SEC Football: 5 Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2014
For a second consecutive season, the majority of SEC coaches find themselves in reasonably comfortable positions.
Several coaches, led by Alabama’s Nick Saban and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, are virtually untouchable based alone on season results. The same goes for newer coaches such as Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.
Anyone paying attention to SEC football realizes Will Muschamp at Florida faces the longest odds to keep his job.
Beyond Muschamp, though, finding SEC coaches in real trouble isn’t a simple task.
In order to determine which programs could make changes at the top, we will examine past results, fan expectations and the odds of a disappointing season.
Here is a list of the SEC coaches on the hottest seats entering 2014.
5. Mark Stoops—Kentucky
Record at Kentucky: 2-10
That Mark Stoops, entering his second season at Kentucky, appears so prominently on this list shows just how safe several coaches truly are this season.
Few expected the Wildcats to contend for the SEC East crown last year, but winning a conference game would have been a nice start.
Instead, Kentucky went 0-8 in SEC play with its only two nonconference wins coming against Miami (OH) and FCS Alabama State.
Only twice did the Wildcats play SEC opponents to within one possession (South Carolina and Mississippi State). Then again, that number doubled how many times they played one-possession games against league foes in Joker Phillips’ final season (once, against Georgia).
On the bright side, Stoops energized the fan base to show something rarely seen in Lexington—excitement about the football season.
All optimism died quickly, though, when the season opened with an embarrassing loss to Western Kentucky, led by another first-year coach in Bobby Petrino.
The defeat marked the second consecutive year Kentucky lost to the Hilltoppers—hardly a step in the right direction in the Wildcats’ quest for Bluegrass State domination.
Stoops built his reputation by engineering strong defenses. He also seemingly hired the right person—Neal Brown—to turn around an offense that has been dismal for the last few seasons.
Both have their work cut out for them, though Brown’s offense needs to make significant progress, perhaps behind a first-year starting quarterback.
Expectations will be low again in 2014, but a second consecutive 0-8 season could land Stoops on a hotter seat for the 2015 season.
4. Mark Richt—Georgia
Record at Georgia: 126-45
Mark Richt is the only person on this list who, as a head coach, led his program to the SEC Championship Game. He even led the Bulldogs to conference titles in 2002 and 2005.
Recent years haven’t been bad for Richt, either.
Georgia represented the SEC East in the SEC Championship Game in two of the past three seasons.
The biggest chance came two years ago when the Bulldogs came within mere yards of topping Alabama for a BCS National Championship Game appearance.
Last year saw the Bulldogs—in part because of an unfathomable rash of injuries—take a substantial step back.
The 8-5 finish marked a disappointing return to national irrelevance, where the program was before consecutive appearances in Atlanta.
Richt has already outlasted coaching life expectancy in the SEC.
However, Georgia fans remain anxious to see the program win its first national championship since 1980.
That SEC programs Florida, Alabama, LSU and Auburn have all won championships since Richt became coach only further frustrates fans in Athens. They have reared their heads in recent times, including in 2010 when Georgia limped to 6-7—the only time under Richt the program didn’t win at least eight games.
Richt likely won’t be in any major trouble in 2014, but if the season goes sideways the vocal Georgia fans seeking change could get loud again.
3. Bret Bielema—Arkansas
Record at Arkansas: 3-9
One of the splashiest hires in recent SEC history translated to horribly disappointing results.
Bret Bielema came to Fayetteville having guided Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances over the past three seasons. His program won 10 or more games in four of seven seasons.
Despite Bielema’s success, anybody who thought he would come in and run roughshod over the SEC West was likely a diehard Arkansas fan, delusional or both.
What makes life difficult on Bielema is that the same could have been—and was—said for Gus Malzahn down at Auburn.
That Bielema picked a public battle of words with Malzahn over up-tempo offenses only drew more comparisons to the pair.
And while Bielema’s Arkansas team fizzled its way to an 0-8 SEC campaign, Malzahn led the Tigers to the BCS National Championship Game.
Perhaps fittingly, the Razorbacks open the 2014 season at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Arkansas’ opener at Auburn launches one of the toughest slates any team faces this year—one that also includes the rest of the SEC West, Northern Illinois and Texas Tech.
Bielema’s hard-nosed mentality makes him the football coach he is, but it also makes him less charismatic—especially when his team isn’t winning.
The Bobby Petrino saga left Arkansas in a bad place when Bielema arrived. Even in the 0-8 SEC season, his program showed promise—especially if the passing game could have connected on some open throws.
However, patience will be tested if the Razorbacks don’t take a significant step forward this year.
2. Dan Mullen—Mississippi State
Record at Mississippi State: 36-28
Finding Dan Mullen on this list at all might seem crazy, considering he has led State to an unprecedented four consecutive bowl games.
At some point, though, the Bulldogs must show progress in the SEC West.
This seems as good a time as any for Mullen and State to do so.
Quarterback Dak Prescott looks like the perfect fit for Mullen’s system—or at least the closest thing to Tim Tebow he can reasonably expect at State. The defense, at times, played very well even against stronger teams such as Alabama and Auburn.
Taking the next step in what might be the toughest division in college football hasn’t been easy so far. Since 2008, State’s record against Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M is 1-19—with the one win coming against the 2012 Auburn team that went 0-8 in the SEC.
If that mark falls to 1-23, it might not matter whether State reaches a fifth consecutive bowl game. It might be time for a change.
1. Will Muschamp—Florida
Record at Florida: 22-16
The gap between Will Muschamp and every other coach on this list is virtually immeasurable.
Muschamp opens this season fighting for his job after 2013 went completely off the rails.
How bad did it get in Gainesville last year? The Gators lost their final seven games, including home losses to Vanderbilt and FCS Georgia Southern.
If losing to Georgia Southern wasn’t bad enough, rival Florida State then thumped Florida by 30 points at The Swamp to close the season.
Florida fans’ ire necessitated athletic director Jeremy Foley standing behind Muschamp, declaring even before the Florida State game that the coach would be back for the 2014 season.
As bad as it got last year, the Gators still finished fifth in the division—ahead of Tennessee and Kentucky.
Florida has built its reputation on winning championships, though—not staying out of division basements.
The program likely doesn’t need to win the SEC championship or even the SEC East in 2014 for Muschamp to keep his job. The Gators probably need to bounce back and contend for the division, ultimately reaching a decent bowl game.
Winning in 2014 should come easier than it did a year ago.
Jeff Driskel is back for his senior season. Florida’s season only fell apart after Driskel, who helped the Gators reach the Sugar Bowl in 2012, suffered a season-ending leg injury.
In addition, Kurt Roper comes in from Duke to transform Florida’s dull, vanilla offense. It won’t likely remind anyone of the offense Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen fielded before, but it also probably won’t close in on records of futility.
Furthermore, Muschamp’s defense remained a strength even in the face of debilitating injuries and a depressingly bad offense.
Look for Florida to bounce back in 2014.
The question is: Will the Gators win enough games to save Muschamp’s job?