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Coronavirus Affecting New SEC Coaches

By Dave Holcomb
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Less time between players and coaches hurts every team, but it negatively impacts the programs in transition more.

While it took until the fifth month of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States to cancel a college football game, the sport has been far from unaffected because of COVID-19. The virus cancelled spring sports in the middle of March and forced football players away from workouts and spring practice.

Less time between players and coaches hurts every team, but it negatively impacts the programs in transition more. This year, there are four SEC schools with new head coaches and four others with first-year offensive coordinators.

Before we dive into that further, let’s keep in mind the men and women the coronavirus most directly affects, which are the frontline workers, especially America’s first responders. Of course, COVID-19 has impacted the families of the loved ones lost too. The death count from coronavirus in the United States has surpassed 135,000.

But, as are a football website, let’s take a look at how the virus has affected the SEC’s first-year head coach and offensive coordinators:

Head Coaches

Sam Pittman, Arkansas -- After failing to win a conference game the last two years, the Razorbacks hired highly-regarded recruiter Sam Pittman as head coach. Other names very familiar to college football fans -- Kendal Briles and Barry Odom -- are his offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. College football teams go through changes every year in one way or another, but Pittman faces the biggest rebuilding project of the four new SEC head coaches. It was going to take years to turn the Razorbacks into a winner even before the pandemic happened. With coronavirus, it may take an extra year without a full offseason in 2020.

Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss -- The former Alabama offensive coordinator may have benefited the most from the pandemic. Rising sophomore quarterback John Rhys Plumlee balances playing baseball and football at Ole Miss, but when COVID-19 cancelled the end of baseball season, Plumlee turned his attention towards football training. At the end of May, he told The Clarion Ledger that getting to football practice earlier in the summer “has been beneficial.” Plumlee still has the disadvantage of not as much physical time with the coaching staff, but at least Ole Miss isn’t turning to a new quarterback in addition to a new system.

Mike Leach, Mississippi State -- Even when putting aside his offensive COVID-19 noose tweet in April, Leach might be the SEC first-year head coach hurt the most from coronavirus. His Air Raid style is probably more complicated than the average college system, and his offense lost valuable in-person learning opportunities this spring. Mississippi State is also going through a transition at quarterback. Graduate transfer K.J. Costello entered the spring projected to be the starter, and he lost practice time to develop chemistry with his receivers this spring.

Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri -- Just like Mississippi State, the Tigers have a new coach and transfer quarterback. Missouri wanted to see a multi-quarterback competition in the spring and give the winner of the competition a chance to begin gelling with the team’s young supporting cast. The Tigers’ top three receiving targets from 2019 departed. No spring practices likely means TCU transfer Shawn Robinson will be Missouri’s starter. The simulated spring game would have been very helpful to him, as Robinson hasn’t played since 2018.

First-Year Offensive Coordinators

Todd Monken, Georgia -- After a year full of struggles offensively, Kirby Smart replaced offensive coordinator James Cooley with Monken, who is expected to bring a more aggressive, passing-oriented style to Georgia. The Bulldogs also have graduate transfer Jamie Newman expected to start behind center.

Chad Morris, Auburn -- Leaving Arkansas after two dismal seasons as head coach, Morris will try to pick up the pieces as Gus Malzahn’s new offensive coordinator. The good news for Auburn, though, is rising sophomore quarterback Bo Nix is back. No spring practices didn’t help, but Nix comes from a football family and probably won’t be as badly affected as other quarterbacks under first-year coordinators.

Mike Bobo, South Carolina -- Along with Monken, the hiring of Bobo brought the most headlines of all the new offensive coordinators in the conference. Bobo helped develop quarterbacks such as Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray during his successful tenure at Georgia, but with a very young roster and fewer offseason workouts, he faces a tough task in Year 1.

Todd Fitch, Vanderbilt -- The Commodores are on their third offensive coordinator in three years after Derek Mason fired Gerry Gdwoski, who served as Vanderbilt OC for just one season. Fitch has more than a decade of experience as a coordinator, but this isn’t the offseason to have a lack of continuity.