SEC Coaches as CEO’s

In August the Birmingham Business Journal asked the question if Tommy Tuberville or Nick Saban would make a better CEO. The non-scientific poll concluded with 50% saying Saban would make the best CEO, 27% saying Tommy Tuberville would make the best CEO and 22% saying neither coach had the qualities to be a CEO.

Does the 2008 season justify those results? Tuberville was always touted as a CEO coach; the perfect delegator who allowed his coaches the freedom to do their jobs. Unfortunately for Tuberville, the disaster on offense got him fired. Contrast that with the autocrat Nick Saban’s success in 2008.

In August I ran with the idea of SEC coaches as CEOs. I got some comparisons right and based on the evidence from this season, I got some comparisons dead wrong. I’m going to publish the August list with some updated comments. The biggest miss was my evaluation of Urban Meyer. These comparisons aren’t reflective of the true management style of the coaches or CEO’s; it is a comparison based on public knowledge of how the coach behaves and past performance. No guarantee is made about future performance.

Nick Saban—Steve Jobs CEO of Apple. He’s a dictator committed to his own path. However, you can’t argue with the results. He’s turned around teams and won two SEC crowns. Twice as many as Tommy Tuberville in about half the time.
Updated comments for 2008 season: With the masterful 12-2 record, does anyone doubt Saban is the best coach in the SEC West?

Les Miles—Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft. Gates may rule the PC market, but he’s slightly creepy and turns out crap for a product. Sounds much like Les Miles. Miles has won a national title, but did it lackluster fashion—two losses to Arkansas and Kentucky?!? Sure he is recruiting well, but his boneheaded decisions are going to bite him in the rear sooner rather than later. When that happens, LSU fans will be screaming for his head—much like Windows users when forced to reboot thanks to constant crashes. Even PC users know Mac is better (in other words, they wish they had Steve Jobs as CEO.)
Updated comments for 2008 season: LSU finished out of the Top 25. Will 2009 be better for LSU? Probably, but I wouldn’t take anything for granted. Miles should have bolted for Michigan when he had the chance. Of course that chance may come again soon as discontent grows in Ann Arbor and Baton Rouge.

Tommy Tuberville— Ross Perot, former CEO of EDS and former presidential candidate. Folksy and likable and also cunning and motivating—those traits describe both these men. They both have big ears. They both say outrageous and entertaining things. They both love the press, yet hate the press too. You couldn’t find a better match.
Updated Gene Chizik—Former WaMu CEO Kerry Killinger. The 5-19 failure coaching at Iowa State now takes the helm at Auburn. Chizik’s failure at his only head coaching job was about as big as WaMu’s washout. Killinger headed what was called the most “boneheaded” of the subprime lenders. Boneheaded seems the best description of Chizik. He isn’t a worthy successor to Tuberville.

Mark Richt—Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle. Ellison is a billionaire who built his company starting in 1977 with a $200 investment. While Georgia wasn’t at the bottom of the barrel when Richt arrived, he certainly has propelled it to new heights. Georgia, like Oracle, has had its ups and downs, but defeating Florida last season makes it look like brighter days are ahead for the Bulldogs. Two conference crowns, a BCS bowl victory over Hawaii and now poised for a push for a national title, Richt is at the pinnacle of college football.
Updated comments for 2008 season: Maybe the competition with Florida was tougher than I thought. Richt wasn’t able to overcome the difficulties the Bulldogs faced due to injury. But there were other problems with Georgia too. Penalties and missed tackles were the theme for the Bulldog defense in 2008. At times the Bulldogs looked more like a team out of control than under the control of its CEO.

Urban Meyer—Richard Scrushy, former CEO of Healthsouth. Meyer’s made a splash, but it is mostly smoke and mirrors, much like Scrushy’s bookkeeping at Healthsouth. His offense works, but ask Tommy Tuberville how to stop it (Meyer is 0-2 against Tuberville’s defenses.) And Meyer is yet to prove he can manage a defense. (The national championship defense was composed of Ron Zook’s players.) Meyer’s first defense was shredded by Mike Shula’s offense, and last season was an unmitigated disaster.
Updated comments for 2008 season: I was wrong in my evaluation of Meyer. He works hard and it pays. It really isn’t a secret recipe for coaches like Meyer or Saban; they work hard and demand accountability from everyone involved in their programs. Meyer proved his defense could withstand the best in college football. He showed he is the best in the league right now.

