i rest my case. what kind of idiot would hire a sub .500 coach from the bush leagues and give him a 5-6 million dollar buyout?
Will he or won’t he?
Will a coach survive this fall and live to coach again at the same school next year… or will he be ousted? For some coaches, there’s no debate. For many there could be more debate than you might think.
Each year, when we look at the hottest seats in the SEC, we try to create a baseline from which all coaches can be judged. For the past few years, that’s been a 5-7 record in the regular season. In 2008, two of the SEC’s best coaches over the long careers lost their jobs following surprisingly disappointing 5-7 campaigns: Tommy Tuberville at Auburn and Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee.
Last season, Mark Richt entered the year with a Bunsen burner beneath his chair because he’d finished 2010 with a 6-7 record. But there’s still a big difference between 6-7 — losing #7 in a bowl game — and finishing under .500 in the regular season.
So once again, we’re going to focus in on what a 5-7 season would likely mean for each coach in the Southeastern Conference this year. And we believe there are four categories — as you’ll see by clicking to read more — that the league’s 14 coaches would fall into based upon that specific final record.
Derek Dooley, Tennessee – The Vol head coach inherited an absolute mess in Knoxville thanks to the firing of Fulmer and the quick in-and-out stop of Lane Kiffin. Two coaching changes in two years left the cupboard awfully bare at UT. And to be honest, Dooley probably deserves a fourth year to show his abilities regardless of what happens this season. But that’s just not going to happen. If Dooley wins eight games, he’ll likely return. If he wins seven games — finishing hot, showing improvement, recruiting well — he still might return. But a 5-7 record? No chance. He’d be a goner. Orange pants and all.
Joker Phillips, Kentucky – Phillips took over a Kentucky program that had been on a bit of an upswing under Rich Brooks (with Phillips serving on his staff). In hindsight, it’s possible that Brooks saw what was coming down the pike and simply got while the getting was good. Whether that was the case or not, UK fans have lost interest in the program and the coach himself challenged them last week by suggesting Wildcat backers were either “with us or against us.” Even if AD Mitch Barnhart wanted to give Phillips another year, that kind of remark might make it impossible to do so. The Cats are likely headed toward a 4- or 5-win campaign. If that’s the case and 5-7 is the final tally, it’d take a miracle to save Phillips. And we don’t believe in miracles. (Sorry, Al Michaels.)
Mark Richt, Georgia — This is going to be controversial, but like Tuberville and Fulmer, Richt’s been in one place for an awfully long time and that’s a very dangerous thing in this day and age. He needed a good year last year to get a contract extension and save his hide, but the extension he got offered him no raise, only more incentives. Sure his buyout would drop after 2013, but with the expectations being placed on UGA this year, it’s hard to imagine the Dawgs’ biggest boosters and donors allowing Richt to continue on as head coach if he recorded his second losing season in three years. Call it the Fulmer Syndrome. A losing season after about 10 years on the job gives folks the impression that you’re slipping. A second losing season — when expectations have just started to rise again — will finish you off. It may seem crazy, but if Richt goes 5-7 in Athens this year, we think he’ll be ousted. Which would be a shame considering he’s the SEC’s single best ambassador.
John L. Smith, Arkansas – The most obvious name on the list. As an interim who’s taking over a program ranked in or near the Top 10 in nearly every poll, Smith either needs to win big — meaning really big — to earn the full-time UA gig or he’ll be shown the door and thanked for his efforts at season’s end. A 5-7 record would have him leaving Fayetteville like Homer Stokes in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (On a rail.)
ON THE HOT SEAT
Gene Chizik, Auburn – If the Tigers backslide all the way to 5-7 this season, there will be some who’ll call for the coach’s noggin ASAP. You can put that in the bank (just not Bobby Lowder’s bank). Especially with this pattern continuing to play out on the Plains: Sign great talent… watch great talent get into trouble… wave goodbye to great talent. Chizik has bookended one spectacular, Cam Newton-led BCS Championship season with a pair of five-lossers. If he falls to 5-7 this year, he’d head into 2013 on a very, very hot seat.
