Dak Dillon-US PRESSWIRE
It would seem impossible to think of year when we're not debating whether this coach or that coach should lose his or her job in one of the nation's toughest conferences. This year might be different
Quick -- name an SEC head football coach who is likely to lose his job next year. It's not easy to do, which means that barring any unexpected motorcycle crashes or esophagus attacks, the conference could be headed for one of its quietest Decembers in a long time after the 2013 season.
Part of that is because most of the teams who had disappointing seasons in 2012 canned their coaches then -- Arkansas cut loose the lovably bizarre John L. Smith, Auburn realized that hiring a coach who went 5-19 in his last job actually wasn't such a great idea, Kentucky ended the Joker Phillips experiment and Tennessee got disillusioned with Derek Dooley's last name. And the other reason is that coaches who are prime candidates for poaching -- Dan Mullen and James Franklin -- seem to be staying put, at least for now.
Not that everyone agrees that we could start the year without any coach on the hot seat. Over at the mothership, they've got a list and everything. I kind of disagree with the approach of hot seat rankings, in part because not every coach is going to be fired. In fact, there are some coaches who will be back next year unless their team goes 2-10 this year.
But for good measure, here are the SEC coaches who hit above a 50 percent likelihood to be fired if their team goes 6-6 (more on that in a moment):
3 Mark Richt, 94.29
9 Gary Pinkel, 65.71
15 Will Muschamp, 57.14
16 Les Miles, 55
The reaction from Kyle King -- and this will come as no surprise to veterans of the "Mark Richt hot seat meme" wars of 2009-11 -- was somewhere between incredulous and outraged. (It was not fully outraged, because I've seen Kyle post when he's fully outraged. The SBN guys got off easy here.)
When it was rumored that Urban Meyer would leave the Florida Gators to coach the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, any sane person knew that was nonsense because Coach Meyer already had chosen Florida over Notre Dame. When it was rumored that the Arkansas Razorbacks would leave the SEC to join the Big 12, any sane person knew that was nonsense because Arkansas already had chosen the SEC over the league Texas called home. Anyone who thinks Mark Richt would be fired for going 6-6 after a twelve-win season in 2012 should pause to consider that Coach Richt wasn’t fired for going 6-6 after an 8-5 season in 2009.
I'm somewhere in between these two extremes. First, I don't think that the 2009-10 example completely answers the question. If Mark Richt were to go 8-5 every odd-numbered year and 6-6 every even-numbered year, my guess is that he would be fired after a few seasons of that.
On the other hand, I'm not sure that I agree that Mark Richt would be gone after a .500 season this year. In fact, I think he would be more likely to be retained than to be fired -- and we're talking at least a 60-40 proposition here. The crazies would want Richt run out of town, but the crazies have wanted Richt run out of town for a long time now.
Besides, I'm not sure of the utility of a 6-6 season as the measure of whether you're on the hot seat. For one thing, it varies by program. Going .500 at Alabama would be a disaster. Meanwhile, going .500 at Kentucky this year would be a miracle. And for another thing, Nick Saban is unlikely to have a breakeven season this year (or any time soon), so assessing the odds of him weathering it seems a little bit ridiculous.
And if you're going to go down that road, why stop at 6-6? Why not ask which coach is most likely to be fired at 4-8, or 0-12? (For the record, the SBN guys have noted in an update that they should have picked a different measurement.)
I long ago settled on another definition of the hot seat: Does a team need to recognizably improve its record for the head coach to keep his job? That's why I came to conclusion at the end of the 2010 season that Richt probably was on the hot seat -- it was hard to see him surviving another 6-7 (or worse) season counting the bowl game. We'll never know for a fact whether Richt was on the hot seat, because he won the SEC East the next year, making the question entirely moot.
(It is important here to note what we do not mean by a coach being on the hot seat: It does not mean the coach should be fired or will be fired. It is entirely an assessment of how likely it is for the coach to be fired if he doesn't pick up the pace.)
(And conversely, a coach can be fired despite not being on the hot seat. Brian Kelly is exceptionally unlikely to get fired at Notre Dame next year. But if the Irish end up 0-12, all bets are off.)
With that standard in mind, let's take a look at the SEC head coaches this year and see whether any of them will start on the hot seat:
NICK SABAN, ALABAMA: SECURE | Again, barring some complete and unseen disaster, Saban is set for years in Tuscaloosa. He still needs to win 10+ games almost every year and snag an SEC or national title every once in a while, but that hasn't proven to be a problem for him so far.
BRET BIELEMA, ARKANSAS: NEW | It's very hard for a coach to get fired in their first year. Not unheard of, but hard.
GUS MALZAHN, AUBURN: NEW
WILL MUSCHAMP, FLORIDA: RELATIVELY SECURE | You can never tell with the Florida fan base, particularly coming off a defense-oriented year that saw a rare loss to Georgia and an embarrassing beatdown against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. (I know the margin was only 10 points, but that was an ugly loss.) But putting Florida back into the mix in the SEC East in the second year should get Muschamp at least another year off the hot seat.
MARK RICHT, GEORGIA: RELATIVELY SECURE | There could be some groundswell that comes up if he loses to South Carolina early and the season hits a few low notes, but I really have a hard time seeing Georgia dismiss Richt for any reason. I know he's not on the hot seat right now.
MARK STOOPS, KENTUCKY: NEW
LES MILES, LSU: LIKELY SECURE | Miles is not on the hot seat, but he never seems to have the LSU fan base completely united behind him. Personally, I think Miles is a great coach, and it's fun as a blogger to have the Mad Hatter around. I think we will, for a while.
HUGH FREEZE, OLE MISS: SECURE | The 7-6 performance in Oxford was one of the surprises of the year, and Freeze kept the momentum going with a strong recruiting class. All that bought him some goodwill for a year or two at least.
DAN MULLEN, MISSISSIPPI STATE: LIKELY SECURE | Remember when Dan Mullen was a near lock to be the next head coach at Miami? While that kind of buzz has died down, Mullen is still only the third coach since 1955 to lead the Bulldogs to three consecutive winning seasons. (And second, if you don't count wins in 1975 and 1976 that were wiped out by NCAA sanctions.)
GARY PINKEL, MISSOURI: UNCERTAIN | I have to admit that Mizzou is so new to the the conference that I don't have a great feel on whether Pinkel has burned through his capital. He lost some of it in the DWI and more of it in the injury-induced, 5-7 tailspin that was the 2012 season. But there was a lot of it left over from Pinkel's building up the program. If an SEC coach is on the hot seat this year, it's Pinkel.
STEVE SPURRIER, SOUTH CAROLINA: SECURE | After an SEC East championship and two straight 11-win seasons, Spurrier can be coach for life in Columbia if he so chooses.
BUTCH JONES, TENNESSEE: NEW
KEVIN SUMLIN, TEXAS A&M: SECURE | It's rare for coaches to get fired in their second year. It's nearly impossible for a coach to get fired in his second year after an 11-win season led by a Heisman Trophy winner during a move to a different conference.
JAMES FRANKLIN, VANDERBILT: SECURE | He's taken Vanderbilt to two bowl games in a row. It's hard to see Franklin leaving any time soon, unless he's been hired to another job.
So with the exception of Pinkel, everyone appears to be safe right now -- and maybe even he can survive another rough year. Which should leave us more time to talk about the games this year, and less time debating who should and shouldn't lose their jobs.