Don't Expect Coaching Stability To Continue

For the first time since the latter stages of the Reagan Administration, every SEC football coach will be returning for the upcoming season. America's most impatient and demanding fans will be kicking the same guys around after each SEC setback for the entire 2006 campaign.

Frankly it's kinda nice to see the league show some stability, but it's not likely to become a habit. At least two SEC football coaches are on dangerously thin ice, another may be close and two others have to have folks feeling pretty antsy. So here, in my view are five SEC Coaches that need good things to happen in 2006. Not all are necessarily facing termination, perhaps. But all are in a position where another down year could seriously erode the level of support on their respective campuses.

  • Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt ----- How can Johnson be getting heat after the Commodores beat Tennessee to close their best season in conference play (3-and-5) since 1991? Well, in part because it was still just a 3-and-5 season. In part, because Vanderbilt was good enough to be a bowl team with a top draft pick at quarterback and still finished below .500. His four-year record stands at 11-and-35, and the three SEC wins in '05 topped his first three seasons combined (2-and-22). Another sub-.500 season might get folks wondering if 5-and-6 is as good as it's going to get.
  • Houston Nutt, Arkansas ----- Eight years in Fayetteville and Arkansas is still seeking any semblance of consistency, let alone a sign of excellence. Nutt's Hogs have suffered through consecutive losing seasons and are just 5-and-11 in SEC action in that time. Over eight years his teams have averaged five losses a season. He shook up his coaching staff and has invested heavily in a high school coach, Gus Malzahn to upgrade the offense. It better happen in a hurry. Arkansas lost four heartbreaks last year (Vandy by 4, Georgia by 3, SC by 4 and LSU by 2). They gotta win the close ones this time around.
  • Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee ----- I feel a little ridiculous including such a successful coach on this list, but reality is what it is. There are some very unhappy folks in Rocky Top after a losing season in 2005 that included losses to Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Vanderbilt. Add in troubles off the field and there is plenty of squawking up there. Since winning the National Title in '98, the Vols have had just three ten-win seasons and have averaged almost four losses a year. That's a far cry from Fulmer's first six seasons in which the Vols had five ten-win campaigns and lost just eleven times. The return of David Cutcliffe should get the offense back on track, but it's gonna get nasty if the Vols are third or worse in the SEC East again.
  • Rich Brooks, Kentucky ----- This is a name you will see on every "coach on the hot seat" listing in pre-season publications. Brooks is 9-and-25 after three awful seasons in Lexington and the MildKats have managed to win just four of 24 SEC games. And they haven't been very entertaining, scoring 16 or fewer points six times in '05. Keep in mind, Brooks inherited a team that went 7-and-5 in 2002. Brooks was out of college coaching since 1994 when Kentucky hired him. His coaching record does not inspire confidence that Brooks can build a contender. His record at Oregon ('77-'94) was a rather lowly 97-126-and-4. He had two years with the St. Louis Rams in the NFL, posting a 13-and-19 mark.
  • Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State ----- After two 3-and-8 seasons Croom certainly needs time to try and make the Bulldogs competitive. But how much time will he get? State seemed to regress last year, scoring just ten points or less seven times. A 35-14 rout of arch-rival Ole Miss in the season finale' had to help get the home folks in a better mood, but the 2006 season has to show progress. State will be good on defense, but building an offense without talented tailback Jerious Norwood will be tough. Norwood ran for 1,136 yards and six touchdowns last season and was also MSU's # 2 receiver. Croom is a guy all of college football is rooting for. He opens at home with South Carolina and Auburn. Winning either one would be a huge step in the right direction.

I'm not a big believer in calling for coaches' heads. I guess that's a flaw for a media guy, but when you get as close to coaches as I do you realize the trauma that goes with coaching changes. Unfortunately the coaching world is an unforgiving place. Fans have short memories and no patience, and all too often boosters and school presidents are the same way. It is a rarity to see all the SEC coaches returning this fall. It's a feat that's not likely to be repeated anytime soon.


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