Wiedmer: Jeremy Pruitt's coaching seat far from hottest in SEC football

Wiedmer: Jeremy Pruitt's coaching seat far from hottest in SEC football

July 14th, 2019 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Mark Wiedmer

Mark Wiedmer

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press

Second-year University of Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt is on the hot seat?

As tennis star John McEnroe once uttered, "You can't be serious."

Yet there was Pruitt's name on CBS Sports' website annual preseason "hot seat" list, which actually ranked him as barely warm, giving him a "2" where a "5" is considered scalding. Or as CBS labels a 5, "win or be fired."

But it's also true that every Southeastern Conference football coach other than Georgia's Kirby Smart and Alabama's Nick Saban is one bad season removed from angry alums.

So to help this argument along, yours truly has decided to use his own 1-to-5 ranking, along with the games all 14 SEC coaches most need to win their fans happy. In order from hottest to coolest:

1. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn (a No. 5 hot seat). A couple of dramatic victories over Alabama have bought the former high school coaching wunderkind more goodwill than he might have had, but having failed to win the SEC title since his first season on the job in 2013 — and having lost to the Crimson Tide four of the past five years — is no way to keep the natives happy down on the Plains.

Must win: Alabama is the obvious choice, but Malzahn could do much to boost his support by winning in Florida's Swamp on Oct. 5.

2. Arkansas's Chad Morris (3 hot seat). He's only in his second season, but his first was not only the first 10-loss season in school history (2-10) but also included an 0-8 league mark. For a program that hasn't really mattered in the SEC for close to a decade, Hog Nation's patience is next to zero.

Must win: On Sept. 7, Arkansas visits an Ole Miss team unlikely to win a lot of games. Neither will the Razorbacks, but a road SEC victory in his second season on the job would do a lot to boost Morris' approval rating.

3. Vanderbilt's Derek Mason (3 hot seat). It would seem preposterous that a Vandy coach who has beaten Tennessee three straight seasons could possibly be in trouble. But despite two bowl berths, Mason has never finished with a winning season in five years on the West End, and he has a new athletic director in Malcolm Turner.

Must win: A fourth straight win over UT should give him a lifetime contract, but topping Kentucky on Nov. 16 would prove that Vandy is back to beating the teams its fans believe it should beat.

4: Ole Miss coach Matt Luke (3 hot seat). Luke is beginning his third season with the Rebels, and his 11-13 overall record is respectable at worst, given the potential NCAA mess he inherited. But after going 1-7 in the SEC last season, Luke needs to win at least three SEC games to avoid Rebels backers questioning his long-term employment.

Must win: Season opener at Memphis.

5. LSU coach Ed Orgeron (2 hot seat). Admittedly, Orgeron passionately growling "Geaux Tigers" at the close of every media op has to touch the heart of even the most callous Bayou Bengals backer, but at some point he not only needs to beat Alabama, he needs to win the SEC West.

Must win: Auburn invades Death Valley on Oct. 26. As so often happens in this game, the loser is almost automatically out of the SEC West race and the losing coach's seat heats up tremendously.

6. Missouri coach Barry Odom (2 hot seat). Odom rode quarterback Drew Lock to two bowl bids the past two seasons, though the Tigers lost both. If the coach expects his good will to continue, Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant must make people forget how good Lock was.

Must win: South Carolina invades Mizzou on Sept 21.

7. Florida's Dan Mullen (2 hot seat). Mullen really shouldn't hear any negatives this season. But Gator Nation expects championships, and his 5-3 league mark could stand a slight improvement to continue his honeymoon.

Must win: Georgia in Jacksonville on Nov. 2.

8. South Carolina's Will Muschamp (2 hot seat). Entering his fourth season, Muschamp is .500 in SEC games (12-12). To keep a fickle fan base happy, he needs to improve that.

Must win: South Carolina has lost five straight to Kentucky. That's no way for a Gamecocks coach to keep his job.

9. Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead (2 hot seat). No one's going to come after Moorhead in his second season after an 8-5 start and a bowl bid, but he needs to prove that wasn't all Dan Mullen's doing.

Must win: Beat Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night.

10. Tennessee's Pruitt (1 hot seat). Nobody's going to call for Pruitt's ouster in his second season. But the Vols Nation needs something to get excited about, and a 7-5 season after a 5-7 campaign in 2018 would help.

Must win: Stop that three-game losing skid to Vanderbilt.

11. Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher (1 hot seat). Of whom much is given, much is expected, and with Fisher earning nearly $8 million a year, the Aggies faithful will expect to at least repeat last year's 9-4 mark, if not improve it.

Must win: Losing at home to Alabama on Oct. 12 won't sour the fans. But a win would probably add $1 million or more to his annual salary.

12. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops (1 hot seat). When you've just posted the first 10-win season in 41 years, your seat's cool enough for a penguin. But Kentucky's never been able to sustain success, so this is another crucial year for its coach.

Must win: Tennessee in Lexington on Nov. 9.

13. Georgia coach Kirby Smart (zero hot seat). Two SEC title games and one national championship game in three years on the job. Enough said.

Must win: A visit from Notre Dame on Sept. 21?

14. Alabama coach Nick Saban (zero hot seat). He's already got a statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium and five national titles with the Tide. He's the guy who puts pressure on 13 other SEC coaches.

Must win: Auburn.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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