HOOVER, Ala. — LSU head coach Les Miles, in his methodically emphatic way, went on about new Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele on Thursday.
“Kevin has great success and understands football as well as anyone,” Miles said during his annual SEC Media Days appearance at the Wynfrey Hotel. “Very knowledgeable and has success at really every level and knows our Western Division.”
And that’s just one of South Carolina’s problems in 2015 as the Gamecocks strive to keep up on defense with other programs in the SEC.
Steve Spurrier is very pleased with new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke, an old friend brought in from the Chicago Bears to help a unit that finished 13th in the SEC in total defense.
“I lasted two years (in the NFL) and Jon lasted 13,” Spurrier said, “so he’s a lot smarter, better coach than I am.”
But new defensive coordinators are as typical in the South this summer as humidity.
South Carolina is one of seven SEC programs with new defensive coordinators.
Five of those teams — LSU, Texas A&M, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Florida — are on the Gamecocks’ schedule.
Two of South Carolina’s non-conference foes, have made changes, too. Former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik will run the defense for North Carolina. Chuck Bresnahan, late of South Florida and owning an extensive NFL coaching background, is the new defensive coordinator at Central Florida.
So Hoke can make a positive impact in Columbia, but it has to match up not only with offenses but compare favorably with tweaks on defense from Baton Rouge to Gainesville.
Chavis and Muschamp
Try keeping up with the SEC’s bouncing defensive coordinators:
The esteemed John Chavis bolted LSU for Texas A&M, and sued both schools as part of a buyout snafu.
Steele, teammates with Chavis at South Carolina’s Dillon High School and at Tennessee, has moved from his second stint on Nick Saban’s Alabama staff to replace Chavis at LSU. If Steele is seen as a downgrade from Chavis — he was fired at Clemson — he has high-profile help. LSU also has added former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron as defensive line coach.
Will Muschamp, fired as Florida’s head coach, is the new defensive coordinator at Auburn. He takes over for the dismissed Ellis Johnson, a former Citadel player and head coach who served as defensive coordinator at Alabama, Clemson and South Carolina.
Florida’s Geoff Collins was hired by new head coach Jim McElwain.
Missouri hired Barry Odom from Memphis to replace Dave Steckel, who left to become head coach at Missouri State.
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is taking over most of the duties after firing defensive coordinator David Kotulski.
You can’t tell the defensive coordinators without a program. But you can tell when they’re mad at you. There’s nothing in the SEC quite like the Muschamp stare down, a frightening Jon Gruden-like thing.
“The intensity is there each day,” Auburn linebacker Kris Frost said. “It’s a different atmosphere at practice.”
Some of these coordinators were brought in with grasps of desperation, others to make good teams better.
Naturally, everyone is happy with their new purchases.
“In my opinion, (Muschamp) is the best defensive mind in all of football, not just college football,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “Our defensive players have really taken on his personality, which I really like.”
At Florida, the players are pleased that Collins opted to keep most of Muschamp’s aggressive approach — minus the glare.
“It’s pretty much all the same stuff,” corner back Vernon Hargreaves III said. “I give a lot of credit to Coach Collins for that. He didn’t come in and try to change all the stuff we did. He sat us down and asked us what we wanted to keep, then he added his stuff.”
All the changes make highly regarded Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt an elder statesman.
But, as Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen pointed out, scouting “new” coordinators is easier when they have long resumes.
“You have a file so you have a lot of experience facing these coaches and what they’ve done in the past,” Mullen said. “The fact that a lot of them have been in the league before, for guys that we’re going to face, you kind of know what you’re going to see.”
That’s where Hoke might give South Carolina an edge. The 58-year-old Ohio native hasn’t coached in a college football game since helping Spurrier’s Gators go 10-2 in 2001.
As usual, it will come down to players and their game-day execution, Hoke’s guys against SEC offenses and a rebuilt South Carolina offense against some of the best minds in college football.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff