If you were an SEC coach on a hot or warming seat on Saturday… it was not the best day for you. Bad losses, losses and near losses were the order of the day and fan reaction hasn’t been great at Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee as a result.
Gene Chizik and his Tigers got a much, much needed win, but it came in overtime against Louisiana-Monroe. And Auburn didn’t lose their Heisman-candidate quarterback against the Warhawks as Arkansas had a week earlier. In other words, Auburn’s near-loss at home to ULM didn’t come with a caveat. Matter of fact, in hindsight how important was a final-play-of-the-first-half 33-yard prayer of a pass for a touchdown? If Chizik wanted to get all of the AU faithful believing again, Saturday’s contest likely failed to do the trick. The Tigers don’t seem to be making great strides from week to week, either. Yes, there was some improvement on Saturday, but how much of that can be attributed to the opponent? Auburn faces LSU next. That Louisiana-based squad figures to be a just a few notches better than the bunch from Monroe. It could be another rough week for Mister Chizik.
Derek Dooley at Tennessee was a victim of hype. Long-suffering Tennessee fans who’d seen their team lose 20 of 26 games against ranked foes dating back to 2005 were bolstered by UT’s first national ranking since preseason 2008 and Florida’s spotty play in two games against Bowling Green and Texas A&M. ESPN’s “College GameDay” rolled into Knoxville. Kirk Herbstreit and company said the Vols were trying to become relevant again, but ESPN’s mere presence signaled to many a UT supporter that the team was back already. During the week, Knoxville’s police department even warned fans not to rush the field if UT won. Well, Tennessee didn’t win. In fact, they got romped in the second half by the Gators just as they have so many times over the last eight years. When you make Frankie Hammond look like Percy Harvin, you’ve got issues on defense. And the only thing worse than disappointing people hoping for a victory is disappointing people expecting a victory. From this vantage point, Dooley’s Vols still look to be the 7-5, 8-4 type squad that most projected before the season. But hopes had gotten so high so fast on Rocky Top that Saturday’s loss has turned the heat on UT’s coach all the way back up to 11. (Yeah, I’m a “This is Spinal Tap” fan.)
Joker Phillips has only one hope — that AD Mitch Barnhart is determined to stand by him in the same way that he stood by Rich Brooks early in his tenure. Oh, sure, Phillips and his Wildcats could possibly turn things around this season, but if you’ve watched UK play… you’re not betting on that one this morning. Thus, the one real hope for Phillips. Last year, Kentucky won a hard-fought game over Western Kentucky in Nashville. This year, the Hilltoppers went right into Lexington and beat the Cats in overtime on their own field in front of those fans who took time away from reading basketball recruiting websites to show up. Well, those folks would have been better off sticking to the recruiting sites. Since Saturday night you can be sure more than one Wildcast booster has since thought to himself: “Why don’t we just see if we can swap staffs with WKU?” Just a horrible, horrible turn of events in the Bluegrass State on Saturday.
And finally we come to John L. Smith. Last week we wrote that after an upset loss at home to ULM, the Razorbacks might come apart at the seams with a bad performance at Alabama. A 52-0 nothing loss qualifies as a pretty bad performance. After the game, quarterback Tyler Wilson — who did not play — pointed fingers at his teammates and suggested that some of them had quit. If you want to know what “seam-coming-aparting” looks like… that’s it. Now a team that had hopes of somehow winning the SEC and/or BCS titles has little to play for but respect. Good luck to the UA staff in getting all their Hogs snorting in the same direction with that as the main goal. Smith is a lame-duck goner. His assistants know the score, too. How long before the players start eyeing their pro careers or next season? Smith’s is a sad situation. On one hand, he up and left his alma mater Weber State before ever coaching a game in order to return to Fayetteville. But we now know he had serious financial issues going on behind the scenes — he’s since filed for bankruptcy — and there’s no telling how much that and other family issues drove his decision to grab one last big UA paycheck. Also, he inherited Bobby Petrino’s coordinators. Paul Petrino on offense hasn’t been able to get anything out of Arkansas’ backup QBs and Paul Haynes hasn’t had much if any impact on the Razobacks’ defense. Whether it’s karma — I bet Weber State fans think so — or just a series of bad breaks (and one bad concussion to his best player), Smith is clearly walking the “The Green Mile” at this point. If he can keep his team from doing the same, he’ll have done a nice piece of work on that front.
It was an unhappy weekend for SEC coaches whose fans were already unhappy with them.