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Which SEC Coaches Will Still Be Around in a Decade?

Less than half of them will be.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Our buddies at Good Bull Hunting have done a couple of ten-year retrospective posts this week, including looking at the quarterbacks of 10 years ago. The first post was about the coaches of 10 years ago, and it finished by asking which of today's coaches might still be at their current schools a decade from now. Not wanting to let an easy prompt for an offseason post simply exist as a comment, I'm writing this as my response to that question.

Before beginning, it's worth noting that only four of the 14 coaches of the 2005 season (yes, we're including Missouri and Texas A&M even though they weren't SEC schools then) are still in place. Mark Richt and Gary Pinkel each were starting their fifth seasons at Georgia and Missouri, respectively, while Les Miles and Steve Spurrier were just starting their first seasons at LSU and South Carolina, respectively.

Actually, now that I think about it, saying "only" four of the 14 are still around is probably the wrong word. That's actually kind of impressive given how much churn the coaching world goes through these days.

Bound for Del Boca Vista

No one coaches forever, and a few SEC head coaches are getting up there in age. Miles is 61, Pinkel turns 63 later this month, Nick Saban is 63, and Spurrier turns 70 later this month.

It's not impossible coach effectively past 70 years in age. Bill Snyder is 75 and still going strong. Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno coached into their 80s, though there is significant doubt about how much coaching they actually did in their final few seasons. In any event, it can be done.

Spurrier's slip about wanting to coach only a few more seasons indicates that he'll probably be long retired by the time 2025 comes along. Although he's as competitive as human beings come, I doubt he'll still be coaching at age 80.

I could see any of the other three still coaching, but if I had to pick one as the most likely to retire by then, it'd be Pinkel. He's done a great job of late in winning the SEC East two years in a row, especially with his 2014 team having lost the majority of its key players from the 2013 team. However, the division has had two of its traditional powers in Florida and Tennessee be down during that time. The Vols are clearly on the upswing, and the Gators will come back eventually. I could see a return to the old form of the East where UF, UT, and UGA take turns winning it and Pinkel ends up retiring after not finishing higher than third for a few years straight. That fate, at least, is more likely than the same happening to Saban or Miles.

One other name to watch here is Mark Richt. There has long been a theory out there that he'll not coach until the normal retirement age for a coach because he'll retire to a life of philanthropy. He's been involved in charity work for a long time, and he now has his Paul Oliver Network that helps former football players transition to regular life once their careers end. It's not hard to imagine Richt stepping down in a few years to do that full time.

The Climbers

One of the leading causes of coaches not currently having a particular job they had in the past is them taking another job. Some current SEC head coaches will likely leave their posts to take a different one.

Only three of the SEC's present coaches really feel like a threat to leave for another college job.

One is Mark Stoops, who has Kentucky moving in the right direction. Last season didn't end so well, but if you turn either of the team's one-score losses into a win, his Wildcats would have gone bowling. No one stays a UK for a long time while achieving a high level of success by the program's standards unless it's someone like Rich Brooks, who was wrapping up his career during his time in Lexington. If Stoops keeps improving the team, he'll leave for another job.

Another is Derek Mason, if only because almost no one stays at Vandy long term. The only person to coach Commodore football for longer than a decade was Dan McGugin, whose tenure spanned 1904-17 and 1919-34. Mason would have to stay for 11 years to still be around for 2025. I'll have more to say on that later, but suffice it to say, I don't see it happening.

Finally, there will always be rumors of Dan Mullen possibly leaving Starkville as long as he keeps winning. Mullen expressed satisfaction with his current job during the team's big run last fall, and he followed up Mississippi State's best season in forever by extending rather than leaving. That doesn't rule out him taking another job at some point in the next decade, though.

It's possible that the NFL could come calling for some of the other coaches. Kevin Sumlin has had the most NFL interest of late, while Chip Kelly's success has had led at least one team to look at Gus Malzahn.

Bret Bielema says he interviewed with the Dolphins in 2012, and the fact he runs a pro-style offense makes him a realistic candidate for a pro job at some point. If Jim McElwain succeeds at Florida, he could become the object of NFL attention for the same reason. Stoops and Mason, being defensive coaches, could belong here too if they reach high levels of success, but it's difficult to imagine an NFL team hiring away the coach of Kentucky or Vandy. I think they'd need to win at a higher profile college program than their present ones to get a pro job.

Potential Washouts

Another reason coaches no longer have past jobs is them being fired.

The most in danger of that eventuality right now is Mason. Vandy may have lost some talent from 2013 to '14, but the bottom fell way, way out from under the team. The gap between James Franklin's last team and Mason's first was enormous. The fact that Mason replaced both coordinators after just one year bodes poorly for him as a head coach. ESPN's Travis Haney said on a recent Solid Verbal episode that he believes Mason to be one of those guys who's just cut out to be a great coordinator rather than head coach. Unless things turn around in a big way this year, Mason's tenure in Nashville will be short.

We have to put McElwain in this category as well even though he hasn't coached a snap yet at Florida. This is the first big time job for him, so we don't know if he's cut out to be a long term success at the highest level. Plus, the expectations monster in Gainesville has chewed up and spit out the last three head coaches there, and Spurrier cited it as one of the reasons he chose to try something new when he left. Even if he succeeds, the pressure that exists with the UF job may lead him to burnout (like Urban Meyer) or to look for something else to do (like Spurrier).

I must also point out that every coach in the SEC West now makes more than $4 million per year. In other words, someone is going to make at least $4 million to finish at the bottom of the division now. It's not hard to imagine some of the present coaches getting the ax or otherwise pushed out at some point in the next decade simply because they're not generating enough wins per dollar.

