SEC West coaches on the hottest seats entering 2017
In terms of job security, Nick Saban and Ed Orgeron are the safest coaches in the SEC West. However, every other coach in the division can’t make that claim.
Here’s a look at how we rank each remaining coach in terms of where they are on the proverbial hot seat, from warmest to coldest.
These 4 SEC coaches aren't sitting too comfortably at the moment pic.twitter.com/fuemIfvFEF
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) January 18, 2017
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: To Aggies fans, 2012 — Sumlin’s first season in College Station — has to feel like a distant memory. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M went 6-2 in the conference and beat Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl to finish 11-2 overall as Sumlin earned SEC Coach of the Year honors.
Since then, Sumlin has been the epitome of consistency — and not the good kind. After a 9-4 season in 2013, Sumlin’s Aggies have delivered three consecutive 8-5 finishes, a trend very similar to what Bo Pelini’s teams did at Nebraska, when the Huskers lost exactly four games in six of the seven seasons he was their head coach.
The most disturbing tendency the Aggies have shown during Sumlin’s tenure is their propensity for falling apart in the second half of the season. In each of the past four seasons, A&M has been 5-1 or better through its first six games yet never finished above .500 in the SEC West.
For Sumlin’s sake, at least the Aggies didn’t regress from the tumultuous season of 2015, when both of its starting QBs — Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray — decided to transfer and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital left to take the same position at Cal before eventually reuniting with Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia.
Then there’s the issue of salary, and at $5 million a year, Sumlin is the SEC’s second-highest paid coach behind Nick Saban, who makes about $2 million more per annum. It makes you wonder what A&M would be willing to pay Sumlin if happened to reach an SEC Championship Game, let alone win one.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn: The good news for Malzahn is that his Tigers reached the Sugar Bowl. The bad news is that they were crushed by Oklahoma, which resulted in an 8-5 finish, just a one-game improvement.
Auburn has clearly regressed since its 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game at the end of the 2013 season. Those Tigers finished 12-2 and 7-1 in the SEC. Things on the Plains haven’t felt the same since the Tigers blew an 18-point, second-quarter lead to the Seminoles.
Auburn is still struggling to find a quarterback to approach what Nick Marshall did over his two seasons with the Tigers. Despite developing a reputation for being an offensive genius, Malzahn surrendered play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, which helped Auburn get off to a 7-2 start before a 1-3 finish to the 2016 season.
And now Lashlee has left to call plays … at Connecticut, for Randy Edsall of all coaches. For Lashlee’s sake, he better make sure his contract is signed before Edsall has second thoughts.
At least Malzahn’s decision to bring in Kevin Steele as coordinator has stabilized Auburn’s defense. Malzahn probably has one more season to fix the offense before someone else gets the chance to do so.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas: With a salary of $4.1 million a year, Bielema is the highest-paid employee in the Razorback State, according to arkansasonline.com. But whether his hiring is paying off is debatable.
Four years into his tenure in Fayetteville, Bielema is just 25-26. Arkansas went 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC, during his first season with the Hogs, but over the next two years, he made a five-game improvement in conference play and won back-to-back bowl games.
But in what was considered a rebuilding year — at least for the offense — the Razorbacks regressed in 2016, finishing 3-5 in the SEC and losing their bowl game to go 7-6. The season included a 56-3 loss to Auburn.
Fortunately for Bielema, quarterback Austin Allen and running backs Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley all return after productive seasons. It’s time for Bielema to deliver more bang for the righteous bucks he’s earning.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: What a difference a season has made for Freeze. A year after capping a 10-3 campaign with a victory over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, his Rebels finished 5-7 after losing Chad Kelly to a season-ending knee injury.
The NCAA’s ongoing investigation into Freeze’s role regarding the recruiting scandal that has marred Ole Miss the past couple of years certainly doesn’t help Freeze’s case. Neither does a 2017 schedule that includes consecutive matchups at Cal, Alabama and Auburn along with home games against LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: A year after losing Dak Prescott to the NFL, Mullen has had some kind of luck. For starters, despite a 5-7 regular season in 2016, his Bulldogs qualified for the St. Petersburg Bowl thanks to their Academic Progress Rate. And then won it with a dramatic last-second blocked field goal.
On top of that, he has one of the best QBs in the SEC in Nick Fitzgerald. After accounting for 3,798 total yards and 37 touchdowns last season, Fitzgerald has two years of eligibility left.