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Miles And Richt Sit On The SEC’s Hottest Seats

Would you be surprised if I told you that LSU’s Les Miles and Georgia’s Mark Richt sit on the hottest seats in the SEC?

Sure you would.  “How?” you might query.  “Why?” you might enquire.

“One captured a national title just two years ago!” 

“The other has never lost more than four games in a season!”

True enough. 

But the hottest seats in the SEC West and East still can be found beneath the rears of misters Miles and Richt.

Here’s what I asked myself when trying to reach my conclusions:

* Which coaches can least afford a bad, bad year?

* Perception is reality… so which coaches are battling perception problems?

* Which coaches are facing the highest expectations from fans and boosters?

For the purpose of this exercise, we’re going to project a 5-7 record for each coach in the conference.  That’s the “bad, bad year” we’re talking about.  And that record was bad enough to get the SEC’s two longest-tenured coaches blown up last year.

With that in mind, here’s how ranks the league’s football coaches — by division — in terms of seat heat heading into the 2009 season.


1.  Les Miles, LSU –

If he has a 5-7 year… Miles might actually be fired.  It could happen.

The perception is… Miles still stands in Nick Saban’s shadow.

The expectations are… through through the roof following a lousy 2008.

Final verdict… No one would have thought that one bad year would lead to Tommy Tuberville’s ouster at Auburn.  No one probably thinks that Miles could be jettisoned just two years after a national title.  But if the Tigers perform poorly (and especially if Saban once again does well at Alabama), it wouldn’t take long for fans to point to the following facts: LSU would be getting worse and worse the farther it got from Saban’s recruits and Miles’ national title came in a two-loss season… the only time that’s ever happened.  Plus, you can’t underestimate the Saban factor.  If Saban bests Miles again, you can bet that Tiger fans will be saying, “We’ve got to get someone who can beat Saban.”

2.  Houston Nutt, Ole Miss –

If he has a 5-7 year… Ole Miss fans would begin to howl.

The perception is… Nutt performs better when expectations are lower, not higher.

The expectations are… high this year and too high in most years in Oxford

Final verdict… Nutt will not be on the firing line this year, regardless of record.  But Ole Miss fans often forget that they haven’t won an SEC title since the school integrated way back in the early 60s.  They expect wins every year and the fact that the national media is heaping praise on this year’s Rebels won’t help Nutt’s cause.  If Ole Miss disappoints this year — and there is a bit of a “2008 Georgia” feel to this bunch — Nutt will once again hear that he can only get a team to a certain level, but no higher.  Stakes would be raised for his third year in 2010.

3.  Gene Chizik, Auburn –

If he has a 5-7 year… Chizik will be questioned, but he’ll get a Year One pass.

The perception is… he hadn’t earned the job in the first place.

The expectations are… silly steep.

Auburn fired a coach last year who had beaten Alabama the previous six years in a row, had an undefeated season in 2004, and was regarded as one of the league’s best gameday decision-makers.  Tiger boosters wanted better.  With Saban now building up Alabama across the state, good luck to Chizik with all that.

4.  Bobby Petrino, Arkansas –

If he has a 5-7 year… he’ll survive, but fans will start to wonder about him.

The perception is… he’ll build up Arkansas and leave on his own as soon as he can parlay a Hog turnaround into a better gig.

The expectations are… high, but most fans are still glad to have someone other than Nutt on the Razorbacks’ sideline.

Final verdict… Petrino wasn’t left a lot of talent (from Nutt) and his defense will probably struggle once again.  But if his offense takes a step forward and his defense makes any strides at all, he’ll get a pass into his third year.

5.  Nick Saban, Alabama –

If he has a 5-7 year… fans will start to squawk, but then they’ll worry about blaspheming their grid god and hush.

The perception is… he’s a genius and he has the Tide on the path to long-term greatness.

The expectations are… ridiculous and they’ve been upped further by the superb coaching job he did last year.

Final verdict… Saban could survive a 5-7 season.  Heck, he might be able to survive back-to-back 5-7 seasons if he continues to land America’s top signing classes.  The feeling among Bama backers is that Saban will fix things.  Even if this year shows the job’s not yet done, he’ll not lose too much support from the fanbase.

6.  Dan Mullen, Mississippi State –

If he has a 5-7 year… it would be an improvement over last year.

The perception is… he’s the right man for the MSU job.

The expectations are… pretty low for a first-year guy in Starkville.

Final verdict… Sylvester Croom could have probably survived at State had his teams’ not been so utterly unwatchable (a 3-2 loss?).  If Mullen can get any offense at all from this year’s team, the record won’t matter.  He’ll be viewed as the man with the plan for future success.


1.  Mark Richt, Georgia –

If he has a 5-7 year… fans will begin to call for his head.

The perception is… Richt can win a lot of games, but he can’t win “the big one.”

The expectations are… high, despite the loss of three key playmakers on offense.

