SEC ADs fire at will

To be a Southeastern Conference athletics director these days you need a really good head for business ... and a really sharp ax.

A slumping economy and rising expectations have combined to create a soap-opera atmosphere in SEC sports these days. We might as well go ahead and dub the 2008-09 school year "As The Ax Falls."

Here's a recap of the past few episodes:

- Three years after going 13-0 in 2005, Tommy Tuberville was forced out as Auburn's head football coach.

- One year after winning the SEC East title, Phillip Fulmer was forced out as Tennessee's head football coach.

- One year after winning SEC Coach of the Year recognition, Sylvester Croom was forced out as Mississippi State's head football coach.

The message is clear: If your program isn't rolling, your head soon will be.

Of course, SEC football is a religion unto itself, and that kind of fanaticism would never bleed over into the other sports. Or would it?

Two conference basketball coaches felt the ax blade this week. Mark Gottfried resigned under pressure at Alabama and Dennis Felton was shown the door at Georgia. So much for basketball being a stepchild sport in the SEC ...

Certainly, Gottfried and Felton have underachieved in recent years. After a hot start in Tuscaloosa, Gottfried posted just three winning SEC records in the past 10 years. His overall mark in league play was a nondescript 83-82. Felton didn't even have the benefit of a hot start in Athens. He went 26-59 in league play, including an 0-5 start this year. His Dawgs had lost seven games in a row at the time of his dismissal.

Still, you have to wonder about firing a coach before the season has played out. Don DeVoe's first Tennessee team started 12-11 overall and 6-6 in SEC play. The 1978-79 team jelled at this point, however, winning nine consecutive games (including the SEC Tournament title and a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament) en route to a 21-12 finish.

Regardless, the ousters of Gottfried and Felton suggest SEC basketball is now on par with SEC football in terms of expectations, if not popularity. Football is still the dominant sport at every SEC school except Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but basketball is expected to put fannies in the seats and keep the big-money donors happy. Otherwise, your coach gets the ax.

That's why Tennessee fired Buzz Peterson following the 2004-05 season. That's why Ole Miss got rid of Rod Barnes following the 2005-06 season. That's why Kentucky ran off Tubby Smith and Arkansas said goodbye to Stan Heath following the 2006-07 season. That's why LSU canned John Brady during the 2007-08 season and why South Carolina shed very few tears when Dave Odom retired at season's end.

Only three current SEC coaches have lasted a decade at their current school. Billy Donovan is in Year 13 at Florida. Rick Stansbury is in Year 11 at Mississippi State. Kevin Stallings is in Year 10 at Vanderbilt, and his seat was smoking until he notched back-to-back 10-6 SEC marks and NCAA Tournament bids in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

The SEC coach who ranks fourth in seniority is Jeff Lebo, and his job security at Auburn is tenuous at best. His first four seasons on The Plains produced three 4-12 league records and one 7-9 mark. Thanks to a 2-3 start this year, he stands just 21-48 in conference play.

Given how quickly the ax is falling in the SEC this year, Lebo might be wise to start wearing a sturdy neck brace.


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