CFTalk has taken a look at the hot seats of head coaches around the country this offseason but the final Power Five league to discuss might hold more intrigue than the other four combined. After all, as the tag line goes, it just means more in the SEC.
It certainly means more warm seats under the coaches in the conference without any changes from a year ago occurring. While the league sports some of the most entrenched names in the business, there’s also a handful of others who are entering a critical 2019 for them and their program. Skyrocketing media numbers also mean those Jimmy Sexton-negotiated buyouts are not quite as painful as they would have been a year or two ago.
Feeling the heat
Gus Malzahn (Auburn)
It goes without saying that to take the job on the Plains means you’re under scrutiny from the moment you coach your first game. Malzahn knows this all too well, having received a seven-year, $49 million contract last offseason only to be put on the hot seat a few months later after dropping a few games. While Tigers fans are debating whether or not the coach can fix the offense to be more consistent, it’s worth filing away the fact that Malzahn enters 2019 coaching under and AD who didn’t hire him and without his biggest supporter in the recently resigned school president.
Derek Mason (Vanderbilt)
Nobody is denying the difficultly of the job Mason has to do but predecessor James Franklin’s success at the school does have some Commodores fans thinking more can be done in Nashville after a 24–38 record over five seasons. New AD Malcolm Turner didn’t hesitate to remove the basketball coach a few weeks on the job and that will only add to the pressure on Mason during what is likely a rebuilding year. He’s gotten the team to two bowl games and beaten in-state rival Tennessee but that might not be enough in the end.
Matt Luke (Ole Miss)
Luke benefits from a situation at the school still being in flux thanks to recent NCAA penalties and the departure of the athletic director. However, being an interim guy who has the tag taken off always means you’re under a little bit more pressure than normal and only winning four games in SEC play over two years doesn’t help. The Rebels made a big splash in bringing in two experienced coordinators and Luke is a beloved alum but we’re approaching the time where you have to start showing some progress on the field or the heat will be turned up a few notches in 2020.
Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee)
Going 5-7 in your first year is never going to win over skeptics but beating two ranked teams in Auburn and Kentucky were decent signs of progress for Pruitt and the Vols. The overall talent level in the program remains an issue but AD Philip Fulmer won’t pull the plug early on his marquee hire unless things get much worse in Year 2. There’s some cautious optimism about the Saban disciple elevating the program back into an SEC East contender but the fan base has been through so much that they’ll need to be won over on the field before fully supporting another new head coach.
Ed Orgeron (LSU)
Orgeron still has his doubters given the way his tenure at Ole Miss ended and the fact that he’s seen much more as a recruiter than a schematic mastermind on the field. But he just got the Tigers a win in a New Year’s Six bowl and received a nice contract extension with a hefty buyout. Things will be different with a savvy new AD in Baton Rouge but he’s got the program back to where it belongs. Now he just has to beat Alabama, the biggest weakness he’s displayed so far at his dream job.
Will Muschamp (South Carolina)
After a surprise nine-win campaign in 2017, the Gamecocks came back to earth a bit last season and getting shutout in a bowl game didn’t help slow that negative momentum one bit. However, the head coach has gotten solid support at USC and enters with optimism that Year 4 can show improvements. The facilities have been upgraded and all the pieces are in place but it hampers Muschamp’s long term outlook with that in-state rival doing what they’re doing the past few seasons.
Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State)
Arriving from Penn State as a bit of a fish out of water down south, many around MSU expected big strides in offensive efficiency with Moorhead in charge. That wasn’t the case in an up-and-down first campaign in Starkville but Year 2 could see such a jump given who is returning and who was brought into the program. Moorhead has done everything he can to win over fans who probably need to realize those nine-win seasons are not easy to come by at the school.
Chad Morris (Arkansas)
Few coaches have needed to dig out of a hole quite like Morris has at Arkansas. Massive shifts in offensive philosophy was bound to produce a bumpy first year but few could have truly imagined bottoming out with just two wins total and an 0-8 mark in league play. Despite some ugly numbers, there’s cause for hope around Fayetteville given the way recruiting has been turned around and the addition of several notable grad transfers this offseason. The old Texas high school coach will be given time to turn things around but will need to be more competitive between the lines in 2019.
Safe and secure
Dan Mullen (Florida)
Mullen’s somewhat mediocre recruiting has been pointed out by many fans unhappy with the initial hire but he won over plenty of others last year by winning the Peach Bowl and making the offense watchable again (no small feat). There’s pressure to make the next step and truly go head-to-head with rival Georgia but dealing with a fickle fan base is going to be something that will continue for years and years in Gainesville.
Barry Odom (Missouri)
NCAA sanctions this year mean Odom isn’t going anywhere and the alum has done a solid job navigating a host of issues at the university to keep the Tigers competitive. He’s improved the record each season in charge and there’s hope that even more can be done in 2019 with Kelly Bryant at quarterback.
Mark Stoops (Kentucky)
Stoops might have earned a statue in Lexington for winning 10 games last year, ending that decades-long streak against Florida and capping it all off with a New Year’s bowl victory. It’s still a basketball school but Kentucky is enjoying the fall more than at just about anytime in school history as a result of what Stoops has built.
Kirby Smart (Georgia)
The thing about making it to overtime of the national title game is that your fan base expects you back there with regularity. That’s the biggest issue Smart has to contend with given how well things are going financially, in recruiting and on the field in Athens. It seems like everybody is thrilled to have the alum in charge of the Bulldogs except when he calls for an inopportune fake punt in a big game.
Nick Saban (Alabama)
The worst loss of his tenure on the biggest stage of the sport isn’t going to hamper the greatest college football coach in the modern era much, but it did make for fun Finebaum calls this offseason.
Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M)
Nine more years and $67,500,000 left on his contract is reason enough for there to be no evidence of a hot seat in College Station but winning nine-games and being competitive with the eventual national champions is more than enough to win over the Aggies after a season.