Ranking coaching hot seats in SEC from hottest to coldest going into 2017
One way or another, every coach in the SEC is on the proverbial hot seat at any given moment. Nowhere in the country are expectations higher.
This season, only one coach from the best conference in America was handed his walking papers. Les Miles got pink-slipped by LSU four games into the campaign, which opened the door for Ed Orgeron to go from interim to full-time Tiger tamer.
While the other 13 coaches in the league have job security to some degree — at least according to the language in their respective contracts — any one of them is a threat to be deep-sixed if the football gods don’t cooperate here and there. The only untouchable is Alabama’s Nick Saban, for all the obvious reasons.
From Death Valley (California, not Baton Rouge) to Antarctica, here are the coaching seats in the SEC ranked from hottest to coldest.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
All the stars were aligned for the Volunteers to win the East this season and perhaps challenge the West for SEC supremacy. Instead, they stumbled to 8-4 and were forced to deal with the curious Jalen Hurd situation. Now Jones has to pick up the pieces, but he’ll have to do it without Joshua Dobbs, who’s out of eligibility.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
The last four Novembers, the Aggies are 7-9 under Sumlin. This year looked to be different, as A&M was running the ball and stopping the run better than it had previously. But both trends reverted back to their dubious norms down the stretch, which took the Ags from No. 4 in the CFP rankings to a date in the lowly Texas Bowl.
Jim McElwain, Florida
Despite the fact that the Gators have taken the East both years McElwain has been in Gainesville, they continue to get blown out by quality teams during high-visibility times late in the schedule. Supposedly an offensive mastermind, McElwain has instead leaned on the defense left behind by Will Muschamp. Recruiting isn’t going well, either.
Barry Odom, Missouri
While Odom has only been on the job for a calendar year, it was another tough season at Mizzou. The Tigers are the lone team in the SEC that didn’t beat an opponent currently in the Top 25. They’re also one of just two programs in the conference that won’t be going to a bowl game. Gary Pinkel, his predecessor, was an overachiever.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
The passing game can’t carry the Rebels on its own. The running game continues to be ignored, plus the defense hasn’t picked up the slack. Freeze clearly knows this, so he shook up his staff for the first time in a while with two new coordinators. Possible NCAA sanctions on the way cast a dark cloud over the program, as well.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn’s seat was scorching after a 1-2 start, but he cooled it off significantly with a six-game winning streak. Ultimately, the Tigers got upset at Georgia and weren’t very competitive against Alabama, but improved play on the defensive side of the ball is encouraging. So is the arrival of quarterback Jarrett Stidham, formerly of Baylor.
Kirby Smart, Georgia
After a 7-5 start to the Smart regime, some Bulldogs fans are wondering if they were too critical of the departed Mark Richt, who won double-digit games more often than not. However, there’s reason to believe Year 2 could be quite fruitful for Smart and Co. Jacob Eason should grow as a sophomore, plus Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both return.
Ed Orgeron, LSU
Because he’s a Louisiana boy, Tigers fans supported Orgeron every step of the way on his journey from interim coach to full-time coach. That being said, a team in desperate need of offense just put a D-line guru in charge. If the Bayou Bengals continue to have problems scoring points, the native-son stuff will ring hollow quickly.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Coming into 2016, the Razorbacks were on the right trajectory. Bielema went from three wins in Year 1 to seven wins in Year 2 to eight wins in Year 3. Nevertheless, he took a minor step back to seven wins this season. While he has made the Hogs an annual bowl team again, Bielema is yet to make them true contenders in the West.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
It’s fair to wonder if Mullen took the Bulldogs as far as he could when Dak Prescott was his QB. Even with Nick Fitzgerald putting up silly numbers at the game’s most important position, he won five games this season after averaging 9.5 the previous two. Still, he’s a great coach. That’s why he’s always rumored for bigger jobs.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
At 2-4, things were looking pretty bleak for the Commodores this season. But they won four of their last six to get to .500 and become bowl eligible for the first time under Mason. He’s a fantastic defensive mind, no question about it, but his offense is still figuring it out. Regardless, going bowling solidified Mason’s standing.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Another coach in this league that will take his team to a bowl for the first time, Stoops broke through to 7-5 this year after back-to-back 5-7 performances. The Wildcats are still declawed in SEC play, including a 30-game losing streak to Florida, but upsetting in-state rival Louisville in the regular-season finale was big for Stoops.
Picked by most everyone at Media Days to finish last in the East, the Gamecocks managed to exceed expectations with a 6-6 mark that included an upset of Tennessee in Columbia. Jake Bentley appears to be the future under center, plus Muschamp knows what he’s doing defensively. He’s making strides on the recruiting trail, too.
Winner of four of the last seven national titles, Saban is the odds-on favorite to make it five of eight in this season’s College Football Playoff. Somehow, the Crimson Tide improve from year to year and never hint at complacency. He isn’t going anywhere, either. If anything, Saban is more energized than ever to outwork the competition.