Will the SEC see four head coaching vacancies?

Four teams that are really struggling through the first half of the season are Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee. Along with those four teams, the head coaches are feeling more and more heat as the year progresses. We know there will be at least one of the four – Arkansas – open at year’s end, but Kentucky, Auburn and Tennessee could make changes as well.

Arkansas (3-4, 2-2)
John L. Smith will be replaced, and Athletic Director Jeff Long said he wants to hire a new head coach within two weeks after the season is over. Although Long has said that Coach Smith will be considered to be hired on a permanent basis, we all know that has zero chance of happening. Competing in the SEC with the likes of Alabama and LSU in the same division will be a sexy attraction to several big-time coaches.

Since Long will replace John L. Smith, here are five candidates who will get a phone call:

1. Charlie Strong, Louisville head coach
2. Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator
3. Gary Patterson, TCU head coach
4. Art Briles, Baylor head coach
5. Butch Davis, Tampa Bay Buccaneer special assistant

Auburn (1-5, 0-4)
Many say Gene Chizik survives no matter how bad Auburn finishes. However, I disagree with that. After lying down in the second half against Ole Miss, Auburn goes on the road to Vanderbilt. Three weeks ago, several looked to the Ole Miss and Vanderbilt games to leave a lasting impression if Chizik returns for 2013. Outside of 2010’s anomaly with Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, there has been zero development of players within the program, as both Newton and Fairley were JUCO transfers. Likewise, Chizik’s record outside of ‘10 is 17-15. However, Chizik does have a $7.5 million buyout that could be a massive obstacle to cutting ties with him. But if Auburn drops two in a row to Ole Miss and Vanderbilt and he then proceeds to get demolished against Alabama in November, Auburn will make a change. The presence of a more successful in-state rival may accelerate Chizik’s firing.

Kentucky (1-6, 0-4)
It’s a shame Kentucky and Auburn doesn’t play one another, because the worst team in the SEC would be settled, but we can certainly speculate from the eye test. Last week’s 49-7 blowout against Arkansas proves it can’t get any worse for the Cats, but with Georgia coming to town, it really could. It will be a difficult decision for Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart to move on from his ‘Kentucky guy’. But let me make Barnhart’s decision a little easier here. Phillips is 12-20 overall in three years and 4-16 in the SEC. Even the win against Tennessee last season isn’t enough to buy Phillips anymore time. It was crucial for Kentucky to show progress in Phillips’ third season, but they have only showed regression. However, the loss of starting QB Max Smith to injury and the fact the Wildcats have played one of the toughest schedules – Louisville, Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi State – could be cause for buying him a little bit more time. The Wildcats just want to be competitive, and they’re nearly last in every single offensive and defensive statistic in the SEC.

Tennessee (3-3, 0-3)
This was supposed to be the year that Derek Dooley turned things around for the Vols, seeing he had future NFL players saturating the offensive side of the football. The Vols have lost all three SEC games – Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State – and are giving up an average of 43 points per game. Defensive Coordinator Sal Sunseri certainly isn’t helping Dooley. Coming off a reeling loss at Mississippi State and heading into Alabama, a win Saturday could put the firing talks to bed for the season. Dooley has a chance to upset the #1 team in the country and save his job. But the facts remain – Dooley is 0-13 against ranked opponents and 1-9 on the road in the SEC, with his only win coming against Vandy in ‘10. Tennessee will likely go ‘O for October’. So, the question becomes, will Dooley make it back to Tennessee with a 7-5 finish? A new coach costs Tennessee $9 million, with a $5 million buyout of Dooley and $4 million to make the right hire.

Which programs do you think make a change?


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