Biggest spring worries for SEC coaches on hot seat
For some, spring football is a time to reload, to coach up a group of new players, and to look forward to the fall with excitement. For others, it’s time to worry — specifically so for coaches on the hot seat.
We look at five SEC coaches whose seats are a bit warm — and on particular worries they’re dealing with this spring.
1. Butch Jones, Tennessee: Who’s the QB?
Tennessee (along with Ole Miss) was one of the major disappointments of the 2016 season — which is scary because Butch Jones’ team continued to lean heavily on QB Joshua Dobbs.
In his career, Dobbs passed for over 7,000 yards and 53 touchdowns and added another 2,160 yards and 32 scores on the ground. But now he’s gone, and on a team where the ground game was uncertain, the receivers were inconsistent, the line was putrid and the defense was lost late in the season, this is no small thing.
Jones will hope that junior Quinten Dormady or redshirt frosh Jarrett Guarantano grabs the QB job, but either (or both) will be hard-pressed to replace Dobbs’ productivity.
2. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: Can they avoid the NCAA hammer (or will the shadow of it slow Ole Miss?)
Ole Miss’s 5-7 2016 season was a surprise. Perhaps the NCAA lowering the hammer on the Rebels isn’t as surprising. But for Freeze, with Ole Miss already self-imposing a 2017 bowl ban, can he keep his job — and perhaps equally difficult, can the Rebels remain relevant?
Even if Freeze doesn’t lose his job, he’ll be coaching a team with two consecutive non-bowl seasons. And if seniors like DE Marquis Haynes decided the jump ship this spring (which in all fairness, Haynes has repeatedly said he won’t do), the Rebels could be so awful on the field that the NCAA stuff becomes secondary. A decimated Ole Miss team that goes 3-9 would bury the Rebels on the recruiting trail and might effectively end Freeze’s time in Oxford as quickly as NCAA penalties.
3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: Can they end the November slides?
Sumlin is 44-21 at Texas A&M. At the most cut-throat division in college football, that sounds pretty good. But, of course, the reason Sumlin is on the hot seat is that those 44 wins and 21 losses aren’t exactly evenly distributed.
After Halloween, Sumlin’s A&M record over the past four seasons is 9-11. Sumlin’s season win total has similarly gone from 11 to nine to three consecutive years with eight wins.
Can A&M stop the fall swoon? The two main issues that Sumlin will have to revisit are depth — A&M generally matches up well in September and October, but by November, the SEC’s war of attrition is hurting the Aggies — and the team’s culture. Both issues must be corrected in the offseason.
As Chicago Cubs fans can tell you, if you think there’s a curse, sometimes there is a curse. If Sumlin can’t put on his Joe Maddon hat and fix this one, he may be gone sooner rather than later.
4. Jim McElwain, Florida: Can they score some points?
It sounds silly. All McElwain has done is win his division in both of his seasons at Florida. But for a program that moved up from the SEC’s basement on the strength of Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘N’ Gun, there’s been a steady stream of grumbling against McElwain’s offensively challenged squads.
The good news for McElwain is that he has the pieces in place to fix his worry. Receiver Antonio Callaway, running back Jordan Scarlett, and talented redshirt freshman QB Feleipe Franks could all be among the best players at their position in the SEC. Florida’s offensive line has regained valuable experience in the past two seasons. So McElwain has hopes of lighting up scoreboards in ’17 — which is good, because if he doesn’t, he’ll be lighting up his own hot seat.
5. Barry Odom, Missouri: Can he recapture any momentum?
Odom’s 2016 debut campaign was a disaster. The Missouri team he inherited was a bit down, and a tough first year did little to fix it. Problem is, Missouri isn’t exactly a fertile recruiting ground, and there aren’t an abundance of reasons for optimism within the Tigers’ 2017 recruiting class.
Odom will probably revisit last year’s season-ending 28-24 win over Arkansas, where his Missouri team simply wanted the game more, despite the game meaning much less to the Tigers. Odom will need those types of effort to maintain any sort of forward momentum for Mizzou. Otherwise, he is a second year coach who won’t see many more years.