Les Miles, LSU – First, there’s no way to picture LSU finishing 5-7 this season. But that’s our benchmark. So if it did happen, can you imagine the fury unleashed by the Bayou crazies? Miles’ popularity has risen and fallen over the years despite a tremendous run of success. He did his best work last year, but nearly all of the positives of an SEC Championship season were negated by his team’s woeful showing in the BCS title game against Alabama and — worst of all — ex-LSU coach Nick Saban. Forget the size of his buyout. If Miles somehow caved to a 5-7 record this year, the money men in Baton Rouge would make sure his seat was warm entering 2013.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State – When Mullen arrived in Starkville he quickly raised expectations. That’s a good thing. It’s also a bad thing. Bulldog fans have bought into the program. They want to see MSU take another step forward. Unfortunately, State plays in the deadly SEC West and an ongoing NCAA investigation could further complicate matters. (Perhaps some Bulldog fans “bought” into the program a little too much.) With stadium expansion and renovation on the way, Mullen would survive a 5-7 season, barring major NCAA issues. He’d have to make significant progress in 2013 to keep his job, though.
Will Muschamp, Florida – Fair? No. But that’s the state of coaching in 2012 and that’s certainly the pressure that goes along with taking the job in Gainesville. Forget what Urban Meyer left behind, if Muschamp opens his Gator tenure with a 7-6 season followed by a 5-7 season, he’d be on a very short leash going into his third year. Jeremy Foley pulled the plug on Ron Zook after three seasons. If UF collapses to 5-7 this season, Muschamp would find himself in the Zook Zone needing to win big in Year Three. Or else.
GETTING SOME PATIENCE
James Franklin, Vanderbilt – Face it, we’re still talking about Vandy. Franklin’s pushed all the right buttons in his short time in Nashville, but the expectations are still fairly low. A 5-7 season might hurt Commodore recruiting a bit, but it wouldn’t hurt Franklin’s job status one iota.
Gary Pinkel, Missouri — Pinkel has rebuilt Missouri football. Some might even say he’s plain ol’ built Mizzou football. A DUI arrest last season didn’t help his status and a 5-7 season would hurt, but the Tigers are heading into a brand new, tougher conference. He’d have some built in excuses for a toe-stubbing start. Someday his name will be on the stadium or the field at Missouri. A 5-7 season wouldn’t end Pinkel’s reign in Columbia.
Nick Saban, Alabama – If this year’s Bama team somehow managed to bungle its way to a 5-7 record, you’d have some in the football-mad Tide nation yelp for Saban’s scalp. Then you’d have the other 90% of the fanbase who’d continue to build golden idols in his honor. (Golden Flake idols, perhaps.) Saban could go 5-7 and still not enter 2013 on a hot seat. He’s safe and sound. As he should be. He’s the best in the biz.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina – If South Carolina finished 5-7 in 2012, there’d be a greater chance of a downtrodden Spurrier drowning himself in the Congaree River than of new AD Ray Tanner giving him the heave-ho. And after completely rehabbing the reputation of Gamecock football, it’s doubtful Spurrier would even enter 2013 on a warm chair. Oh, sure, some would call for his dismissal, but most Cock fans — who have proven to be among the most loyal in college sports over the years — would still give the Ol’ Ball Coach some leeway.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M – He’s a first-year coach with a first-year starting quarterback in his first year in the toughest division of the toughest conference in the country. And thanks to a hurricane-forced postponement of his team’s opener, Sumlin will have to navigate a schedule that will force his team to play 12 consecutive weeks of football. There would be no worries with a 5-7 season in College Station this season. This season.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss – Dire is the situation when an SEC coach can go 5-7 and actually earn some praise. We think that’s exactly what would happen with Freeze in Oxford if he went 5-7 this year. The Rebel program is a mess and most UM fans admit it. The 2012 season has all the makings of a two- or three-win campaign. If Freeze can get the Rebs to within a game of bowl eligibility, he’d be a hero in his first season. And rightly so.