There has been plenty of coaching turnover in the SEC in 2015, but it could have been worse.
Three new coaches will make their debuts in 2016, but the number of changes was nearly four before LSU decided to keep Les Miles. There was also a report that Kevin Sumlin could be in trouble at Texas A&M — one that was quickly refuted and dismissed by high-ranking school officials.
Still, given the incredible amount of resources spent in the SEC, expectations are high everywhere and unsustainably so at many outposts. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports wrote that half of the SEC’s coaches are going to enter 2016 on the proverbial “hot seat.”
But let’s be honest. This is the SEC, the most talented and competitive (and some outsiders would say crazy) conference in the land. Every coach is on the hot seat every season in the SEC, to some extent.
Even Nick Saban, winner of three national titles at Alabama and subject of a statue outside the stadium he coaches in, would not likely survive an 0-12 season for the Crimson Tide. Yes, it is preposterous to suggest a winless 2016 for Alabama, but the point is every coach could be in danger if things go really wrong.
So with that in mind, instead of naming the SEC coaches on the hot seat for next season, let’s rank the job security of all 14, from the most secure (hint: the guy with the statue) to the least (hint: the guy who didn’t know he would be coaching in 2016 when the final game in 2015 ended).
14. Nick Saban, Alabama
NCAA career: 189-60-1
At Alabama: 98-18 (9 seasons)
Saban has recruited so well that anything worse than 9-3 would seem implausible in any season. It’s far more likely that he would leave on his own at some point in the coming seasons, even if he said he doesn’t foresee such an outcome (link here).
13. Jim McElwain, Florida
NCAA career: 32-19
At Florida: 10-3 (1 season)
McElwain did an incredible job in his first season, but let’s not forget that Will Muschamp won 11 games in his second season. It went sideways in a hurry after that for “Coach Boom” and it is possible that McElwain encounters some of the same problems at the quarterback position that Muschamp did. Jeff Driskel was a huge recruit who might have been pressed into duty too early. Even if the Gators slump in 2016, it would likely be 2017 before any sort of pressure starts to mount for McElwain.
12. Barry Odom, Missouri
NCAA career: 0-0
At Missouri: 0-0
There’s an argument to put Odom even higher on this list. He’s got all kinds of cache at Missouri, and almost any sort of on-field problems that could occur in 2016 would almost certainly be explained away by the coaching transition and losing a few recruits. It would take a complete disaster for Odom to feel any heat next year, and that seems very unlikely.
11. Kirby Smart, UGA
NCAA career: 0-0
At UGA: 0-0
The expectations are going to be incredibly high for Smart … eventually. He’s likely to start a true freshman quarterback in his first season, and even something like a 4-8 or 5-7 season would likely be excused because of that, or pinned on Mark Richt for “letting the program slip” in his final years. That said, if Smart doesn’t outperform Richt’s typical seasons by 2017 or 2018, his seat will get warm quickly.
10. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
NCAA career: 28-21
At South Carolina: 0-0
Take two for Muschamp in the SEC isn’t likely to start as well as it did for him at Florida. If he wins 11 games in 2016, Saban won’t be the only active coach with a statue in 2017. The Gamecocks are going to be expected to lose plenty in 2016, but as long as Muschamp recruits well, he’ll be given time to turn around what is seen as a fading program. He has less security than the other two new coaches because South Carolina received a lot more criticism for his hire, and something like a 2-10 start to his tenure will have critics lining up to question the hire again.
9. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
NCAA career: 43-20
At Ole Miss: 33-18 (4 seasons)
Freeze has done an incredible job, lifting the Rebels to heights only previously reached when a member of the Manning family was the starting quarterback. Back-to-back high-profile bowl games at Ole Miss is amazing, but the success and his recruiting success have also raised expectations a great deal.
However, the Rebels got crushed in said huge bowl game last year, and a repeat performance this year might cause some unrest. Ole Miss has a great recruiting class coming in, but the previous all-world group is going to be decimated by early entries in the NFL draft. A step backwards next year, even if sensible people expect it, would definitely increase the pressure on Freeze.
8. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
NCAA career: 54-35
At Mississippi State: 54-35 (7 seasons)
Like Freeze, Mullen has both been a fantastic hire and simultaneously raised expectations to an all-time high. There are a couple reasons why Mullen has slightly less job security than Freeze at the moment. One, Freeze is expected to have Chad Kelly back in 2016 with all-world recruit Shea Patterson on campus and developing for 2017 and beyond. Mullen is losing the best quarterback in school history.
