier's departure comes the inevitable question as to whether
Florida's dominance of the SEC is over, or if they will simply "reload" and
continue their winning ways. It is possible, after all, for a program to
lose a successful head coach and continue to be successful under the
leadership of the subsequent head coach. That was proven just this year
with the University of Miami winning the national title with a first year
head coach. For further proof, Bob Stoops at the University of Oklahoma won
a national title in only his second season at the helm. Of course, there
are differences in the Oklahoma example; Oklahoma had been experiencing some
struggles in the years prior to Stoops' arrival. Even through all of this,
there is something to be learned from history, and that is history often has
a tendency to repeat itself. Throughout the existence of Southeastern
Conference football, certain teams have had success in cycles. The only
exception to this rule has been the Alabama Crimson Tide, which has had
nearly unequaled success in the entire history of it's program. Certainly,
even the Tide has experienced it's failures, but overall, their program has
remained a winning one and one of the most competitive in college football.
For all the other schools in the SEC, the pattern of success has run in
cycles. More often than not, the beginning and ending points of these
cycles can be marked by a defining moment or occurrence. It still remains
to be seen, but the SEC may have just witnessed a defining moment in that
cycle on January 4, 2002 and the resignation of Steve Spurrier.
The SEC began in 1933 and right off the bat, Alabama was crowned the first
conference champion. The so-called "cycles of dominance" in the SEC can be
measured in decades. There have been teams that have reigned at the top for
two or three consecutive years, but there are often teams that show up in
the records books often as conference champions in any given decade. In the
1930's, or the birth decade of the SEC, Alabama reigned supreme. The
Crimson Tide won SEC titles in 1933, 1934 and 1937. Of the other programs
that won titles in the SEC during the 1930's, Louisiana State had two,
Tennessee had two and Georgia Tech had one. However, it is clear that
Alabama was the team to beat during this time. The Tide's overall record
from 1933 through 1939 was 60-8-5 and did not suffer a losing season
throughout this time period. Things changed in the decade of the 1940's,
however.
In 1942, the University of Georgia won it's inaugural SEC title as well as
it's first recognized national title with a record of 11-1. The 40's
eventually saw Georgia win 2 outright conference titles and one co-title
with the University of Tennessee in 1946. Georgia's overall record from
1940 through 1949 was 78-27-4. Of course, there were other teams that had
success through this time period such as Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Alabama
and Tulane, but the most consistent conference winner during the 40's was the
University of Georgia.
The 1950's saw parity in the SEC as both Tennessee and Mississippi both won
two titles. Tennessee's overall record in the decade of the 50's was
72-31-4. The University of Tennessee had always been a successful program
under the leadership of the legendary coach Robert Neyland, but it was in
the decade of the 40's and the 50's that the Volunteers began winning the
SEC title with increasing regularity. The University of Mississippi also
had success throughout the 1950's compiling a total record of 80-21-5. This
is due in no small part to their leadership under famed head coach Johnny
Vaught, the man for whom their stadium is named today. His tenure at
Mississippi lasted from 1947-1970 and then one last year in 1973. Another
program that had consistent success in the SEC over the years was Georgia
Tech. Georgia Tech never won the conference as often as other teams in a
given decade, but they consistently won it in the decades prior to and
during the 50's. Before they left the conference in 1964, the "Rambling
Wreck" had won 5 conference titles: one in the 1930's, two in the 1940's
and two in the 1950's.
The decades of the 60's and 70's clearly belonged to the University of
Alabama It was mainly during these decades that the Tide was led by coach
Bear Bryant, one of the most famous and instantly recognizable coaches in
the game of football. Coach Bryant compiled a record of 232-46-9 while he
was at Alabama from 1958-1982. Simply put, no other SEC affiliated team had
as much success as the Crimson Tide throughout the 60's and the 70's. In
fact, few programs have ever had the amount of success that Alabama had
through these years. In the 20 years from 1960-1979, the Crimson Tide won
an amazing twelve conference championships and six national titles. There
were other conference winners in the 1960's and 70's, but no other team
matched what Alabama accomplished during these two decades. Mississippi and
Georgia came the closest to Alabama with three titles a piece from 1960-1979
and Tennessee won two titles in the same time span. To show just how
dominant Alabama was in the decade of the 70's, the Tide won the title every
year except 1970 when LSU won it and in 1976 when Georgia and Kentucky were
co-champions.
The 1980's were a decade of two halves. In the first half, Georgia was the
dominant force in the conference. The Bulldogs won their second national
championship in 1980, as well as three SEC titles in 1980, 1981 and 1982.
The Bulldogs record from 1980 to 1983 was 43-4-1. In the second half of the
1980's, Auburn University laid claim to the conference. The Tigers won the
title outright in 1983 and 1987, and shared the title in 1988 and 1989.
Their record from 1983 to 1989 was 67-16-2. The other teams that either won
the conference or shared the title from 1983 to 1989 were Tennessee, LSU and
Alabama. Florida also won the conference title in 1984, but the
championship was vacated.
This brings us to the decade of the Gators, and another change in power. As
noted before, the arrival of Steve Spurrier and his revolutionary offense
gave way to five conference titles in the 1990's and an overall record of
102-22-1 from 1990 through 1999. The Gators also won their only national
championship in 1996. The Tennessee Volunteers also had a very successful
decade in the 90's, but due to the split of the conference in 1992, the Vols
had to deal with the Gators each and every year. Even so, the Volunteers
won three conference titles in the 90's and a national championship in 1998.
Alabama was the only team besides Florida or Tennessee to win a conference
title. The Tide won the conference and the national title in 1992 and the
conference title in 1999.
In the new decade, Florida and LSU won the conference in 2000 and 2001,
respectively. However, with a new decade, the possibility that there may be
a change at the top occurs. All of these decades before were marked by
significant moments that signaled a "changing of the guard", such as the
arrival and subsequent departure of Bear Bryant, Robert Neyland, Herschel
Walker, Bo Jackson or some other legendary figure. The University of
Florida added a legend of their own to SEC lore with Steve Spurrier, and with
his resignation, SEC football fans may be experiencing the cycle start all
over again and a change at the top of this storied, old conference. Many
questions remain to be answered by all of the news that has occurred in the
past 24 to 48 hours, and many scenarios could play out. As mentioned
earlier, Florida could replace a legendary coach with a proven head coach
and continue with their winning ways. The Gators could also slip into
disarray in their coaching search and the uncertainty could have a negative
impact on their program, which would indeed open the proverbial door to
several other programs to become the next conference power. Georgia seems
headed in the right direction with their first year head coach and crop of
talented young players. Tennessee has a coach who currently holds the
highest winning percentage of all active coaches and also has a solid
program that has proven over the past decade that they are, and will
continue to be, a force to be reckoned with in the conference. LSU, the
defending SEC champions, are in a great position to build on the success
they experienced in 2002. Many of the other teams in the SEC could also
step up and challenge for supremacy. The race is on in the Southeastern
Conference, and what lies ahead is a mad scramble to the top of the most
competitive conference in the nation.