How happy should SEC fans be with their head coach?
In the words of the old standard, for SEC head coaches, “It’s summertime/and the living is easy.” Once Week 0 arrives and the ball is placed on the tee, their lives suddenly get a lot more complicated.
But it’s mid-August and everybody is still undefeated … so everybody (more or less) loves their head coach. How should they feel about their coach? Well, we break down how happy each SEC fan base should be with their coach from 0 (fire them yesterday) to 10 (finish that statue before week one).
The Clemson loss made us consider scoring it a 9, but let’s be honest: Alabama is still the gold standard that the rest of the league and college football aside from Clemson aspires to. If it wanted to, Bama could hire Dabo tomorrow. Clemson could not hire Nick. There’s not enough money. Alabama hasn’t lost 3 games in a season since 2010. They’re still Alabama.
Yes, they were awful in 2018. But we knew they would be, and that counts less against Chad Morris than against Bret Bielema. Considering that he didn’t exactly inherit the early 1990s Buffalo Bills, there’ll be solid patience in Fayetteville regardless of how 2019 goes.
The past 5 seasons yielded a 10-win season in 2017, 3 8-5 seasons and a 7-6 season. That’s just not going to cut it at Auburn, where they fired Gene Chizik 2 seasons after 14-0. Gus Malzahn has watched his program struggle to not get lapped by Alabama but now has to fight off LSU and A&M as well. Auburn isn’t paying him to coach the 4th-best team in the West. The seat should be pretty warm.
This would be a 10, but there are those nagging off-field problems. On the field, Dan Mullen made a morbid Florida program relevant again. Yes, there is still a gap between the Gators and the SEC’s Big 2 … but meanwhile, Florida is taking affirmative steps toward making a gap between itself and the rest of the SEC. This should be a house money kind of season, and Mullen might well surprise any haters.
Not unlike Ed Orgeron, Kirby Smart has gotten over the initial hurdle. In the same way that Les Miles had become intolerable at LSU, UGA had no interest in going 10-3 and ending up ranked in the mid-teens but never challenging for SEC or CFP titles. Smart’s past 2 seasons eclipsed that problem area. But now, can he win a big game? The thing about grabbing a ton of great recruits is that sooner or later, you’re expected to beat the big dogs with those recruits. Like, maybe, 2019.
When you have the best season in 4 decades, they tend to do things like build statues. Yes, there’s a solid risk that Mark Stoops watches UK fall to, say, 5-7 and undo the magic of Benny Snell and Josh Allen in 2018. But it feels more like a 7-5, 8-4 kind of season in Lexington, which is a tribute to the good work Stoops has put in as the 2nd-longest tenured head coach in the SEC (trailing only Saban).
Ed Orgeron has delivered the Tigers from the 8-5 nightmare that the Miles years had devolved into. That alone gets him a high grade … but he now has to face the reality of closing in on Alabama or seeing 10-3 become the new 8-5, which won’t age a ton better in Baton Rouge. Given how well it’s gone, you feel like Coach O has another year of patience before any sort of turmoil could arise… but Tigers fans won’t want that 8-game losing streak to Alabama to reach double figures.
Mississippi State: 7
State returned perhaps its most talented all-around team in 2018, and watched them bumble to an 8-5 season. There is — and probably should be — some discontent in Starkville, but at the same time, there’s an element here of giving Joe Moorhead the chance to craft his own offense and program before fans get too down on the 2nd-year head man. Year 1 won’t be held against him if State bounces back, but State fans won’t be happy with another year like the last one.
Barry Odom wasn’t looking so sterling in mid-2017. Off a 4-8 season in 2016 and a 1-5 start in 2017, he looked likely to be headed elsewhere. Since then, he’s gone 14-6, and has given Missouri a fine chance to lay claim to the 2nd or 3rd spots in the East. They might not be building a statue in Columbia, but they’re a lot happier than they were 2 years ago.
Ole Miss: 5
There’s a lot of goodwill in Oxford surrounding a coach who has gone 11-13. Sure, the Hugh Freeze era crashed and burned, but Matt Luke could use a 9-4 year or a 10-3 year about now. Depending on how well Arkansas catches on, the Rebels might be doomed to the SEC basement, which even for a likable alumnus like Luke, won’t be a good thing.
South Carolina: 4
Not to be abrupt, but this feels like a spot where the Will Muschamp era either ends or makes a dramatic uptick. A 22-17 mark isn’t going to wow folks who still remember 3 consecutive 11-2 teams under Steve Spurrier from 2011-2013. The season this year is brutal, but second place in the East remains wide open. Another 9-4 campaign would give Muschamp some traction. Another 6-7 or 7-6 might mean time to dust off the old resume.
There’s a lot of positive mojo around Jeremy Pruitt, but before we get too carried away, he’s 5-7 at UT. There’s plenty of reason to think UT wins 7 or 8 games in 2019, and that the uptick Pruitt started is well underway. That said, the residue of some horrifically bad coaching and recruiting from Butch Jones is still around. Pruitt upped the energy in Year 1, but can he up the victory total in Year 2?
Texas A&M: 10
Taking over a program that had delivered 8, 8, 8 and 7 wins from 2014-17, Jimbo Fisher won 9 games and was competitive in the 4 losses. Road games this season at Clemson, Georgia and LSU provide another chance to keep the program on its up-and-rolling path without much potential downside. Jimbo should be very safe indeed in College Station.
On the one hand, Derek Mason hasn’t delivered the 9-win campaigns that James Franklin posted in 2012 and 2013. On the other hand, we’re not sure anybody at Vanderbilt expected him to. Five consecutive losing seasons (mitigated by 2 bowl trips) would get a coach fired at pretty much any other SEC school, but at Vandy, there’s a recognition that Mason has upped the recruiting profile and given Tennessee fits. Which might be enough to keep him around a while longer.