Which SEC coaches are most likely to outlast Nick Saban at their current schools?
Nick Saban has quite the reputation as a coach killer in the Southeastern Conference. When you think about it, just about every program in the league has fired at least one coach — some of them have fired many coaches — after being annually humbled by Saban’s Alabama program.
Since his arrival in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Saban has outlasted every opposing coach the SEC had to throw at him and he’ll likely get several more (if not all of them) fired again in the future.
On a recent episode of my podcast, That SEC Podcast — which can be found on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast and every other podcast platform — I ranked the SEC coaches from least likely to most likely to outlast Saban at their current school.
That last point is important, this is list ranks the coaches at their current schools, not the entire length of their coaching careers to come.
#13 Josh Heupel – Tennessee
Being a Tennessee graduate, I know how quickly the fan base can turn on a coach. Keep in mind, the four coaches that followed Phillip Fulmer have averaged three seasons of employment at Tennessee. All things considered, I think Heupel is a solid hire for the Vols. He should be able to fix the offense and produce the best quarterback play for the Vols since Josh Dobbs left Rocky Top. But can he build a roster worthy of competing in the SEC, which will become incredibly difficult if/when the program is hit with a possible postseason ban and a loss of scholarships? The deck is already stacked against Heupel, he’s going to need some major breaks if he’s going to last on Rocky Top.
#12 Shane Beamer – South Carolina
Beamer’s got a massive amount of support in Columbia at this point but he faces such a daunting task in trying to recapture the magic that Steve Spurrier managed to achieve during his years running the South Carolina program. The fact that South Carolina’s first-year coach is so closely tied to the Spurrier era could be a blessing and a curse as it may be too much to ask for the best era of the program’s history in the SEC to be matched by Beamer. I only give Beamer the edge over Heupel due to likely NCAA issues Tennessee faces in the years to come.
#11 Sam Pittman – Arkansas
Pittman has already gone on record and said Arkansas will be his final coaching job. When he was coaching Georgia’s offensive line, the speculation in Athens was that Pittman was planning to retire before long. Those factors definitely make it sound like he’s got his mind at least somewhat on life after football. While he’s undoubtedly been re-energized by landing the Arkansas job, it’s very difficult to see Pittman outlasting Saban, who appears to be aging as well as Benjamin Button.
#10 Ed Orgeron – LSU
Ed Orgeron may be the big winner in Baton Rouge following the Les Miles revelations this week following the conclusion of LSU’s internal investigation. It’s now on Orgeron to clean up the football program off the field, which makes winning on the field that much harder, but at least he managed to avoid the scrutiny that his predecessor is currently facing. The expectations remain as high as ever in Baton Rouge following a recent title run and Orgeron’s decision to hire Bo Pelini proved to be an epic disaster. Now the Tigers have new coordinators on both sides of the ball and if Orgeron made a similar mistake with either of them, it very well could lead to his end in Baton Rouge.
#9 Dan Mullen – Florida
Would anyone be surprised if this is Mullen’s last season in Gainesville? Florida may have missed the best shot it’s going to get at winning the SEC title under Mullen and his administration has apparently cooled on him. The NFL speculation will continue to linger around Mullen as he didn’t try very hard to downplay the rumors during his first press conference of the spring. Having said all that, Mullen is an outstanding coach and Florida will likely find it close to impossible to upgrade from him. Last season ended on a terrible note but all that can be quickly forgotten if the Gators exceed expectations next fall and return to Atlanta to play for another league championship.
#8 Mike Leach – Mississippi State
The SEC’s enigma, there’s no way to predict what Leach’s future holds but Mississippi State’s coach has been known to stick at the same job for several years. If that pattern holds, and he manages to stay out of trouble on social media, Leach could manage to still be in Starkville by the time Saban’s time at Alabama comes to an end.
#7 Lane Kiffin – Ole Miss
Kiffin may be the new Saban, just not in the way Ole Miss fans would want him to be. It wasn’t that long ago that Saban’s name was attached to just about every major college job that came open and now it seems like Kiffin is destined to be that guy if he continues to win in Oxford. Of course, Alabama managed to hold on to Saban and there’s no reason to believe Ole Miss can’t do the same with Kiffin, just be prepared for annual rumors when the coaching carousel starts spinning. If he wasn’t such an attractive candidate for a program desperate for a jump start, Kiffin would rank higher on this list.
#6 Eli Drinkwitz – Missouri
Drinkwitz has started to build some serious momentum in CoMo with an impressive debut season on the field that has translated to some early momentum on the recruiting trail for the Tigers (Missouri currently has a top 15 recruiting class nationally). Those factors put him higher on this list than any other coach going into his second season on the job but I’m hesitant to rank him any higher when you consider how often he’s been willing to move on from one school to another. Dating back to 2009, Drinkwitz has never stayed at a school longer than three seasons. Hell, he moves around so much, he famously recycled a section of his Appalachian State speech and used it when he took over at Missouri.
#5 Kirby Smart – Georgia
If Kirby ever manages to deliver a national championship to Georgia, he’ll skyrocket up this list into the No. 1 spot and cement himself as a legendary figure in Athens. But until that actually happens, there’s still some pressure on Smart to find a way to the top of college football’s mountaintop. Talent isn’t the issue in Athens, Smart is every bit as good of a recruiter as Saban, but the longer Georgia goes without winning a title, the more pressure will mount on Kirby’s shoulders.
#4 Bryan Harsin – Auburn
Harsin is a tough one to gauge but he arrives on The Plains with a solid track record of success and the impressive coaching staff he’s assembled at Auburn suggests he’s ready for his opportunity to compete on college football’s highest stage. Despite Auburn’s reputation as a program with an itchy trigger finger when it comes to its head coaches, Harsin is only the fifth head coach to roam the sidelines on The Plains since Pat Dye’s departure at the end of the 1992 season. Expect Harsin to be given plenty of time to show what he can do at Auburn — unless the program’s boosters pull another crazy “Jet Gate” stunt.
#3 Mark Stoops – Kentucky
When it comes to job security, outside of Saban, Stoops may have the best job in the SEC. He’s paid like an elite coach, he was the 15th highest-paid coach in the nation last season, and his contract calls for him to earn an automatic one-year extension if he wins seven games a season. If he manages to lead Kentucky to a 10-win season, as he did back in 2018, his contract calls for an automatic two-year extension. The only two ways Stoops isn’t around in Lexington in the years to come is if an elite job makes him an offer he can’t refuse, such as Ohio State or Michigan, or if he retires early like his brother Bob decided to do at Oklahoma.
#2 Jimbo Fisher – Texas A&M
Fisher may have had his share of doubters entering last season but considering his program nearly made the College Football Playoff last fall and the Aggie coach has the Texas A&M roster built for sustained success in the SEC, it’s hard to see a scenario where Fisher isn’t the coach in College Station anytime soon. There may not be a coach in the SEC that stands to gain more by Saban leaving the conference than Fisher. Plus, the disaster that is Texas football — on and off the field — does nothing but highlight the stability Texas A&M has with Fisher leading the program.
#1 Clark Lea – Vanderbilt
Lea’s ranking on this list may come as a surprise to many but then again, Vandy just gave Derek Mason six seasons and he never had a single winning season in Nashville. The school has shown an increased level of commitment to football since Lea’s hire, Vanderbilt became just the second SEC program to hire a general manager this offseason and have already begun work on renovating the locker rooms on West End, and unless he pulls a James Franklin and quickly turns around the program only to leave for a better job, Vanderbilt’s new hire appears destined to stick around at least another five seasons.
You can listen to the full breakdown of each selection on That SEC Podcast below: