Coaching Football In The SEC A Risky Business

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look around the SEC at the job security of head coaches.

If there is one certainty in the lives of big-time college football coaches, it is uncertainty. Seemingly secure jobs can become insecure as quickly as a sun-lit day can turn dark and stormy.

All it takes is a bad season, maybe two, and supporters who once clamored for a minute of your time are suddenly speculating about who might best be chosen to replace you. Long-term contracts provide financial security, but in the high-finance world of college football, administrators are often willing to fork over millions if enough of the faithful demand a change.

With the 2007 season less than four months away, five Southeastern Conference coaches are about as secure as coaches can be. Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, Florida's Urban Meyer, Georgia's Mark Richt, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Alabama's Nick Saban don't have to look over their shoulders, at least not this season.

In the past three seasons, Tuberville has gone 33-5, has a perfect season and a conference championship. Meyer, of course, is still basking in the glory of last season's national championship. Richt has two SEC championships in his seven Georgia seasons. Spurrier seems to be on the verge of turning things around at South Carolina. Saban is heading toward his first Alabama season and, though he hasn't coached a game in crimson, might already be the most popular Tide coach since Bear Bryant.

The remaining seven SEC coaches have varying degrees of job security, though few seem to be in a "win or else" situation.

Perhaps the least secure of the bunch is Arkansas' Houston Nutt. Though the Razorbacks went 10-4 and played in the SEC Championship Game last season, things have been ugly in Fayetteville.

It all started with the departure of quarterback Mitch Mustain, the prep phenom who was supposed to lead the way to the promised land. It mushroomed from there. A bad season, maybe even a mediocre one, would probably mean the end of Nutt's time at Arkansas.

The heat could also be turned up in the state of Mississippi.

Sylvester Croom has changed the mindset of Mississippi State football, instilled discipline and done a lot of other good things. But he has yet to win more than three games. That can't go on indefinitely.

At Ole Miss, Ed Orgeron has upgraded the talent base if you believe in recruiting rankings. He talks a good game, though many would say he talks too much. But all that bluster and all those high school stars eventually have to translate into making a move in the SEC West. It hasn't happened yet. If it doesn't happen this season, things could get interesting in Oxford.

Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer, the only member of the fraternity other than Tuberville who has had a perfect season as an SEC coach, might have been seriously on the hot seat this season had the Vols not made a nice comeback in 2006 from a five-win season in 2005. The expectations will be high this season. Another disappointment could bring some loud grumbling.

Les Miles has had two great seasons at LSU, but he is remarkably unpopular. He is blamed for every loss and given little credit for the wins. He'll be without offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, and that could be problematic. One bad season probably wouldn't get Miles fired, but it could start the clock.

Rich Brooks started last season seriously on the hot seat at Kentucky, but he bought some time by taking the Wildcats to the Music City Bowl. It's not like you have to win championships at Kentucky. Just go to a bowl now and then and folks will be happy.

Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson is a good guy and a good coach with a bad job. If he can get the Commodores to a bowl game, he'd be wise to look around for a job where he has a real chance.


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