The 10 hottest seats in the SEC in 2020 (and we're not just talking head coaches)
I don’t believe that there should be a true hot seat in 2020. At least not in a traditional sense.
In a traditional sense, a hot seat is simply a coach who could lose his job with a disappointing season. We all read those lists every year. Whether they’re preseason lists or midseason lists, everyone wants to know about the person who might lose their job.
So why shouldn’t there be a traditional hot seat list? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s nothing normal about 2020. We have conference-only schedules and uncontrollable quarantine situations. This year is going to be different than any before it, and hopefully it’ll be different than any after it. So why then, would it make sense to make any long-term decisions (good or bad) based on this atypical season?
That’s how I view it with head coaches. Athletic directors might not.
But instead of just breaking down the SEC head coaches who could be in danger of losing their jobs, we thought we’d broaden it out. What about assistants? What about quarterbacks? Those are high-profile jobs, too.
(Relax, NCAA. I’m not saying that quarterbacks are employees. Go spend your time on more important matters.)
For quarterback hot seats, it obviously helps if the backup is either super promising or already proven. Any quarterback who struggles in this league can lose their starting gig. Duh. It’s still the SEC.
For coaches, sometimes it’s about the dynamics at play. A new coordinator can have a lot of pressure on him based on what kind of standing the head coach is in relative to expectations. Or it can be Year 3 and it’s time to start putting it all together.
These are my 10 hottest seats in the SEC:
10. Todd Grantham, Florida defensive coordinator
To be clear, Grantham is very good at his job. After he dramatically improved MSU’s defense in 2017, he led a pair of top-20 units in his first 2 years at Florida. That’s not exactly “hot-seat material” for most. But he makes this list because what if Florida loses 35-21 to Georgia? Grantham took a ton of heat for Florida’s defense allowing 20-of-32 on 3rd downs in those matchups the past 2 years, and he’d sure take a whole lot of heat with anything less than a win in Jacksonville. Would another defensive letdown against Georgia force Dan Mullen to shake things up with Grantham in an effort to get over the hump? Given what’s at stake, I wouldn’t rule that out.
9. Collin Hill, South Carolina QB
Think about these dynamics. You’re the new guy from the Mountain West. You’re starting at quarterback instead of the guy who is probably the consensus favorite player among South Carolina fans. You’d better believe Hill’s seat is hot every time he takes the field. Ryan Hilinski started as a true freshman, but he wasn’t considered as far along as Hill, who of course has the experience in Mike Bobo’s system at Colorado State. The second Hill falters, the masses will be calling for Hilinski to take over for the Mountain West guy. Shoot, maybe even Will Muschamp will be calling for that given his connection to Hilinski. That’ll be the case even though Hill shares a striking resemblance to former fan favorite Stephen Garcia.
Stephen Garcia or Collin Hill? https://t.co/rXwGrHtUpo
— The Spurs Up Show (@TheSpursUpShow) September 4, 2020
8. Chad Morris, Auburn offensive coordinator
Some might wonder why I listed Morris and not Gus Malzahn. In a pandemic year in which we’re seeing budget cuts nation wide, no, I’m not betting on a coach with a $21 million buyout getting fired (it doesn’t drop to 7 figures until after 2023). I would, however, guess that a somewhat controversial hire has major pressure on him to succeed in that division. This could be a 2017 LSU Matt Canada situation, or it could be a 2019 Alabama Steve Sarkisian situation. Only time will tell, but with a promising Year 2 quarterback in Bo Nix, Morris is going to take a ton of heat as the primary play-caller in the event that things go south on The Plains.
7. Darrell Dickey, Texas A&M offensive coordinator
Dickey isn’t a popular name for a list like this because we associate that offense with Jimbo Fisher, AKA the $75 million man. That’s exactly why Fisher isn’t going anywhere anytime soon even if A&M’s once-promising preseason outlook — a product of an extremely favorable schedule — turns into a frustrating year of mediocrity. A&M went from the No. 19 offense to the No. 62 offense last year. Was that just a product of a gauntlet schedule? Perhaps, but that won’t fly for Dickey in Year 3. He has the most experienced SEC quarterback with consecutive top-6 recruiting classes. A&M needs to have one of the better offenses in the league or Dickey could be the first coordinator fired during the Fisher era.
