Let's have a realistic conversation about SEC coaches on the hot seat after Week 1 duds
Despite strong odds that it wouldn’t happen, the sun did indeed rise again Sunday morning.
The end of the world did not take place for a handful of SEC teams, despite what Saturday’s results suggested. Four SEC teams (Mizzou, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee) suffered what I’d call embarrassing losses.
Yes, Ole Miss fans. Your team was an underdog, but please tell me how scoring 10 points against a Group of 5 team that ranked No. 94 in FBS in scoring defense last year wasn’t embarrassing.
Now that we’ve had a day to cool off from the fire takes that were flying on Twitter on Saturday, it’s a more appropriate time to actually look at how Week 1 duds impacted coaches who were given the “hot seat treatment” by their own fan bases.
As we know — or at least as we should know by now — 1 August game will not make or break if a coach is fired. But it could absolutely impact their job security because of the type of conversations it opens up within an athletic department.
Let’s break down each of the coaches of those 4 aforementioned SEC teams and have a realistic conversation about where they should stand with their respective universities:
Barry Odom, Mizzou
Why can’t Odom’s teams start a season? I mean, he’s become the inverse Kevin Sumlin. To lay an egg at Wyoming when Mizzou was a 2-touchdown favorite was a tough look. And understandably so, Tiger fans were upset with how bad the team played in the trenches.
Finishing with 43 rushes for 114 yards against a Group of 5 team is inexcusable. Yes, that’s partially on Derek Dooley. But Mizzou’s run defense was even more troubling. To surrender 300 rushing yards and get beat that badly against a 6-win Mountain West team is awful for Odom. Period.
Last thing on the Wyoming game and I promise I’ll move on. How in the world do you allow Wyoming to score 34 of the next 37 points after taking an early lead? That speaks to a lack of adjustments from a coaching staff, which is as troubling of a sign as any.
Ok, so what? Are we putting Odom back on the hot seat? No. He’s still improved Mizzou’s win total each year he’s been there and last year’s defensive improvements earned him a 2-year extension at the end of the 2018 regular season to keep him under contract through 2024. And as tough of a loss as that was, the schedule still sets up extremely well. The guy who’s 11-3 in games Oct. 20 or later could turn it around this year, as well.
Barring a disaster, though, Odom is still set up to make the Wyoming loss just a bump in the road.
Matt Luke, Ole Miss
I can think the following things are both true:
- Luke hired a pair of recently-fired Power 5 coaches as his coordinators and deserves a lot of credit for inviting that many egos onto his staff when few coaches in the country, if any, would do that.
- Luke did that because he realizes he desperately needs to improve despite the fact that he has the least-experienced offense in the country.
So while it didn’t surprise me necessarily that Ole Miss lost to Memphis, I do believe it was the type of game that he’ll kick himself for not winning once conference play starts. Losing to the Group of 5 team an hour away isn’t something boosters can get behind.
If you recall, Luke didn’t get an extension after the 2018 season. In the state of Mississippi, where state employees can only be under contract for 4 years, that’s significant. In its first year without the bowl ban, I tend to think that a program that hasn’t been to a bowl game since the 2015 season absolutely has to get at least that.
Add to all of this that the guy who hired Luke, Ross Bjork, bolted for Texas A&M this summer and yeah, life could be better for Luke. That seat will get even hotter next week if Luke drops a home game to Chad Morris, who has yet to win an SEC game since he arrived at Arkansas last year. The optics of that in front of the home crowd would be awful for Luke.
It’s not jumping the gun to say Saturday’s loss definitely put a hit on the likelihood that Luke is in Oxford beyond 2019.
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee
Ask anyone in mid-July if the words “Pruitt” and “fired” would’ve been in the same sentence for Tennessee fans after Week 1 and they would’ve laughed you out of the room. Instead, there were plenty of people ready to hop off the Pruitt bus during Saturday’s dud against Georgia State. I understand that doesn’t speak for all Vols fans.
Here’s the thing. Pruitt isn’t getting fired in 2019, despite the absolute train wreck we saw on Saturday.
