The coaching profession always has been at best tenuous. Unless you are Joe Paterno, you’re by rule hired to be fired.
Never is that more true than now in college football in general and in the Southeastern Conference in particular.
Almost every school in the league has an athletic department’s financial well being tied to those dozen Saturdays in the fall. It’s how it is, and that truth magnifies the need to win now and forever.
As we continue to spend our Tuesdays in this space getting ready for college football season — practice starts in less than a month for most SEC schools — let’s tour the league and gauge the job security of each head coach.
As always, there are a couple of caveats. First, rookies do not get a rating. There has to be a honeymoon period, even in the SEC, so Tennessee’s Derek Dooley and Kentucky’s Joker Phillips get passes in their first years. Second, these readings are based on on-field results; if any of these guys pull a Damon Evans-type stunt at 3 a.m. at the SEC media days, well, all bets are off. Here we go, from most secure to least heading into the season:
Alabama: This one’s easy. Nick Saban is so entrenched in Tuscaloosa, he may be the only guy in America who could survive the circumstances that brought down Evans, the University of Georgia athletic director forced to leave his job today after being arrested last week for DUI with a 28-year-old female who was not his wife in the car.
Florida: Urban Meyer is probably the second-most secure coach in the country, and the second-most secure coach in the league.
Georgia: The Evans scenario has sent shock waves throughout the Bulldogs program, and some have thought a new AD would mean more heat on Mark Richt. The thinking here is that character must be embraced, especially in Athens, after the Evans embarrassment. And no one has more character than Richt, who also happens to be the dean of SEC coaches at their current schools and has the best winning percentage in program history since 1900.
South Carolina: This may seem high, considering the underperforming ways of the Gamecocks in recent years. Still, it’s Steve Spurrier. The Ball Coach won’t be fired — he may walk away in a year or three, but he will not be dismissed.
Auburn: After eight wins and a top-five recruiting class, year one for Gene Chizik has to be considered a success. It will be interesting, though, to see how long Chizik can keep together the Tigers’ star-studded coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
Mississippi State: Much like Chizik’s debut, Dan Mullen’s first year in Starkville was better than most expected. This season will be tougher, but the excitement Mullen created is still glowing. In fact, Mullen is on the short list of coaches infinitely more likely to leave for greener pastures than be handed a pink slip any time soon.
Vanderbilt: Bobby Johnson is entering his ninth season with the Commodores. Last year’s 2-10 disappointment spent the good will of the 2008 Music City Bowl win — Vandy’s first bowl victory since 1955. If Johnson looks toward a 10th season with the Commodores with the same 0-8 SEC record as he does this year, well, let’s just say that’s not an ideal scenario.
Arkansas: Bobby Petrino undeniably has made strides in Fayetteville. He’s also raised expectations for the Razorbacks, which is a double-edged sword these days. Plus, if the Hogs struggle and Ryan Mallett leaves for the NFL, Petrino may have missed his shot, and losing with high expectations is way worse than just losing. Which brings us to ...
Ole Miss: Houston Nutt has to be feeling some heat after last season’s meltdown that opened with a preseason top-10 ranking and ended with an embarrassing loss to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl in the regular-season finale. The Cotton Bowl win may have soothed some feelings, but there’s no Dexter McCluster on the roster this year to bail the Rebels out.
LSU: I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t Les Miles win a national title like three years ago?” Yes, he did, but with the tools and the talent in Baton Rouge, the recent struggles — and Miles’ curious clock management and in-game decisions — have left the natives restless.
“This is a big year coming up for Les and the football program,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Alleva stopped short of handing Miles an ultimatum, but the message seems pretty clear.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...