Final verdict… Richt is now the dean of the SEC’s coaches.  Ask Fulmer and Tuberville how heavy that crown lies.  Richt has been called a “whiner” by fans and Georgia media folks this spring for his comments about UGA’s schedule.  You wouldn’t have heard that talk two or three years ago.  Dawg fans bought into the national title buzz last year (even though Georgia was picked second in the East by the SEC media) and they weren’t happy about the three-loss season that followed.  So while he might be the best ambassador in the SEC, if Richt has a really bad year this year, look out.  Boosters control the decisions of presidents and ADs with their checkbooks.  And now that Richt has eight years in Athens under his belt, the Bulldog boosters might already have wandering eyes.

2.  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina –

If he has a 5-7 year… he’ll retire to play golf.

The perception is… this is a make or break year for Spurrier, Carolina and Stephen Garcia.

The expectations are… it’s time for Spurrier to turn things around.

Final verdict… There were actually quite a few Gamecock fans last year who stated that it was time for Spurrier to go.  His team imploded last year and was embarrassed in their bowl loss to Iowa.  His offenses have been fairly mediocre since he arrived and he’s had shoddy quarterback play each year — either due to a lack of good recruiting or his own meddlesome over-coaching.  If Spurrier’s team is mid-level again, expect fans to grow even more restless.  And I don’t believe the ol’ ballcoach will sit around to listen to the complaints.

3.  Lane Kiffin, Tennessee –

If he has a 5-7 year… he’ll get a pass because that’s what his predecessor accomplished with the same not-so-talented bunch.

The perception is… Kiffin’s a big mouth, but he’s Vol fans’ favorite big mouth.

The expectations are… average now, but they’ll be high soon.

Final verdict… Kiffin’s seat will grow warmer as time goes by.  He’ll get a Year One pass, but due to his own statements and actions and the fact that there are still a lot of pro-Fulmer folks around Knoxville, Kiffin could be looking at a three-year window to prove himself.  And 2010 could be worse than 2009.  To keep fans at bay, if his teams do underperform, he’ll need to continue to sign Top 10 recruiting classes.

4.  Rich Brooks, Kentucky –

If he has a 5-7 year… Brooks will retire and hand the reins to Joker Phillips (leaving most fans to ask “Why are we promoting a guy who was an assistant on a 5-7 football team?”).

The perception is… with Phillips already the coach-in-waiting, Brooks is just waiting for one really good (or one really bad) year as reason to retire.

The expectations are… hey look, there’s John Calipari!

Final verdict… Kentucky fans just don’t care about football like they do basketball.  Brooks has done a nice job and he’s made Saturdays in the fall a nice diversion until basketball begins, but most fans aren’t living and dying with the Wildcat gridders.  A bad year wouldn’t lead to a Brooks firing, just a Brooks retirement.

5 tie — Urban Meyer and Bobby Johnson –

If he has a 5-7 year… Meyer will hear moans, but he’ll feel no pressure; Johnson will be right about where he always is.

The perception is… Meyer might leave Florida for Notre Dame someday; Johnson can have the Vandy job as long as he wants it.

The expectations are… through the roof at Florida, but Meyer has built up enough equity to survive a bad year; low among all 250 Vandy fans.

Final verdict… One coach has never won more than six games at his current school and the other has won two of the last three national championships.  So how can I lump them together?  Because both can stay at their current institutions as long as they like.  Meyer has made Florida — arguably — America’s top football program.  Johnson has made Vanderbilt respectable.  Those schools literally can’t ask for more.



  1. [...] went 12-0, they’d all get raises, too. Jump to Comments If there’s a point to this whole exercise, for the life of me, I can’t figure out what it [...]

  2. [...] Mr. SEC believes that Mark Richt and Les Miles sit on the league’s hottest seats. [...]

  3. [...] Coach Richt on the Hot Seat?- Probably not but presents an interesting hypothetical excercise- what would happen if your coach went 5-7.  He goes through every coach in the SEC. [...]

  4. [...] the remarkable proposition blogger John Pennington offers at He says he came to that conclusion by asking which coaches can least afford a [...]

  5. [...] “hot seat evaluation” column from yesterday.  The ol’ emailbox is dang near full.In yesterday’s piece, I wrote that LSU’s Les Miles and Georgia’s Mark Richt are the two coaches in the SEC [...]

  6. [...] as Auburn and Tennessee boosters quickly turned on Tommy Tuberville and Phillip Fulmer.Here’s what I wrote about the SEC’s hottest seats in a column last month.And here was my follow-up on [...]