6. Matt Corral, Ole Miss QB
Based on what we’ve been hearing out of camp, I’m assuming that Corral is going to start as QB1 in this new offense. Sound familiar? That’s the exact situation Corral was in last year with Rich Rodriguez, but John Rhys Plumlee turned out to be the better playmaker. Corral, entering Year 3 with 3 coordinators in 3 offenses, knows that there’s going to be a good amount of Ole Miss fans who want to see Plumlee run Lane Kiffin’s offense. That leash is going to be short. Maybe not as short as it was last year because this is Year 1 with Kiffin, but a proven backup like Plumlee is going to be talked about whenever Ole Miss falls behind in a Corral start.
5. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
It’s hard to know how realistic it is to fire a coach when you don’t know his buyout (because Vanderbilt is private) and it’s a new athletic director on board. But I’ll lean on the latter as to why Mason is in a tough spot, regardless of what sort of financial standing the university is in to make a decision like that. Candice Storey Lee entered an odd situation after Malcolm Turner reportedly was forced to resign after 1 year. Does that mean it would be reckless to fire an 0-10 coach after Year 7? I couldn’t tell you. All I know is you don’t fire both coordinators without some sense of desperation. I can’t imagine an 0-10 season would help Mason’s security with his new boss, but given how much the deck feels stacked against Vandy in this conference-only slate in which the roster has been hit significantly by opt-outs, it certainly won’t take much for him to rise above expectations.
4. Mac Jones, Alabama QB
Who? Mac JONES! Who? Mac JONES!
Sorry for that mid-2000s reference. The real ones know. I have Jones on this list even as someone who’s all in on him being the Week 1 starter and having a ton of success in Steve Sarkisian’s offense. I loved what we saw from Jones down the stretch last year, and I believe that’s why after this atypical offseason, he’s the best option.
Mac Jones showin RESILIENCE😤😤
— tommy J🙄🌎☄️💕 (@sadboytomm) November 30, 2019
But the Sarkisian-Bryce Young connection is the elephant in the room. Young is the highest-rated quarterback recruit that Alabama ever signed. Fans want to see him spin it. I’m sure even some of his teammates do. I also can’t help but think that Sarkisian turning down Power 5 head coaching jobs was partially rooted in his desire to see what he has in Young, who met each other when Young was in middle school. If Jalen Hurts can get benched mid-game a year after he was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman, don’t think Nick Saban will hesitate on turning to Young if Jones falters.
3. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
I truly believe that if Muschamp’s buyout was a penny, he would have been fired after the 2019 season. Not many Year 4 SEC coaches can go 4-8 and keep their jobs. Muschamp’s buyout is “down” to $13.2 million for 2020. That’s still a huge chunk of change for a program that has never cashed a check like that for a buyout. Add on the pandemic aspect and who knows what Ray Tanner would do if Muschamp were to have, let’s say, a 2-8 season. Starting the aforementioned Hill is a sign that Muschamp knows he can’t afford to watch a younger quarterback like Hilinski go through growing pains. He’s letting newly hired Mike Bobo do his thing. While I certainly think that no long-term decisions should be made about coaches in a pandemic year like this one, I would certainly understand South Carolina cutting bait with a coach who has 3 consecutive disappointing seasons.
2. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee QB
Yes, non-Tennessee fans. Guarantano still has eligibility. Wild it is that he could technically return for 2021 if he wanted to. While I believe Guarantano will get the nod as the more experienced option following this offseason, we all know that Jeremy Pruitt is by no means committed to him starting every game of 2020. Guarantano was even pulled in the second half of the Gator Bowl, only to go back in and help Tennessee to a comeback win. It was a microcosm of his 2020 season, which included Pruitt dubbing his role as similar to a 6th man. Between Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout, there are at least multiple backups with experience, and true freshman/fan favorite Harrison Bailey will continue to be an intriguing option. Guarantano will continue to be a bad half away from getting benched, no matter how experienced he is.
1. Pete Golding, Alabama defensive coordinator
It’s obvious, right?
Believe it or not, I’m actually in the “injuries hurt Alabama more than people care to admit” camp. I thought losing Dylan Moses, Joshua McMillon and LaBryan Ray to season-ending injuries really wore on Alabama post-September. Regardless, you better believe Saban’s defensive coordinator has a whole lot of pressure on him to be elite in 2020. Alabama fans thought Golding should have been fired last year. Had that Citrus Bowl turned into a 38-35 Alabama loss, I bet he would have been. But much to the chagrin of many who bleed Crimson, Saban doubled down on Golding. With those 3 aforementioned front 7 guys back and healthy, there are no excuses for Golding anymore. A third consecutive year outside the top 10 scoring defenses will earn Golding a spot on the first plane out of Alabama.