Which SEC coaches could remain on the job in 10 years?
Building a successful program takes effort and determination. It takes booster support. It takes players.
Most of all?
It takes time.
Establishing sustainability is the biggest challenge where one false move can set a program back multiple years, altering a mindset even, in which doubt leads to an impending regime change for various reasons, mostly negative.
With those circumstances in mind along with the obvious age factor, the SEC will look much different 10 years from now from a coaches perspective.
The Western Division will continue to go through the state of Alabama and you can bet Georgia, Tennessee and Florida will garner respect, but the remnants of 2015 will be barely visible at most programs.
There’s only four SEC coaches who are in it for the long haul if chips continue to fall in the right direction, but I’ll also add this is strictly hypothetical to save some disgruntled readers …
If any will be around in 2025, it’s these guys
- Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: Stockpiling talent is Freeze’s idea of a good time and it has certainly benefited a program with little respect nationally before he left Arkansas State for Oxford in 2012. Freeze has increased the Rebels’ win total in each of his first three seasons, has roots in the area and perhaps most important of all, seems to like the idea of transforming Ole Miss into a power even if that may take a few more years.
- Gus Malzahn, Auburn: This offensive genius lost some of his momentum during last season’s second-half slide, but all is well following the December arrival of Will Muschamp, a high-caliber defensive mastermind expected to overhaul Auburn on that side of the ball. Muschamp may only be with the Tigers a season or two, but the Plains will be Malzahn’s home until he chooses to leave.
- Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: It looks as though Sumlin finally has the pieces in place for longevity in College Station, most importantly on defense with the hire of John Chavis. Texas A&M’s already shown an ability to out-recruit it’s in-state and bordering competitors and Sumlin’s appealing, pass-happy system is a major part of that.
- Butch Jones, Tennessee: Something special could be brewing in Knoxville, although we’ll know a lot more later this fall following Jones’ third campaign with the Vols. Consecutive recruiting classes inside the Top 10 means Jones is gearing up for the future and for the first time in nearly a decade, the alumni and booster base is excited again.
Something better will come along
- Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: His name was in circulation as a candidate for nearly every Power 5 opening last season and it’s only a matter of time before a major program, with greater exposure and reach, opens the checkbook for his services. Mullen shook the stigma that he couldn’t beat ranked teams last season and appears to have the Bulldogs set up quite well for life after Dak Prescott. Should Mississippi State win 10 more games this fall, his stock will never be higher as one of college football’s up-and-comers. Mullen did receive a substantial raise in February and he’s under contract through 2018.
- Les Miles, LSU: Call it a hunch, but Baton Rouge isn’t the Mad Hatter’s last coaching stop — and it won’t be Michigan either, he’s made that clear. Like Saban, Miles has done just about everything he can at LSU with 103 wins and a BCS National Championship in 10 seasons. Annual offseason speculation on whether or not the Tigers want to move in a different direction in the future doesn’t improve the likelihood of Miles staying either.
Decisions to make
- Bret Bielema, Arkansas: The ‘Big 10 Guy’ seems to genuinely like coaching the Razorbacks and enforcing his hard-nosed, 3 yards and a cloud of dust style of play in the SEC. That may not matter if Bielema decides that the Western Division is too competitive however, and no matter how much momentum his program builds, going through Alabama, Auburn and LSU annually will be a mind-numbing chore. Bielema took the Arkansas job to win a championship, but he’s not going to be able to dominate and continuously reach meaningful bowl games in a division so challenging.
- Mark Richt, Georgia: Until he wins another conference championship or captures that elusive national title, Richt’s name will be synonymous with hot seat as long as he’s in Athens. Georgia’s fanbase expects more, and rightfully so considering the resources at the program and recruiting dominance as one of college football’s southeastern powers. The harsh reality is that when Richt finally leaves the Bulldogs, his decision or not, he’ll win elsewhere. He has done it the right way at Georgia and the old adage ‘you won’t know what you had until it’s gone’ could come into play post-Richt.
When winning gets old, stay home
- Nick Saban, Alabama: Saban’s quite cozy in Tuscaloosa, but he doesn’t strike me as a guy who will hang on past his prime. There’s nothing left he has to prove as a college coach, a winner of four national championships since 2003 (and that doesn’t count two years of ball he missed as an NFL head coach). Saban’s been coaching in some form since 1972, a bit tiring for a man who has dedicated most of his life to the gridiron.
- Gary Pinkel, Mizzou: As college football’s most underrated program leader, let’s assume Pinkel’s last stop is Mizzou, a place he’s called home since 2001. Back-to-back seasons, he has finished one win away from capturing an SEC Championship, something he’ll chase until he retires. Only Alabama has won more games in the SEC than the Tigers in recent years, so Pinkel’s career goal of a league title may be closer than some expect. He’s not going anywhere for the time being, but that could change over the next five seasons if Mizzou continues its winning ways and achieves the ultimate prize.
It may not end well
- Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: We’re nearing ‘tip your cap’ time for the Head Ball Coach, one of the SEC’s greatest ever as the all-time winningest coach at two different programs. Age won’t be a contributing factor when Spurrier decides to leave South Carolina — winning will. Last season was tough to stomach for a coach accustomed to being in the spotlight after three straight 11-win campaigns. Another mediocre year should put Gamecocks fans, and athletic director Ray Tanner, on high alert during the offseason.
- Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: Another winless SEC campaign and Mason could be moving away from Nashville whether he wants to or not after his second season.
- Mark Stoops, Kentucky: The jury’s still out on Stoops after last season’s late-season fall from grace. It appeared the Wildcats were quickly turning the page on 2013’s disastrous campaign after a 5-1 start, but things went south in a hurry. Outside of Vanderbilt, Kentucky is likely the toughest job in the league and Stoops, at least after two seasons, may be just a bit over his head.
The lone unknown
- Jim McElwain, Florida: How long will the proverbial leash be for McElwain in Gainesville? Athletic director Jeremy Foley himself called it the most important hire he has made during his tenure at Florida, one that could possible define his legacy after failing with Ron Zook and Will Muschamp but hitting a home run with Urban Meyer. McElwain didn’t face the scrutiny at Colorado State as a head coach that he’ll face at Florida, but he has substantial experience in SEC football and a spark on offense appears to be just what the Gators need. Expect McElwain to at least be in town for five years if he shows incremental improvement early.