By the summer of 2026, most current SEC head football coaches will have left their post.
A decade is an eternity in the football coaching world. 10 years is enough time to make a handful of coaching stops in the “produce now or else” world of major college football.
But there’s a reasonable chance that at least one fortunate soul out of the 14 still will be plugging away with their team in 2026, and it’s our job to figure out who that might be by the end of this piece.
Let’s start by using a process of elimination to narrow down the choices for our prediction.
First up is age:
He’s just too old
- Nick Saban, Alabama
- Les Miles, LSU
Les Miles already has crossed the decade threshold at LSU, and Nick Saban is quickly closing in on it at Alabama. Both guys have proven to have the staying power necessary, but let’s be honest here. They’re just too old to consider as a serious candidate to be coaching at the same school in 2026.
Alabama fans would let Saban coach until he was 95 if it meant the Crimson Tide would keeping winning at its current pace, but the five-time national champion will turn 65 this football season and doesn’t seem likely to wait around to see 75 on the sidelines. At 62 years old, Miles also seems a bit too old to survive another 10 years at LSU. After all, he barely survived 2015.
He’s just not good enough
- Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
- Mark Stoops, Kentucky
These guys have age and low-pressure jobs on their side, but they have not established the ability to win in the SEC. In a combined five SEC seasons, neither Stoops nor Mason has a postseason appearance. Even Kentucky and Vanderbilt are going to expect better returns on their investment than that during the next decade.
He’s already on the hot seat
- Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
- Gus Malzahn, Auburn
It seems unwise to select a coach who is consistently mentioned by college football pundits as one the nation’s coaches under the most pressure to win now, so Sumlin has to be out. You may argue that Malzahn recently received a contract extension that will take him halfway to the goal of 10 years. But we all know what another regular season of six wins would mean for Malzahn’s job status at Auburn.
He’s too new in his role to know
- Barry Odom, Missouri
- Will Muschamp, South Carolina
SEC fans know what Will Muschamp was at Florida, and it was not great. But there’s enough of a chance that he’s learned from his lessons as a first-time head coach that he should receive the benefit of a second chance to be considered a “new hire” at South Carolina.
Barry Odom is a real wild card. He’s following Gary Pinkel, who held the role of Missouri head coach for 15 seasons, so the precedent is there for an extended stay. Odom, who is the youngest coach in the league at 39, could conceivably coach his way to a job more prestigious than his alma mater. Or he could flame out in short order. Who knows?
Jim McElwain, Florida: Coach Mac has a strong case to be the winner. He exceeded expectations by winning the SEC East during his first season in Gainesville, and he seems to have the momentum going in his efforts to return Florida to its status as a national power. And at 54 years old, he has enough time left in his career for this to be a reasonable expectation. But if things turn south, the Gators could have a quick hook.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas: While the major breakthrough season has yet to come, Bielema seems to be settling in nicely as a long-term coach in Fayetteville. At 46 years old, he’s in the prime of his coaching years and also has a long enough track record between his time at Wisconsin and Arkansas to “know what you’re getting.” An SEC West title in the next couple of years would make Bielema a really strong candidate to win this contest.
Butch Jones, Tennessee: No candidacy may hinge upon the upcoming season as much as this one. If Jones breaks through and wins the SEC East with a stacked Vols roster, he may be on his way to a long, happy tenure in Knoxville. The 48-year-old Michigan native has famously referred to Tennessee as his dream job, so there is a chance that things get mutually comfortable between the Vols and Jones.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: Entering his fifth year at Ole Miss, Freeze has the Rebels program on a clear upswing. Coming off a Sugar Bowl victory and back-to-back wins against Alabama, there are no complaints about his on-field results among the Ole Miss faithful. However, with an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and an admission from former Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil that money changed hands, there are too many red flags to make this the prediction.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: It seems as though Mullen has been rumored to be a candidate to leave Starkville since pretty much the day he arrived, and yet here he is entering his eighth season with the Bulldogs. While many will say there’s no way he is still at Mississippi State to see his 18th year there, he’s just 44 years old and seems to be well-liked among those that matter. But can he realistically play in the College Football Playoff with the Bulldogs, and will his desire to do so eventually lead him elsewhere?
The winner: Kirby Smart, Georgia
OK, OK. Smart has not yet coached a game as a head coach.
That much is true.
But there is a lot going in his favor that makes him the most likely of the SEC coaches to be in his role by 2026.
History: Smart is just the seventh Georgia head coach since 1939. The Bulldogs have a history of finding a coach they like and keeping him. Wally Butts (1939-60), Vince Dooley (1964-88) and, most recently, Mark Richt (2001-15) have proven that long-term stability is possible at Georgia.
Circumstance: For the purposes of this exercise, being a first-year head coach plays to Smart’s advantage. There’s going to be a honeymoon period, and that’s an advantage in getting to 2026 that most coaches on this list do not have.
Loyalty: Smart is a former Georgia football player and a favorite son of the program and fan base alike. He’d have to make a lot of people mad for that opinion to change during a short period of time. Likewise, Smart is not likely to up and leave this program for another job.
Patience: The patience shown by Smart to stay at Alabama as long as he did, as well as the patience Georgia showed with Mark Richt. Each party has carefully crafted its moves to get to this point, creating a perception that this is a marriage built for the long term.