What Leroy Burrell's Move To Auburn Means For The SEC

* Houston coach Leroy Burrell examines a performance during a meet in 2018

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports Images

By Garrett Zatlin - MileSplit Recruiting Correspondent

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If you have siblings, then you can surely relate to the feeling of battling your brother or sister to be the best at practically anything and everything.

Right now, that's the exact same feeling you get when you evaluate the shaky foundation of power that is swaying within the Southeastern Conference.

In late May, the University of Tennessee hired superstar coach Duane Ross away from North Carolina A&T and added Notre Dame's Sean Carlson to the distance helm of the Volunteers' coaching staff.

Then came Auburn University's turn in the spotlight. This month, the program announced that it had hired Leroy Burrell as the team's newest Director of Track & Field. The hiring follows the retirement of head coach Ralph Spry, who was with Auburn for 25 years.

Burrell, an Olympic gold medalist and the former 100m world record holder, was previously the head coach for the Houston Cougars. In Houston, Burrell coached alongside fellow track and field legend Carl Lewis to build one of the best non-Power Five programs in the NCAA today.

In many ways, Burrell's accolades closely mirrored that of Ross, who dramatically bolstered the accomplishments of North Carolina A&T during his decade-long tenure with the Aggies.

With Burrell now out of the door from Houston and fully in charge of Auburn, there leaves some obvious questions. 

Who will Houston hire to replace Burrell? Are there any athletes who will transfer to join the Auburn Tigers? What are the chances that Houston-signed recruits from the Class of 2022 suddenly shift their focus to Auburn?

However, the more important aspect to consider is that Auburn could now be a major problem for their SEC rivals, both on the track and on the recruiting circuit.

    * Episode 1 of SPEED CITY with the Houston Cougars

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    Burrell has proven that he can lead and develop top-tier sprinters, so much so that Houston has earned the nickname "Speed City" throughout the NCAA over the last few years.

    If Burrell was able to turn Houston into a national power, then what can he do at Auburn where the name recognition and resources are, theoretically, far more plentiful?

    In theory, Burrell could become a presence in the SEC recruiting world, a wildly competitive area that leaves no room for mistakes.

    Trying to battle for recruits with Texas A&M, Florida, LSU and Georgia is far from easy. Texas, Oregon and USC are arguably the only other schools not in the SEC that can add the same level of elite high school talent as their Power Five counterparts do on an annual basis.

    But even Texas is set to join the SEC in the near future, meaning that the conference will have newly established powerhouse coaches from (at least) four different schools in the last few years.

    For perspective, five of the top-six men's teams at the NCAA Outdoor Championships this past spring were from the SEC, or will soon be in the SEC. On the women's side, the top-six teams at the outdoor national meet were all from the SEC or soon will be.

    Burrell gives Auburn a fighting chance of not just staying competitive, but of actually competing for a top spot in this mammoth of a conference.

    And that will be necessary if the War Eagle are going to push themselves out of the lower-mid tier that we've seen them in at recent SEC Championship meets. But with a new identity and a very realistic chance of new talent being injected into this roster, the Tigers could be formidable a few years from now.

    Another interesting subplot? 

    Auburn is annually one of the nation's best men's football programs. Historically, the Tigers' football program has signed athletes with immense track potential -- Anthony Schwartz was one such recent example. What kind of partnership between Burrell and Tigers football coach Bryan Harsin evolve over time? 

    There is, of course, one more aspect of this move that needs to be considered...what happens to Houston?

    Sure, the Cougars are now without a head coach, but the timing of Burrell's decision to leave Houston is likely worse than the act itself.

    That's because this time next year, Houston will begin preparing for their introduction into the BIG 12, a Power Five conference that is far more competitive than the Cougars' current conference, the American Athletic Conference (AAC).

    The good news for Houston is similar to that of North Carolina A&T. When recruits look at the program, they'll see one of the best track and field teams in the nation with a solid foundation and a great reputation. Having Carl Lewis in the coaching staff, at least for now, doesn't hurt, either.

    But regardless of what does happen, it feels fair to say that the balance of power within the NCAA may be shifting in the very near future.