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Under Pressure: The 15 SEC Figures With The Most To Worry About In 2011-12

Some find their jobs in jeopardy right now.  Some are under scrutiny from by NCAA investigators.  Some don’t have the monetary support of their fanbase.  And some simply aren’t winning enough.

They’re the 15 SEC figures who are feeling the most pressure.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game between Arkansas and Ole Miss, we realized that both coaches in that game could be out of the SEC by the time next season tips off.  Who’s on the hotter seat — John Pelphrey or Andy Kennedy?  It could depend on the outcome in Oxford this weekend.

As we rolled that though around, we began to make a list of all the SEC figures who are currently under the most pressure — from fans, bosses or the NCAA — heading into 2011-2012.  Once the list hit about six people, we realized that this might make for an interesting read.  (Or, if nothing else, something for people to yell at us about.)

So here’s our list of the 15 people in the SEC who are feeling the most pressure.  We’re not saying we would call for these folks’ heads, we’re just ranking those people we feel are under the most scrutiny right now.  Here goes:

1 & 2.  John Pelphrey and Andy Kennedy

The Arkansas basketball program figures to lose millions of dollars this year due to unsold tickets (and concessions and souvenirs and parking spots, etc).  One Hog fan has even taken out an ad in the biggest paper in the state calling for action.  Not good for Pelphrey.  Further south, a general malaise has fallen over the Ole Miss program.  Kennedy is the first Rebel coach since the 1920s to post five consecutive winning seasons, but he’s yet to reach the NCAA Tournament.  The two match up on Saturday and it’s quite possible their postgame handshake will be the last time the two meet as SEC coaches.

3.  Bruce Pearl

Rumor has it that Pearl feels good about his chances of remaining as Tennessee’s head coach.  We’re not sure why.  Pearl will face an unethical conduct charge when he goes before the NCAA in June.  Of the last 20 people to be hit with that charge, 19 were given at least a two-year “show cause” ban (the other had already left the college sports biz).  Those bans were handed out to people who had already lost their jobs.  What might the NCAA drop on Pearl who was suspended and docked in pay… but who kept his job?

4.  Mike Hamilton

Tennessee’s athletic director is probably tied to Pearl at the hip.  If the Vols’ basketball coach is suspended for multiple seasons — forcing the school to fire him and start from scratch — Hamilton’s time in Knoxville could be up.  And don’t forget, the UT football program will also go before the NCAA facing allegations of two major violations in football.  Those violations came under the watch of Lane Kiffin, another Hamilton hire.

5.  Mark Richt

Georgia’s football coach did himself a huge favor by locking up a “Dream Team” recruiting class of in-state all-stars last month.  But come September, Dawg fans will want to see results.  UGA’s record has declined in each of the last three years bottoming out with a losing record last season.  If Richt doesn’t get off to a good start against Boise State and South Carolina, Dawg fans will start to howl.

6.  Rick Stansbury

Stansbury has had some real successes in Starkville.  And it looks like his team is once again peaking just in time for the SEC Tournament.  But State fans are growing weary of disappointing regular season finishes.  The negative headlines — suspensions, fistfights, improper tweeting — of this past season haven’t helped assuage disappointment over a team that was picked to win the West falling to just 16-13 overall.  Throw in the Renardo Sidney gamble and Stansbury’s used up a lot of goodwill in the past 18 months.

7 & 8.  Darrin Horn and Trent Johnson

Both are third-year coaches.  Both have struggled since strong debut seasons.  Both have the vocal backing of their athletic directors.  But in Year 4 next season, the basketball coaches at South Carolina and LSU had better start giving fans reason for hope.

9.  Houston Nutt

Welcome to life in the SEC.  Nutt took the Rebels to back-to-back New Year’s Day bowls in his first two years — the first time that had happened in 50 years, as the coach passionately pointed out  — but fans weren’t pleased with a 4-8 backslide in 2010.  UM’s program has also had to deal with the media backlash created by signing 37 players two years ago and by bringing in troubled gun-for-hire Jeremiah Masoli last season.  Toss in two-straight Egg Bowl losses to trash talkin’ Dan Mullen and it’s easy to see why Nutt needs to pocket more victories in 2011.

10.  Joker Phillips

Phillips wasn’t a popular hire when he landed the UK job upon Rich Brooks’ retirement.  Many Cat fans wanted their school to conduct a national search, feeling that Brooks had elevated the program to a point where UK might be able to lure in a better “name” coach.  Instead, Phillips took over and led the Wildcats to their first losing season since 2005 (thanks to a loss in the Something-or-Other Bowl in Birmingham).  Phillips needs to win next year — and stay a step ahead of Charlie Strong at Louisville — or else the fanbase could turn en masse.

11.  Gene Chizik

Why is Chizik on this list?  The man just won Coach of the Year honors to go along with a little something called the BCS championship.  True enough.  But he’s also the captain of a ship that NCAA investigators are currently examining.  That’s never a good thing because there’s no telling what NCAA snoops will find once they decide to start snooping.  Upping the pressure on Chizik are several media outlets that have clearly targeted his program.

12.  Les Miles

LSU recorded another 11-win season and signed another Top 10 recruiting class in the past six months.  Yet Miles sill went from the guy who has to go (after a bungling win over Tennessee) to the guy who must be kept (when Michigan came calling) in that same time span.  Happens every fall.  And it’ll likely happen again this autumn, too.  Miles will make a crazy move, LSU will lose a game it shouldn’t, fans will point to all Miles’ previous screw-ups… and then he’ll work himself off the hotseat with a strong finish.  Mark it down.

13.  Mitch Barnhart

Barnhart isn’t going anywhere.  He just landed a long extension and a hefty pay raise from Kentucky’s outgoing president.  But UK’s AD is far from the most popular guy in Lexington.  And Lee Todd’s decision to extend him has been met with cat calls from Big Blue fans and members of the school’s board of trustees alike.  He’s not in danger of being fired, but Barnhart’s feeling some pressure to succeed.

14.  Jeremy Foley

Why is Florida’s uber-successful athletic director on this list?  Because he went out on a limb — again — to hire a first-time head coach for one of the crown jewel jobs in all of college sports.  If Will Muschamp struggles past his first year, you won’t be able to count how many times he’ll be mentioned in the same breath with Ron Zook.  If Muschamp doesn’t work out, Foley will be batting 1 for 3 on football hires and that’ll be enough to up the pressure in Gainesville.

15.  Mike Slive

The SEC’s commissioner is a shrewd businessman.  His league has never been more profitable or successful.  But there are some dark clouds gathering over the Southeastern Conference these days.  Rival schools are turning each other in for rule violations and then leaking that info to the press — which is a big no-no for Slive.  Fan passion has in a few recent cases crossed the line from mad-fun to mad-ugly.  The NCAA has for one reason or another had dealings with the programs at Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee in the past 24 months.  And the league has taken one black eye (Cam Newton) after another (Pearl) in just the past few weeks.  Slive has to realize that his job isn’t getting any easier.

(Sidenote — You should know by now that if we have the chance to toss in an embarrassingly bad music video from days gone by… we’ll do it.)




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