SEC hot seat rankings entering the 2020 season
The Southeastern Conference’s “It Just Means More” slogan has been mocked by many, but when it comes to fans’ expectations, the saying holds true. History, tradition, talent on the roster and injuries often don’t seem to matter when a coach loses more games than they ought to.
The SEC is a win-now league.
We’ve seen coaches on the brink of a 10-win season run off, we’ve seen Mississippi State move on from a coach who was undefeated in the Egg Bowl. There have been multiple in-season firings and legends of the game shown the door just as quickly as an intern who messed up the office lunch order one too many times.
Needless to say, most SEC coaches are a loss or 2 away from the hot seat.
Which seats are the hottest heading into the 2020 season?
We rated each of the 14 coaches on a scale from 0 to 5, with 0 meaning no heat to 5 meaning they better win immediately or start getting ready for their pending coordinator interviews.
Alabama — Nick Saban: 0
The easiest selection on the board. In no way is the greatest coach in college football history on any level of a hot seat in Tuscaloosa.
Arkansas — Sam Pittman: 1
I considered giving Pittman the only 2 grade among first-year coaches in the league based on the level of uncertainty that came with his hire in Fayetteville, but he’s crushed it since landing with the Razorbacks. He has built the best coaching staff among the league’s new hires and has already proven he can recruit at an elite level just as easily from his head coaching position as he did as an assistant. While some bumps in the road might be coming shortly, no program needs to exercise patience with their coach more than the Razorbacks following the failed Chad Morris era.
Auburn — Gus Malzahn: 4
Just when Gus does something to win over Auburn’s fan base, he trips himself up with another inexcusable loss. Winning the Iron Bowl should have kept Malzahn’s seat cool all offseason, but then Auburn closed the season with a bad loss in the Outback Bowl to a Minnesota team that had no business beating the Tigers. It’s fair to say Auburn wasted the best defense in school history last season thanks in large part to Malzahn’s offense, which struggled in several key games last fall — and that was after Malzahn took full control of the unit during the offseason. With Kevin Steele’s defense likely to take a step back next season, if Malzahn’s offense doesn’t drastically improve in 2020, you’ll start to hear the rumblings of a potential coaching change on The Plains once again.
Florida — Dan Mullen: 1
You might be wondering why Mullen isn’t listed as a 0 here after winning 21 games in his first 2 seasons in Gainesville, but Florida’s coach said it best when he was hired: The expectations in The Swamp are to bring home championships. Mullen likely won’t ever reach Atlanta if he can’t beat Georgia and until further notice, his record against Kirby Smart’s program isn’t up to the Gator standard. If it happens this year, the temperature of his seat will join the likes of Nick Saban and Ed Orgeron, but should he fail to beat Georgia once again, you better believe the heat on Mullen’s seat will rise in Gainesville.
Georgia — Kirby Smart: 3
This might seem like a high number for a coach coming off 3 consecutive division titles, but make no mistake, the Smart era in Athens appears to be at a crossroads. Georgia’s coach just made his 2nd offensive coordinator change in as many seasons and if Todd Monken and Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Jamie Newman don’t live up to the hype, it’s not totally unrealistic to believe the Bulldogs could take a nosedive in the East standings. Winning division titles would be good enough for most fan bases, but that isn’t the expectation at Georgia as Dawg Nation is dying to capture an elusive national championship. If Smart suffers the same failings as Mark Richt did in Athens, the program won’t hesitate to explore other options.
Kentucky — Mark Stoops: 0
You could make the argument that Mark Stoops has been the SEC’s best overall coach the past 2 seasons. Combine that success with the fact he has the most coach-friendly contract in the league, as his annual salary ranks in the top 20 nationally and has built-in extensions for reaching 7 wins in any season in Lexington, and Stoops could be a Wildcat for his entire coaching career if he so chooses. With the program’s upward trajectory on the recruiting trail, if Stoops continues to build upon his recent success at Kentucky, there’s a chance he finally punches the program’s first ticket to Atlanta in the near future.
LSU — Ed Orgeron: 0
Coach O is well on his way to having a statue built in his honor outside Tiger Stadium after ending LSU’s losing streak to Alabama and bringing another national championship to Louisiana. The way he’s been recruiting, LSU is positioned well to reload all the talent that left the program this offseason and he’s locked down the state on the recruiting trail as promised when he took over the job. Orgeron also has shown an incredible eye for coaching talent, which only cements his status as having one of the coolest seats in the SEC heading into 2020.
