Les Miles was in his 11th season at LSU when a three-game skid nearly ended his time in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers started off the 2015 season with seven straight wins before a late-season slide that lit the LSU coaching rumor mill afire. It wasn’t until about midway through the Tigers’ Nov. 28 game against Texas A&M that LSU athletic director Joe Alleva supposedly realized Miles might not be that bad after all.
You would think his .778 winning percentage and a 2007 BCS National Championship with the Tigers would be enough evidence of that, but the school was a few quarters away from sending a super attractive coach out into the free agent market.
That’s the reality we live in now.
A new crop of coaches enter the season on the hot seat with each new year. This season it’s Gus Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin, Derek Mason and even Miles to a lesser extent.
What about four years from now? Who will still be around? Who will be on the hot seat?
SEC Country takes a look at the possible state of each coach’s current tenure come 2020. For the sake of this story, we will operate on the following methodology:
- No longer around
- Win or be fired
- Hot seat rumors begin swirling
- Winning, but improvement needed
Nick Saban, Alabama: 5
Analysis: At this point, the only things that might derail Nick Saban at Alabama would be health concerns or age. He’s created a monster of a program that is up for national title consideration every season, and Saban continues to pull in top recruiting classes year in and year out. The reality is that Saban and the Crimson Tide will continue to rope in blue-chip prospects, and when you sign 10-15 per class every season, that translates onto the field. Expect Saban to still be winning football games and getting after Paul Finebaum in 2020.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas: 3
Analysis: Bielema has coached the Razorbacks to just an 18-20 record in his first three seasons in Fayetteville, but the team has improved in each season. Arkansas won eight games last year after just winning just three in Bielema’s inaugural season. The Bielema-coached team is never “sexy,” as the Razorbacks’ head man has said, but seems to always compete. I expect Arkansas to continue to be relevant in the SEC West, but it will be tough to catch Alabama or LSU. Bielema seems to be well-liked by the administration and players in Fayetteville, but not making the SEC Championship game at least once would have some people questioning his job security.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn: 1
Analysis: Malzahn may have a new home much sooner than 2020. The Tigers have taken a step back in each season since winning 12 games and appearing in the BCS national championship game in 2013. Auburn plays a grueling schedule in 2016, and could be in store for another “down” year coming off a seven-win season. Some believe Malzahn is on the hot seat this season, and too many mediocre seasons could catch up with Malzahn. The consistently tough SEC West doesn’t make life any easier. A switch to the SEC East may be Malzahn’s best shot at staying in Auburn. Well, that or finding another Cam Newton.
Les Miles, LSU: 5
Analysis: Yes, I explained how Miles almost lost his job last season and could be on the hot seat again in 2016. But Miles is one of the most creative minds in college football, and hasn’t signed a recruiting class ranked outside the nation’s top 10 since 2012. The Tigers put together the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class in 2015, bringing in two 5-star recruits and 14 4-star prospects. Should those signees stick around for their senior seasons, they would be around in 2020. The Tigers currently hold the No. 5-ranked class for 2017 and will continue adding to it. LSU has the talent, Miles has proven his coaching capabilities, and should the Tigers’ continue to evolve their offense, expect Miles to be competing for a national championship again in the near future.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: 2
Analysis: Dak Prescott is gone, and he won’t be easy to replace. The former Mississippi State quarterback was a huge part of the Bulldogs’ success over the past four seasons, spearheading a top-50 offense in each of his three seasons as a starter. For comparison, the Bulldogs only had a top-50 defense one time during that span (No. 18 in 2013). A player that looks like he can play linebacker with elite passing and running abilities doesn’t come around that often. I think Mullen will put together some formidable teams, but the promising run that the Bulldogs have been on can come to a halt without a play-maker at quarterback. A few seasons of .500 football could catch up to Mullen.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: 4
Analysis: Let me preface this explanation by saying everything is contingent upon how Freeze comes out of the Rebels’ ongoing NCAA investigation. If some damning details are revealed, Freeze could be out sooner than later. If not, expect the Ole Miss head man to keep winning a lot of football games. The Rebels brought in the nation’s top pro-style quarterback last season in Shea Patterson, and the 5-star recruit could be the SEC’s next star quarterback. Life is easier with an elite passer, and after a year of learning behind Chad Kelly, Patterson should be ready to take on the SEC. When you have an elite quarterback, other elite quarterback and skill position recruits will consider joining the program, and so on. It’s a domino effect that could take place in Oxford.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: 1
Analysis: Like Malzahn, Sumlin is not a bad coach, but he could be a victim of the brutal SEC West. In four seasons, Sumlin has coached the Aggies to a 36-16 record, most notably winning 11 games and the Cotton Bowl in 2012. Following that season, Texas A&M has won nine games in 2013, and eight the past two seasons. Their recruiting classes have basically followed suit: No. 9 in 2013, No. 5 in 2014, No. 11 in 2015 and No. 17 last year. There was a lot of excitement around the Aggies following Johnny Manziel’s takeover of college football, but there’s no more Johnny Football and not enough wins. Unless someone brings that swagger back to College Station, Sumlin could be elsewhere in 2020… or 2017, for that matter.