What if Cam Cameron can't get the offense turned around and Miles's next OC pick is a bad one? He might "retire" under pressure. What if Sumlin never does get a great defense going even with John Chavis? Or Malzahn goes through a couple bad DC hires once Will Muschamp inevitably gets another shot at being a head coach? Offense sells tickets, but it alone doesn't win championships. Arkansas, Ole Miss, and MSU can pay someone a lot less than they pay Bielema, Hugh Freeze, and Mullen to win six or seven games a year if that's where any of them end up for a few years in a row.

Not all of those scenarios can happen at once, but any of them could plausibly come to fruition.

Final Prediction

To sum it all up, here is the order in which I think coaches are likely to have their current jobs a decade out from now.

To be clear, I think it's plausible that any of the top 11 guys on this list will still be at their same jobs in ten years. I know that it's likely that no more than four or five of them will be, but—and I'm mainly talking to you, LSU fans—just because I outline a case for a coach to be gone by 2025, it doesn't mean I think it absolutely will happen.

14. Steve Spurrier

He's definitely going to retire before the next decade is through.

13. Derek Mason

I don't have faith in a guy who in 2014 thought Karl Dorrell would be a good offensive coordinator hire. He's probably toast, and if he's not, he'll be out of town to something bigger and better thanks in part to his sterling job running defense at Stanford.

12. Mark Stoops

I think he'll be off to a bigger job before too long if he's smart, and if he's not, it'll burn out by around year seven or eight. The case for Stoops succeeding long term has been been in large part due to recruiting good talent out of Ohio, but with Meyer at Ohio State, Franklin at Penn State, and now Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, UK's ability to pull talent from there will plummet. He already did significantly worse in getting 4-stars out of Ohio in 2015 versus 2014. If UK goes to a bowl this fall, he needs to get out of there. I think he knows that, too.

11. Mark Richt

I am a believer in the idea of Richt hanging up his whistle early to go full time on charitable work.

10. Dan Mullen

He's an ambitious man, and at some point in the next ten years, he's going to finally accept that he can't fulfill all of his ambitions at Mississippi State. The right major job will come along, and pretty much everyone will accept that it's time for him to take it.

9. Jim McElwain

Either he won't succeed and end up fired, or he will succeed and the insanity of the Florida fan base will make him want to try his hand at the NFL. His folksy and laid back persona make him feel much more like a college coach than an NFL coach, but let's not forget that he's putting up $2 million of his own money towards his Colorado State buyout in order to be at UF. You don't do that if you lack ambition.

If I knew that McElwain would work out, then he'd be much higher on the list because I think he's less of a threat to go to the NFL than, say, Sumlin is. However, I can't put him higher over more established guys because of the chance that he won't work out at all.

8. Gary Pinkel

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't get the impression that he's going to be coaching much past his late 60s. He's been at Missouri so long and done so much there that I think he'll decide his work is complete before another decade passes. Plus, there's the potential of a forced retirement that I outlined above.

7. Bret Bielema

The Boss Hog is also an ambitious guy, and I can easily see him taking the right NFL job if it comes along.

6. Kevin Sumlin

The same goes here. Sumlin is one of the smartest guys in coaching, and the challenge of the next level will prove too much for him to turn down forever.

5. Les Miles

The Hat has been one of the most successful coaches in college since taking over, but he's won one SEC title in the last seven seasons. I'm not a big believer in Cameron being the right guy without a great pocket passer like Zach Mettenberger, and it doesn't look like he'll have one for a while.

That means Cameron's probably not long for Baton Rouge, and between Gary Crowton, Steve Kragthorpe, and Cameron, Miles's taste in OCs has been iffy. If the next one doesn't work out and the Kevin Steele-Ed Orgeron combo is a drop off from the defensive levels of Bo Pelini and Chavis, Miles could end up in a forced retirement in five years similar to the way that Phil Fulmer did.

4. Gus Malzahn

You can repeat what I said about Sumlin here, although I think he's less likely to find himself in the NFL. His offense is so steeped in the single wing that I think he's less likely to end up at a pro job than Sumlin is.

3. Hugh Freeze

Freeze hasn't generated any NFL interest that I've seen, and him (probably) turning down the Florida job shows he's a Mississippi boy through and through. Even if he doesn't win a division title, I can easily see him being around a decade from now because I think he'll recruit well enough to keep the Rebels in bowl games every year between now and then. Even with a rich contract, that plus his ability to connect with fans should be enough given the program's history.

2. Nick Saban

The only reason he's not No. 1 is his age. He's not going to leave Alabama for any other coaching job college or pro, so it's all up to how long he wants to coach—or how long Miss Terry will let him. I do expect to see him stalking the sidelines at age 73, but I'm not 100% sure of it.

1. Butch Jones

At 47, he's nowhere close to retirement. With him having played at Ferris State, there isn't an alma mater out there to draw him away from Knoxville. Tennessee is also a historic and wealthy enough program that when it's good, it's not a place you leave. With most of his coaching past coming at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, there's not a past college job to tug at his heart strings either. Plus, he's yet to draw any interest from the NFL, and the fact that he runs a "college offense" and doesn't have a reputation as a "true innovator" like Chip Kelly or Malzahn means he probably won't either.

He was a winner at both CMU and Cincy. The arrow is pointing the right direction at Tennessee now too. The rough times between Fulmer's firing and Jones's arrival—not to mention the turmoil within the men's basketball program—will prevent UT from getting too impatient with him. He recruits and coaches well enough that he'll start winning SEC East and sometimes overall SEC titles with enough regularity to keep him in the job for a long time to come.