His name also ended up in the coaching carousel. Mullen was reportedly a candidate for at least four job openings (Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Maryland), and there was speculation from respected reporters that Mullen was actively looking for a new job. If the Bulldogs take a step or two backwards in 2016 without Dak Prescott, there might be a few fans in Starkville who don’t forget that.
7. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
NCAA career: 7-17
At Vanderbilt: 7-17
Mason’s first season was a disaster, but like many first-year coaches some of the troubles were, correctly or not, pinned on the previous coach. The second season was marginally better, mostly because of a great defense (and a huge step backwards by South Carolina).
If the Commodores are terrible on offense again in 2016, a second 0-8 mark in conference play in three years wouldn’t be out of the question. Mason would probably not be back for a fourth season if that happens.
6. Butch Jones, Tennessee
NCAA career: 70-44
At Tennessee: 20-17
Jones just crafted the best season at Tennessee in nearly a decade, so how could he be under pressure in 2016? For starters, the Vols’ best performances in 2015 were probably a pair of close losses to Alabama and Oklahoma. They took advantage of a substandard SEC East to get to 8-4. Also, he’s likely to be the highest-paid coach in the division in 2016, and he’s easily got the best quarterback among those teams.
He is 1-9 against Power Five teams outside the SEC East in the past three years (having beaten a listless Iowa team in Tennessee’s bowl game last season), and it is time to turn the talent he’s accumulated into better results. Another season of almosts and what-ifs (and losses to say, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama and Florida) could possibly leave the Vols looking for a new direction.
5. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
NCAA career: 85-44
At Arkansas: 17-20 (3 seasons)
Bielema’s teams have improved greatly during the season in 2014 and 2015, which is a testament to his ability. That said, the Razorbacks lost to Toledo and Texas Tech and are 14-11 in the past two seasons. They’re also going to lose a great quarterback and possibly more talent at the skill positions.
It’s the brutal reality of living in the SEC West that there aren’t enough wins to go around to satisfy the seven athletic directors and booster clubs. All seven coaches make at least $4 million per season, and just winning seven or eight games every year will eventually lead to a coaching change.
4. Guz Malzahn, Auburn
NCAA career: 35-26
At Auburn: 26-13 (3 seasons)
Malzahn should have bundles of job security, given his role as offensive coordinator with the national title-winning team in 2010 and then his triumphant return as head coach in 2013, which culminated in a trip to the national title game. How could Malzahn possibly be this high (or low) on this list?
Well, Auburn fired the head coach of that title winning-team (Gene Chizik) two years later to replace him with Malzahn. The Tigers have also regressed each of Malzahn’s three years. If the offense is a mess again in 2016, and the Tigers limp to six wins again (or even seven, depending on the nature/quality of the losses), Malzahn could be gone.
3. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
NCAA career: 12-24
At Kentucky: 12-24 (3 seasons)
Stoops has recruited better than his predecessors. The Wildcats have been competitive at times against the best teams in the SEC. He’s also not reached a bowl game, and hasn’t beaten anyone in the SEC not named Vanderbilt, South Carolina or Missouri (the 2015 version, not the great 2013-14 teams).
If Stoops doesn’t reach a bowl game in 2016, the Wildcats are probably going to be ready to look elsewhere. Going into a must-win season with a young quarterback and a third offensive coordinator in four years is not ideal, but that’s what Stoops will be doing.
2. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
NCAA career: 71-32
At Texas A&M: 36-15 (4 seasons)
There is only one coach in the SEC who makes more money than Sumlin, and he’s won four national titles, including three of the past six. There are three other schools in the SEC that have won at least one national title in the past 10 years that pay their coaches less than Sumlin. So to say the expectations are high at Texas A&M would be a comical understatement.
The post-Johnny Manziel era also has not gone as planned. Three starting quarterbacks have transferred since April. Even counting Johnny Football’s second season in 2013, the Aggies are 11-13 in SEC play in the past three years. Another year of being a middle-of-the-pack SEC West team would likely be Sumlin’s last.
1. Les Miles, LSU
NCAA career: 138-53
At LSU: 111-32
Miles survived at the end of the regular season when so many pundits were predicting his end, but he’s obviously not out of trouble yet. LSU lost its high-profile quarterback commit to Florida, and Brandon Harris is likely to be back for another season at the helm. Miles also, to this point, has shown no interest in replacing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron or drastically altering an offensive philosophy that many fans and boosters feel is outdated.
The Tigers are going to be incredibly talented in 2016, but there could continue to be quarterback issues. Anything short of 10 or 11 wins and a New Year’s Six bowl game next season could mean it really is the end at LSU for the Mad Hatter.