Win or else! It’s a sentiment that’s pretty familiar to a lot of SEC coaches. Each year brings with it the pressure to compete for championships, but in some years that pressure will be a little more intense than others.
Here are the SEC coaches that need great seasons the most in 2016:
Butch Jones — Tennessee
It would seem the work of rebuilding Tennessee is over, and that’s saying something. Former coach Derek Dooley treated the program the way a traveling salesman treats a rental car. The Vols were so beaten up that Tennessee fans were willing to extend a rare commodity to Dooley’s successor — patience.
Hopefully for Jones’ sake, he’s aware that patience has expired. Tennessee fans want to win the SEC East in 2016 — at least.
What remains to be seen though is whether Jones can pair better coaching decisions and clock management with the impressive string of recruiting classes he’s put together since taking over the Vols in 2013.
Gus Malzahn — Auburn
It’s hard to believe Auburn won the SEC as recently as 2013. That seems like such a long time ago, because in the two seasons since then the Tigers have lost 11 games. What’s worse is Malzahn has had to replace an assistant coach eight times during that same span. Auburn has rather suddenly become more unstable than Kanye West’s Twitter feed.
It’s time for Malzahn to fix this, but the 2016 schedule does him no favors. In addition to the typical games against the rugged SEC West and UGA from the East, Auburn also opens the year in a non-conference showdown with last year’s national runner-up, Clemson.
Les Miles — LSU
Sometimes, when a person manages to avoid a terrible fate at the last moment, it’s referred to as “getting a call from the governor.” That’s a great way to describe what happened to Miles at the end of last season at LSU. He somehow managed to keep his job after most everyone had become convinced he would be fired.
However, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards might actually be the last person Miles wants to speak with at the moment after Edwards basically threatened a shutdown of LSU football because of the state’s budget crisis.
Of course, if Miles is unsuccessful at closing the gap with Alabama in the SEC, then the typical Louisiana resident’s only fiscal concern will be how to fund Miles’ remaining buyout.