  7. [...] The story was originally written on June 22nd.In it, I said the two hottest seats in the SEC — if their teams had bad years — would belong to two of the winningest coaches in the conference: Mark Richt and Les Miles.Immediately, I was questioned by the Georgia media and bombarded with emails from Georgia fans.  (LSU fans didn’t hammer me, because frankly, they knew that if Miles lost ground to Nick Saban again this year they WOULD put him on the hot seat.)Here’s what I wrote about Richt back in June:“Richt is now the dean of the SEC’s coaches.  Ask Fulmer and Tuberville how heavy that crown lies.  Richt has been called a “whiner” by fans and Georgia media folks this spring for his comments about UGA’s schedule.  You wouldn’t have heard that talk two or three years ago.  Dawg fans bought into the national title buzz last year (even though Georgia was picked second in the East by the SEC media) and they weren’t happy about the three-loss season that followed.  So while he might be the best ambassador in the SEC, if Richt has a really bad year this year, look out.”The response was swift.  Georgia fans said I was being ridiculous.  They love Richt.  He wouldn’t be on any hot seat.  Folks wouldn’t call for his head.  And I was out of my mind.Even Bill King of The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Junkyard Blawg took up the issue.  He referred to my post as a “remarkable proposition.”He provided a G-rated commentary on my commentary (unlike a lot of the emails I received) and concluded it as such: “We’re disappointed, but we’re not deluded.  Georgia fans know we have a good thing going with Mark Richt and that it’s only a matter of time before he brings the Bulldog Nation another national championship. … Richt on the hot seat?  Only in some strange alternative universe SEC.”Check your GPS units, folks, we’ve apparently shifted dimensions.After Tennessee’s 45-19 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday, there most certainly are fans clamoring for change and writers questioning the state of the program.  Literally. After Saturday’s game, Richt was asked by a reporter “Are you worried about the state of the program?”  Mark Bradley of The AJC wrote of the Dawgs’ 3-3 start: “This is not a program getting better, or even holding its ground.  This is a program in decline.”He then compares Richt to Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech.  “Georgia fans aren’t oblivious.  They see the difference being made by one forceful man at the North Avenue Trade School.  What they need now is to see their coach again make that sort of difference.  That’s assuming their coach still can.”Jeff Schultz, also of the AJC, wrote on Saturday that the problem at Georgia is “direction,” and that that traces back to Richt.  In his latest offering, he writes that Richt “is facing more doubt about the direction of the Georgia football program than he has since arriving in Athens in 2001.”And it’s not just the big city writers who are taking Richt to task.  David Ching of The Athens Banner-Herald wrote: “… it’s clear the Bulldogs are trending downwards and there is no sign things will improve in the near future.”Disappointed?  Deluded?  Or is Richt really on the hot seat?  Uh-huh.  Told you so.At the end of the season — if things don’t turn around — he will no doubt be forced to jettison defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.  Then Richt himself will face an important 2010 season with a brand new quarterback.But here’s the funny thing.  Richt’s team finished #2 in the nation just a couple of years ago.  They were a preseason #1 last year, but no one in the SEC outside of Georgia picked them to finish ahead of Florida in their own division.  They still won 10 games and won the SEC’s second-best bowl.And this year’s team might be just a tad better had Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno not up and left the program as juniors, mightn’t it?  By my count, the Bulldogs have played 14 freshmen and redshirt freshmen this year.  This is a pretty young football team.Georgia fans and media are simply overreacting to a .500 start to a season.  The Georgia program, from a distance, is not in decline.  If not for a defensive coordinator failing to make adjustments Saturday and a ridiculous celebration penalty last week, the Bulldogs would be 5-1 and Dawg fans would be howling for different reasons.Instead, their team is 3-3 and they’re mad at their coach.  Everyone from Sports Illustrated to ESPN has referenced the current level of anger towards Richt.As I predicted back in June.So here’s my offer.  I’d like for Mr. King of The AJC to tell me about the mood of the fanbase right now.  Does he now admit that Richt’s seat can get (and is already) warm?I like Mr. King’s writings.  Link to ‘em often.  So I hope he’ll take up this topic.  I want to see if he thinks Georgia fans have become delusional.  Or was I right to write what I did?I know a couple of radio hosts in Georgia who say Dawg fans are really upset.  So I hope I don’t get the “this is only a few loudmouths” spin.  We know folks are ticked.  I want to know how ticked.  And what led to it, if not the things posted here in June.  We’ll see what the response is.In the meantime, UGA fans need to take a step back and look at the big picture.  Richt has done more for the Georgia program than anyone in 50 years not named Dooley or Walker.  His team lost a pair of stars to the NFL early and that’s hurt his offense.  It’s not time to put Richt on the hot seat.Even though they already have. Join the forum discussion on this post – (1) Posts [...]

  8. [...] Wow.  All the talk and hand-wringing about Les Miles and Mark Richt today.It’s a shame no one could have predicted before the season that those two would wind up on the SEC’s hottest seats if they had bad years.Oh, wait. [...]

  9. [...] obvious hot seat candidates at the start of the season.  (Sidenote — Which makes the fact that I called this for you last summer all the more impressive, no?)4.  Despite early reports that former Ole Miss Rebel Tony Fein had [...]

  10. [...] program would protect him should things go poorly for a second year in a row.But I can’t. In fact, I was driving this bus last year.  On June 22, 2009, I wrote that if things went bad in Fall 2009, Miles and Richt would enter the [...]

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