Putting coaches on the hot seat is what I call “zigging” this time of year.
USA Today and CBS Sports each pumped out their pre-media days list of coaches on the hot seat. I’m sure others did, as well. It’s a common practice and one that we pencil in for mid-July when we’re trying to squeeze out every bit of content that we can. I get it.
So if that’s “zigging,” I’ll “zag.”
I’m not a big fan of putting coaches on the hot seat, unless we’re talking about a situation like Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward publicly saying “Kevin Sumlin knows he needs to win in 2017.” Woodward was a man of his word.
Jimbo Fisher was 1 of 6 new coaching hires in the SEC. Including Matt Luke losing his interim tag at Ole Miss, nearly half the conference got a new full-time head coach at the end of 2017.
Conventional wisdom says that as a result of the massive 2017 turnover, there won’t be that kind of turnover in 2018. That’s even without what each coach’s hot seat probability looks like. Conventional wisdom would be correct.
I’d be stunned if a handful of SEC coaches were out of a job after 2018. In fact, I’ll take it a step further. If the over/under for fired SEC coaches was 2.5, I’d bet heavy on the under.
Of course, I’m not a gambling man and I’m simply a journalist. So instead, why don’t I just outline why I’d bet on very little turnover in the SEC.
There’s the obvious point, which is that there’s no consensus SEC coach on the hot seat like Sumlin was last year. And let’s be honest. Pretty much everyone who filled out a hot seat list also saw the possibility of Butch Jones and Bret Bielema falling out of favor. I’d argue that those three coaches were more likely hot seat candidates than anyone in the SEC this year.
There’s really only two coaches that I’ve seen even mentioned in hot seat stories, and that’s Barry Odom and Ed Orgeron. While one could make a case that Derek Mason isn’t exempt from that conversation, he’s at least not a popular pick to lose his job. Other than that, tell me which one of these non-first year coaches are losing their jobs:
- Nick Saban, Alabama
- Gus Malzahn, Auburn
- Kirby Smart, Georgia
- Mark Stoops, Kentucky
- Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Barring a major scandal, none of those coaches is getting fired in 2017. And I also doubt that any of them are going to leave their respective program for another job. So that leaves us with Mason, Odom and Orgeron.
Let’s start with Odom because in my opinion, he has the most questions to answer of any SEC coach. Much of that stems from the fact that the defensive-minded coach has yet to produce a top-90 defense (!) and he’s 2-13 against teams with a winning record. Expectations are high in large part because of potential first-round quarterback prospect Drew Lock.
But would Odom really get fired for a 6-6 season in Year 3? That, I don’t know. The guy did just extended to 2022 for winning 7 regular-season games. If 7 wins is the mark to hit again, I can’t imagine one game is going to make Mizzou’s decision to fire a coach with 4 seasons left on his contract.
Orgeron has a different set of expectations. Everybody is curious to see what would happen if LSU missed out on 8 wins for the first time in the 21st century. This is the same coach who faced hot seat questions after losing to Troy in his first full season. It’s also the same program that fired one of its best coaches in program history after a 2-2 start in September. In other words, nothing would surprise me.
There is, however, reason to believe that Orgeron could survive even a 6-6 season.
Joe Alleva is still the LSU athletic director. Barring an epic collapse, I can’t imagine Alleva throwing his most controversial hire under the bus in his second full season on the job. Plus, it seems like LSU’s preseason expectations have lowered significantly because of how brutal the schedule is. This could easily wind up being a year that Orgeron goes 8-4 and he gets praised for it.
Then there’s Mason. What’s considered a fireable offense for Vandy? What would Mason have to do to get canned? Technically, Rod Dowhower was the last Vanderbilt coach to get fired and that was in 1996. We have no idea what Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams has in mind for an acceptable 2018 win total. Five wins? Six? Who knows.
We can sit here and talk about a coach’s long-term future until the cows come home. Nothing that’s said in any preseason hot seat list is going to impact how an athletic director feels about a football coach. Athletic directors are the same people who sign off on six-figure checks for search firms, only to hire someone that everyone and their mother knew about. In other words, they’re going to do what they want to do.
Given how many programs in the SEC have coaches who were hired by their current athletic directors, that only adds to the argument why there shouldn’t be much coaching turnover in the SEC this year.
Could one of those aforementioned three coaches get fired? Absolutely. History suggests that’ll happen.
Could there be another situation like we saw at Florida where a complete disaster of a season — on and off the field — results in a coach getting fired? Possibly, though it’s hard to predict who that would be.
Is this going to be a repeat of last year, when we saw nearly half the conference hire a full-time head coach? Don’t count on it.
Bet the under.