This is the time of year between the end of football media days and the beginning of two-a-days when football fans are looking for anything to read about the upcoming season. One of the most popular subjects is which coaches are opening the season on hot seats and which are on at least warm seats.
In the Southeastern Conference this season, there are really only three coaches who are truly on a hot seat and a couple of others who are feeling a little warmth, but most of the SEC coaches are pretty secure.
Let’s look at the securest coaches out there first. Alabama’s Nick Saban, LSU coach Les Miles and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier are the untouchables.
With his two national championships in the past three seasons, Saban is more untouchable than any Alabama coach since Bear Bryant.
Miles, for all his coaching shenanigans, has endeared himself to LSU fans because, for the most part, his often questionable coaching strategies have worked out well. For the first few years of his coaching tenure in Baton Rouge, people wondered if the Mad Hatter was crazy or just lucky. Then it became obvious that there was a method to his madness, and LSU fans embraced his unconventional coaching methods.
Spurrier has brought unprecedented success to South Carolina and that has cemented his legacy in Columbia. He can write his ticket with the Gamecocks for as long as he wants.
There are coaches who are on a smaller level than the untouchables. The group includes Georgia’s Mark Richt, Auburn’s Gene Chizik, Gary Pinkel at Missouri, Will Muschamp at Florida and James Franklin of Vanderbilt. Richt has been off and on a hot seat in his days with the Bulldogs over the years, but after 106 wins against just 38 losses in 11 seasons, he has seemingly vacated the hot seat for now.
Chizik’s 2010 national championship bought him at least two or three years of good will among Tigers fans, even though in-state rival Alabama is enjoying success on the field and in recruiting.
Mizzou’s Pinkel is in good shape after averaging almost eight wins a year in his 11 seasons with the Tigers. Muschamp was 7-6 in his first year in Gainesville, but, whether it is fair or not, Florida fans usually judge a coach based winning championships. Gators fans have grown accustomed to expect success at a high level during Spurrier and Urban Meyer’s tenures, and Muschamp will need to live up to that.
Franklin insured smoother sailing this season by getting the Commodores to a bowl game in his first season, even though they lost to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl to finish 6-7. That record is good enough in Nashville to take any immediate pressure off Franklin, but the fiery head coach won’t back down from his own high expectations.
Following the coaches on the safe side of things are those who need to win now not later. This group includes Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and Kentucky coach Joker Phillips.
Mullen initially made a nice impression in Starkville and his domination of the Egg Bowl in recent years has helped his stature, but Bulldogs fans are getting a little impatient with just dominating the state of Mississippi and would like to be a little more competitive in the West. With 21 wins in three years, Mullen has shown he knows how to win; now he just needs to do it a little more consistently.
Dooley was handed a tough assignment following the mess left by Lane Kiffin. But with just 28 wins in five seasons, he has to know this is likely his last chance to turn it around.
Phillips has only been on the job at Kentucky for two seasons, but by missing a bowl game last season he snapped a rare five-game bowl streak. For the Wildcat fans who truly care about football, that didn’t sit real well.
Then there is the strange case of John L. Smith at Arkansas. Is he a one-year replacement for Bobby Petrino? Can he win the job on a permanent basis if he has an outstanding season with a very talented team? Nobody knows for sure, but if he wants to have any chance at the job he can not afford to screw up this season.
The safest coaches in the league are Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze because they are entering the first years at their institutions. For Sumlin, he inherits a talented team. But Freeze goes into the job with the Rebels with very little expectations, which takes a lot of the pressure off him for this year.