Houston Nutt—Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler. Iacocca saved Chrysler, became a celebrity starring in the corporate commercials, and was an inspirational figure and commentator on leadership. Nutt is one of the better motivators in college football. And let’s be honest, he did a remarkable job saving Arkansas from being a bottom dweller. Nutt now hopes to do the same with perennial whipping boy Ole Miss.
Updated comments for 2008 season: Nutt’s stock had to rise with the strong season in Oxford. He took a team from the outhouse of the SEC to a Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech. What a turnaround! It was worthy of the Iacocca turnaround of Chrysler.

Bobby Petrino—Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo. Iwata leads the company who dominates console gaming thanks to the innovative Wii. Petrino is also an innovative mind—a genius of offense. He’s been great as a coordinator and did very well as Louisville’s coach. Like the Wii revolutionized gaming, Petrino hopes to revolutionize Arkansas’ passing game—bringing it into the modern era.
Updated comments for 2008 season: You can already see the seeds of Petrino’s offense coming together. Watch recruiting to see how soon Petrino can get things flying for the Razorbacks.

Bobby Johnson—Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express. When you think wealth, you think of brands like American Express. When you think of wealth in the SEC, you think of Vanderbilt, probably because that is where your boss attended college.
Updated comments for 2008 season: Perhaps I should apologize to Johnson for comparing him to the CEO of American Express. The 52-week AXP high was 52.63; today the stock stands near its 52-week low of $16.55 (as I write this, AXP is trading at $17.62.) Johnson’s 2008 season was special as the Commodores finished the season with a winning record and a bowl win. Johnson deserves immense praise for his work at Vandy.

Steve Spurrier—Jack Welch, former CEO of GE. Both had a great mind for their respective work. Both were innovative and understood leadership. Both remain highly-regarded, but their recent history has somewhat tarnished that legacy. Welch due to domestic issues, and Spurrier due to being at South Carolina.
Updated comments for 2008 season: Spurrier should have left South Carolina after one or two seasons. His career is on life support. He should have begged for the Auburn job or the Alabama job or any job other than the one he has now.

Phillip Fulmer— Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina engineered HP’s merger with Compaq. It vaulted HP into the top position for PC market share. However, sales slowed, and Fiorina was exposed, and she was dismissed as CEO. Fulmer has won a national title, the conference title and salvaged last year when he put together a nice run to win the Eastern division crown. Unfortunately for Fulmer, he is still on a skid. Even Tennessee fans are counting the days until someone slimmer is stalking the sidelines.
Updated comments for 2008 season: Fulmer was fired. What more needs to be said about the failure in Knoxville.
Lane Kiffin—Christian Streiff, former CEO of Airbus. Streiff was fired as CEO of Airbus because different divisions of the company working on its new jet were using incompatible software. That shows a real communication problem in the business. Kiffin was incompatible with former boss Al Davis, and there was obviously a communication problem in the Raiders organization. It would be impossible to excuse Kiffin for the failure and blame it all on the nearly insane Davis. However, Kiffin is an improvement over Fulmer. Time will tell if I need to reconsider my first estimate of Kiffin’s standing.

Sylvester Croom—Louis Gerstner, former CEO of IBM. Gerstner saved traditional giant IBM by keeping it what it traditionally was‚ an integrated information technology company. Croom is a traditional coach who believes in good defense and a good ground game. He’s turning around Mississippi State by doing what traditionally works. It isn’t flashy, but flashy wouldn’t become Big Blue, or the Bulldog’s head coach.
Updated comments for the 2008 season: Croom was fired following a horrific 2008 campaign where the offense looked more incompetent than even Auburn’s dysfunctional offense. Croom showed he was a strong coach; hopefully he’ll get another shot.

Rich Brooks—Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffett is old. Rich Brooks is old. You can’t argue with either man’s success. Buffett knows how to make money, and Brooks knows how to win football games. They are dependable if not exciting.
Updated comments for 2008 season: Kentucky won its bowl game and turned in another winning season. For those keeping score that is Kentucky’s third straight bowl win. You can’t argue with this type of consistency from a perennial cellar dweller. Brooks is a solid coach doing a great job in the competitive SEC.

Since Nick Saban is popular around here, I’ve added a poll question below. Excluding Saban, who would you rank as the best coach in the SEC.
[poll id=”17″]