Jim McElwain, Florida: 4
Analysis: The brand and history of Florida is enough to bring in top recruiting classes each season. Even after the Gators went 4-8 in 2013 under then-head coach Will Muschamp, Florida pulled in the nation’s No. 9 recruiting class the following year, highlighted by 5-star cornerback Jalen Tabor. McElwain won the SEC East last season, which essentially guarantees him at least three more years in Gainesville. The Gators brought in the nation’s No. 13 recruiting class in 2016 in McElwain’s first full recruiting cycle. Should he keep the Gators relevant, McElwain will be living comfortably in the job security department come 2020.
Kirby Smart, Georgia: 5
Analysis: Whenever our Georgia recruiting expert, Jeff Sentell, interviews a Bulldogs target you’ll notice a trend: Recruits love Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs currently hold the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class, and also possess a freshman quarterback by the name of Jacob Eason. The future seems bright for the former 5-star quarterback, and his presence in Athens already seems to be having an effect. Of course, Smart has never been a head coach, so a lot remains to be seen. But there should be no lack of talent in Athens.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky: 1
Analysis: Stoops is in a tough position. He’s brought the Wildcats back to relevance after consecutive two-win seasons in 2012-13, but hasn’t been able to get Kentucky to a bowl game in his first three seasons. If he finally gets the Wildcats to a bowl, then expectations become even larger. A bowl isn’t enough. Then you are expected to win a bowl, then win eight, nine, 10 games. I don’t think Kentucky can recruit well enough under Stoops to keep up with those expectations if they arise, and if those expectations never come to fruition, Stoops won’t stick around long enough to see them.
Barry Odom, Missouri: 3
Analysis: Odom is entering his first season at Missouri, which guarantees him some time to further establish his footprint on the Tigers’ program. If they don’t improve upon 2015’s 5-7 record next year or the year after, there’s no need to panic. It’s a young coach getting his feel for the territory. But if Missouri is still struggling in three years, than expect the hot seat talk to start flying. Drew Lock is a young quarterback who will have benefited from getting thrown into the fire last season, but I don’t know that he’s enough to stave off an ever-relevant Tennessee, an improved Florida and a new-look Georgia.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina: 3
Analysis: Muschamp may be on a tighter leash than Odom given the fact that he’s in his second go-around as a head coach. He’s created some buzz around the Gamecocks’ program, but that’s going to need to translate onto the field. Muschamp is considering both freshmen Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley as potential starters in 2016, which spells well for the future at the position. Both were highly-recruited prospects, and if either proves to be a capable starter, they could lure some in-state talent away from Clemson. Regardless of quarterback play, Muschamp has his hands full with a roster that wasn’t full of proven talent in 2015.
Butch Jones, Tennessee: 3
Analysis: This is Butch Jones’ year. Should the Vols fail to live up to expectations in 2016, you may even here is name in the hot seat consideration next season. Expectations are high for Tennessee, and Joshua Dobbs, Cameron Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are all in their last years of college eligibility. Running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara will also be eligible for the NFL draft. That’s a lot of pieces to replace, and if Jones doesn’t win the SEC East this season, he’ll be left with a much less experienced squad heading into 2017. Tennessee fans were unhappy with Jones after a few close losses against Oklahoma and Florida last season, and if he fails to deliver in 2016, things will only get worse moving forward.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: 1
Analysis: Mason has significantly improved the Commodores’ defense last season, but the offense struggled to do anything in the passing game. Vanderbilt was improved in 2015. It won four games as opposed to three in Mason’s first year, but at some point those improvements just aren’t enough. Mason has two or three years of mediocre play left in the tank before his time in Nashville runs out.