Phillip Fulmer didn’t hire Pruitt with the expectation that he’d win a division title in Year 2. But he sure as heck didn’t hire Pruitt thinking that he’d start Year 2 by losing to a 2-win Sun Belt team as a 28-point favorite. The lack of development in the trenches is as alarming as anything.
Well, besides this:
Lot to be disturbed about right now if you’re a @Vol_Football fan. But in talking with @CoachSElliott last night, he told me after watching tape of the Vols that he felt going in that @GeorgiaStateFB could win the line of scrimmage battle, which is exactly what happened.
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) September 1, 2019
Fortunately for Pruitt, he still does have a lot of things working in his favor. One of them is that he’s got the team with more returning production of any Power 5 team in America. Improvement still should be on the way with a favorable early schedule (a schedule can still be favorable even if a team starts off horribly). The other is the support of Fulmer, who put all his eggs in Pruitt’s basket after taking over as athletic director.
And the other thing is that up until Saturday, Tennessee fans have gone to bat for Pruitt because of how he’s handled himself publicly, not only with hiring former Vols like Tee Martin, but being as blunt an honest as possible with the media as the anti-Butch Jones.
Saturday’s loss was bad. Real bad. But Pruitt has a handful of opportunities to grab headliner wins this year, which seems loftier than ever right now, but is still something he can do for a fanbase that’s been deprived of quality victories for much of the 2010s decade.
This is, however, an interesting crossroads because Pruitt’s situation is more about keeping the faith of the fanbase and being able to sell his vision of the program. Continue to have embarrassing showings and there will be plenty more pictures of half-empty Neyland Stadium throughout the season.
That certainly would make him a popular hot-seat candidate entering Year 3. But barring a complete collapse both on and off the field, bailing on Pruitt is premature.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
And last, but certainly not least, the guy who lost the “things can get really ugly for him if he loses this game.” Things are ugly for Muschamp right now. Even the “he inherited an absolute mess from Steve Spurrier and he deserves more time” crowd is starting to turn after what happened Saturday.
Losing to a 2-win UNC team was a gut punch for several reasons. That game was marked as a win on South Carolina’s incredibly daunting schedule all offseason. Instead, a team that was expected to be improved in the trenches lost that battle, the most experienced quarterback in the SEC played horribly down the stretch and a coaching staff couldn’t make any adjustments while an opposing staff in its first game did.
And now, a coach who has 10 straight losses to Top 25 teams and is 0-3 against Kentucky has 6 such games left on the schedule.
So does that mean Muschamp will be fired? I’m gonna say no, and my guy, 247sports’ Brad Crawford reminded me why that’s likely the case.
Muschamp’s buyout if he’s fired before Dec. 31, 2019 is $18 million. If he’s fired midseason, it’s $22 million. He’s under contract through 2024. As Brad said, South Carolina ain’t Texas A&M or Auburn. The pockets aren’t quite that deep.
The thought of South Carolina eating Muschamp’s contract and shelling out massive cash to buy out a Dino Babers or a Matt Campbell is bonkers. That ain’t happening in 2019 so kiss that goodbye.
(I also tend to think even if they did have the cash to make that happen, it would make zero sense for Babers or Campbell to come to South Carolina. Those dudes aren’t making what would be completely lateral moves when places like USC or Notre Dame could pursue them.)
I believe that because of the aforementioned contract situation, it’s extremely difficult to see a situation in which he’s indeed gone at season’s end. Then again, boosters are the ones who cover these buyouts. If there’s enough momentum following a 2-10 season or something absolutely horrendous like that, I wouldn’t rule anything out. I always say “barring disaster” when prefacing that I believe a coach is safe. Losing to UNC is the beginning of a scenario that would be considered a disaster.
The good news for Muschamp? The rest of the SEC East outside of Georgia had a bad Week 1 showing. Everybody looks beatable. Obviously that includes a South Carolina team that looked lost offensively yet again after the dreadful finish to last year.
It’s early, yes, but Muschamp feels like he’ll have “lame duck coach” written all over him heading into 2020. Again.