Which SEC coach is on the hottest seat entering the 2016 season?
It depends on who you ask.
ESPN analysts Peter Burns and Booger McFarland, who contribute to the SEC Network and host a show on ESPN Radio, each revealed their top five SEC coaches feeling the most pressure via Twitter on Wednesday.
Here’s a look at what each of them came up with:
Ranking pressure on SEC coaches in ‘16
1) Kevin Sumlin
2) Butch Jones
3) Les Miles
4) Gus Malzahn
5) Kirby Smart
What’s your list @SECbooger
— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) June 1, 2016
5 Smart https://t.co/R0bROfMOx1
— Booger (@SECbooger) June 1, 2016
Let’s start the analysis of these lists with this caveat: Pressure does not necessary mean a coach will be fired at the end of the season if things don’t go well.
The fact that first-year coach Kirby Smart shows up on both lists doesn’t mean he’s in any danger of losing his job after the 2016 season, but it does speak to the lofty expectations of the Georgia fan base. The pressure to win immediately in Athens is very real.
With a No. 1 ranking on one and the No. 2 spot on the other, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin sticks out as the SEC coach that feels the most pressure entering 2016. In this case, the chance that Sumlin could be fired after a disappointing 2016 season is actually quite high.
With major changes to his coaching staff and a new look at quarterback following a flurry of transfers (both in and out of the program), it’s understood that the blame for anything less than a strong season falls squarely on the head coach in College Station this time around.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones is feeling the pressure of a fan base that is hungry for a special season and firmly believes the Vols should win the SEC East in 2016. With playmakers littered throughout the lineup on both sides of the ball, the expectations are sky high in Knoxville. If Jones misses out on breaking losing streaks to Alabama and Florida, while missing a trip to the SEC championship game in the process, we could see the tone of the administration’s opinion of Jones’ leadership change.
That’s not even touching the legal issues that could continue to linger for the program.
Les Miles’ pressure was very publicly defined during the latter part of the 2015 season. It’s understood that the former national championship winner needs to win big with Leonard Fournette in 2016. The Mad Hatter has a wonderful bag of tricks, but even he might not be able to escape a season of eight wins or less.
Finally, we get to Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. To some, his position at No. 4 on each of these lists may come as a surprise. After all, he took a team that was picked by many college football experts to win the SEC in 2015 and led them to a six-win regular season. The Tigers coach needs to find a quarterback to run his offense, and needs some highly touted recruits to develop quickly on the defensive side of the ball.
After all, football fans in the state of Alabama aren’t exactly known for their patience.