Listen up, SEC coaches. Phil Steele has put five of you on notice.
The well-respected college football analyst recently wrote an ESPN Insider article on the 13 coaches who need to be in “must-win mode” for the 2017 season. Five SEC coaches made the list. Steele did not rank the likelihood of a firing for each coach, instead choosing to list his choices for the college football hot seat in alphabetical order.
Here’s a look at his choices for the SEC:
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Steele praises Bielema for a solid job in producing an 8-8 record during his last 16 SEC games after a 2-14 start to conference play during his tenure in Fayetteville. But citing the pressure to win generated by SEC West foe Alabama, Steele says that the Razorbacks need to qualify for a bowl game to keep Bielema on the job in 2018.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
This one is hardly a surprise. Steele cites the bowl ban, disappointing 5-7 record in 2016 and looming potential for more punishment from the NCAA investigation for reasons Freeze should be watching his back in Oxford if things go south this fall.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Jones is another coach on the list that Steele claims has done a “solid job” after taking over a program that went three season without a winning record under Derek Dooley. After all, Jones has produced back-to-back nine-win seasons in Knoxville. But there’s that dreaded topic of dropping the SEC East in a down year for the division, even after beating Georgia and Florida head-to-head. Steele points to a 14-18 SEC record and fans growing tired of Jones’ rhetoric as reasons he belongs on the hot seat in 2017.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn has a national title game appearance on his resume and just led the Tigers to the Sugar Bowl last season, but Steele places the Auburn coach on the list after going just 11-13 in SEC play during the last three seasons. Expectations are through the roof, and keeping up with Nick Saban is a tough game. Steele believes another eight-win season is not good enough for Malzahn to be the Tigers coach in 2018.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Steele points to the Texas A&M AD suggesting Sumlin needs to win this season as the primary reason he should be put on notice. After pushing the Aggies to a Top 10 ranking on several occasions during his tenure with the Aggies, but has failed to live up to the 11-win season he produce in 2012 with a bad habit for fading late in the regular season. Steele believes another 8-win season is probably not what the Aggies administration has in mind.