Mississippi State — Mike Leach: 1
Leach has far and away the best résumé of the new coaches in the SEC, but it remains to be seen how effective his offense will be against quality defenses each week. Hail State is completely bought in following this hire, but what happens if the scheme change results in a slow start and the Bulldogs lose a game or 2 they shouldn’t against the likes of New Mexico, at NC State, Arkansas or Tulane to start the season? Leach has a solid overall coaching track record, but he has lost games he shouldn’t — to Eastern Washington in the 2016 opener, Portland State in the 2015 opener, and to Rutgers and Nevada to open the 2014 season.
Missouri — Eli Drinkwitz: 1
Drinkwitz steps into a program hungry for success after experiencing early success in the SEC. After having a tenuous relationship with Barry Odom, it would take something drastic for Jim Sterk to turn on his hand-picked coach anytime soon, but Drinkwitz will find out quickly the challenge of the SEC and the weight of the expectations that come with a $24 million contract. If Mizzou can win at South Carolina in Week 3, there’s a good chance the Tigers start 4-0 in Drinkwitz’s first season.
Ole Miss — Lane Kiffin: 1
The Lane Train has made football fun again in Oxford, but I’m not ready to put any first-year coaches at a 0 until we see how well they handle their new jobs. In this new era of college football, more coaches are getting fired earlier in their tenures and while I certainly don’t expect that to be the case with Kiffin, we’ll see how it goes. The Rebels open the season against Baylor in Houston. They face Auburn, LSU and Alabama in consecutive weekends before getting Florida 2 weeks later. A 2-6 start to the Kiffin era is likely coming for Rebels fans.
South Carolina — Will Muschamp: 5
There might not be a hotter seat in the nation than the one Muschamp is sitting on in Columbia. Muschamp’s South Carolina program finally secured the signature win fans had been waiting for by knocking off Georgia in Athens last season, but the Gamecocks also lost games to teams with inferior talent in North Carolina and Appalachian State. Some of the same issues that plagued Muschamp’s tenure in Gainesville have resurfaced as South Carolina has moved to its 3rd offensive coordinator in 4 seasons and talented quarterbacks appear to regress when they should be developing. For Muschamp’s sake, he better pray Mike Bobo is the answer to fixing those issues.
No SEC coach will be feeling more pressure to win than Muschamp. The schedule isn’t as daunting but does include trips to Gainesville, Baton Rouge and Clemson. The leadership at South Carolina appeared torn on whether to even bring Muschamp back for a 5th season and came off looking somewhat incompetent during the process. If the Gamecocks have another poor season, South Carolina might have no other choice but to move on from Muschamp.
Tennessee — Jeremy Pruitt: 2
Pruitt has Tennessee on the right track, but he still has much to prove on Rocky Top, starting with the lessons he learned following last season’s disastrous start. Those losses have provided Tennessee haters with plenty of ammo, but they will only haunt Pruitt if he does not figure out what went wrong last offseason and in the training camp leading up to the opening loss against Georgia State. Those corrections will likely come easier than the Pruitt’s next challenge: to compete with the upper echelon in the SEC. For the most part, Tennessee has not been competitive against Florida, Georgia or Alabama under Pruitt and that has to change next season, otherwise, his seat will start to warm.
Texas A&M — Jimbo Fisher: 2
Fisher’s massive contract is keeping his seat cool in College Station, but it’s time for Texas A&M to show something in Year 3 of his tenure. The Aggies have yet to secure a signature win under Fisher — unless you count the 7 overtime victory over an LSU team that lost to Alabama 29-0 — and were absolutely torched in their latest SEC game after losing 50-7 in Baton Rouge. Fisher was hired to end embarrassing conference losses to the league’s elite teams and elevate the Aggies to their level. If he can’t do that in Year 3 with a favorable schedule that drops Clemson and Georgia, it will be time to turn up the heat on Fisher’s seat.
Vanderbilt — Derek Mason: 5
To give you an idea of how hot Mason’s seat is, had Vanderbilt not given him a contract extension leading up to the 2019 season, he’s likely not even the coach in Nashville in 2020. Things have gotten so bad for Mason that even his defense, which has the reputation of being a solid unit capable of handling most offenses, fell to pieces last season. Mason made what appears to be upgrades by replacing both coordinators, but if those moves don’t pay off immediately, Vanderbilt will likely be the next SEC program looking for a head coach.