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SEC Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik
Posted Mar 30, 2012

If you needed a coach to take over your program, which SEC West coach would fit?

2012 SEC West Coaches

The Hot Seat Factor

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East Florida | Georgia | Kentucky
Missouri | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt  

West Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn
LSU | Ole Miss | Miss State | Texas A&M

SEC East Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status

Picture this. You’re a beleaguered athletic director with an opening at the top of the football organizational chart. Your checkbook is open, and your fan base is glaring at you with unwavering anticipation. Which of the SEC's current head coaches would you put in charge of the program for the next five or so years? Knowing that your own job hangs in the balance, to which man would you entrust your future?

This is NOT necessarily a ranking of how good the head coaches are. This is a ranking based on who would be best to take over a program and build it up, so age is a major factor. A coach might be legendary, but he might not have another five years of greatness left. So with that in mind, who are the top candidates to run your program?

7. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Call this a wait-and-see ranking. He was terrific at Arkansas State, taking the program to a dominant run and a Sun Belt title as a one-and-done rent-a-coach, and now he’s back home. Born in Oxford, this is his program and he’s ready to try to do the near impossible and make it a player in the SEC West race. David Cutcliffe, helped by Eli Manning, made the Rebels good, but that wasn’t enough. Ed Orgeron recruited well, but he was dumped before his era got time to mature. Houston Nutt benefitted from Orgeron’s efforts, but stunk over the last two years. Now the cupboard is bare for Freeze, who’ll turn 43 this season, to make be the coach the Rebels have been searching for. With a 30-7 career record in two years at Lambuth and one at Arkansas State, he’s ready for the big-time.

Hot Seat Status: Will he get the time? Ole Miss hasn’t exactly been patient over the last several coaching tenures, but to do this right, and to have any chance of making a dent in the toughest division in the toughest conference in college football, Freeze will need at least one full recruiting class to mature. In the old days a new coach would get a five-year plan to rebuild, and any coach at Ole Miss might need that long.

6. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sumlin took what now-Baylor head man Art Briles put together and ran with it. While Sumlin didn’t have to rebuild Houston, he came up with two tremendous seasons and helped make Case Keenum the greatest statistical passer in NCAA history. His offense was unstoppable last year against everyone but Southern Miss, but his defense was effective, too. A former assistant and offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, he’s ready to try to be the one who finally makes the program a national player. Good, but not elite as it was dwarfed in the shadow of Texas and Oklahoma, now A&M gets to find its own niche as the Texas program in the SEC. If nothing else, he should bring a fun attack to a league that’s missing some offensive pizzazz.

Hot Seat Status: This should be really, really interesting. Sumlin will turn just 48 years old this summer and he was one of the hottest prospects this offseason. Had he made a push, he could’ve taken over at Arizona State, Illinois, or UCLA if he really wanted any of those gigs. Instead he took on the challenge of butting his head against the SEC West wall, ensuring that consistent success will be hard to come by. With the move to the SEC, this is a destination job, and there’s not a lot of rebuilding to be done. However, 8-4 in this conference is like 10-2 anywhere else, even if Aggie fans desperate to be in the national title chase won’t see it that way.

5. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
It’s Mississippi State. There’s only so much any coach can do with the Bulldogs right now in the way-too-loaded SEC West. No program would’ve done much in a division with Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas, but he set the bar high with a 9-4 2010 season showing what he could do with his excellent offensive system. But there will always be a talent gap and there will always be a hard ceiling on what the program can do without a lot of luck. That doesn’t mean Mullen isn’t a top-shelf coaching talent and isn’t going to be one for a long, long time – he’s turning 40 this year. As long as his MSU team is competitive, going to bowls, and occasionally pulling off a few big upsets here and there, he’ll be doing his job.

Hot Seat Status: He’s only 21-17 in his three years, but MSU has gone to two straight bowl games and won them both. The back-to-back winning seasons were the first since 1999 and 2000, and remember, from 2001 to 2006 the Bulldogs didn’t win more than three games in a season and had just one winning campaign from 2001 to 2009. The success under Mullen is a relatively new thing for the starving program. He’s not going anywhere.

4. Gene Chizik, Auburn
How much was it Chizik, how much was it Gus Malzahn, and how much was it bringing in Cam Newton? Chizik has a national title forever stamped on his résumé however the sausage was made, and while there will always be skeptics, none of the various charges and allegations against Newton and the program stuck. Going forward, 2011 was major rebuilding year, but he and the Tigers weren’t all that bad in the brutal SEC West. With some terrific recruiting classes, Chizik is bringing in the talent level to stay with the Alabamas and LSUs of the conference. There might be more seasoning needed and a little more work to do with this year’s team, but he’s showing staying power. Newton came up with a transcendent season – possibly the greatest year by any quarterback ever – but Chizik deserves credit for keeping the ship steady through all the turmoil. While he needs to get the Tigers back in the SEC West title hunt soon, all the anger and all the doubters after his 5-19 run at Iowa State are gone.

Hot Seat Status: There’s always going to be tremendous pressure at Auburn, especially if Alabama keeps on doing what it’s doing, but Chizik isn’t on any sort of a hot seat – the guy is only a year removed from winning a national championship. As long as Auburn is in the mix among the stronger SEC teams, he’s not going anywhere.

3. Les Miles, LSU
Let’s get this out of the way. You don’t go 103-39 coaching in the former Big 12 South and the SEC West by being a flake. You don’t go 75-18 with a national title and two conference championships in seven years at a place like LSU without having coaching chops. Nick Saban might have restored the glory in Baton Rouge, but it’s been Miles who took the program to a whole other level with five double-digit win seasons and with just two years with more than two losses. Part of it is recruiting, part of it is superior confidence, part of it is stones-of-steel play-calling, and part of it is pure talent. Miles is a salesman who has put a fence around the state of Louisiana, for the most part, and has managed to bring in wave upon wave of top-shelf talent. Only turning 59 this November, he has several more years of big seasons left, but he’s also old enough that this is probably it. The Michigan job is locked up tight now, the NFL isn’t really the right fit, and there aren’t any programs bigger than LSU right now. Miles made it that way.

Hot Seat Status: The last two seasons have officially ended any talk about his job status … for now. The bar is set so ridiculously high that going 17-9 over a two-year span wasn’t good enough, and the base started to get a bit grouchy. A few mediocre seasons could create a problem, especially with national title-or-bust expectations going into 2012, but at the moment, he’s a damn strong football coach. Have a great day.

2. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas
Blow off the NFL Network’s piece about the 10 Coaches Who Belonged In College, and forget about the horrendous way Petrino bolted from the Atlanta Falcons; he is making Arkansas into a superpower. Considering what he did with Louisville – going 41-9 in four seasons and coming within a whisper of playing for the 2006 national championship, he’s a proven superstar of a college football head coach.

Arkansas was good under Houston Nutt, getting to the 2002 and 2006 SEC championship games, but the conference wasn’t nearly as nasty as it is now and those Hog teams were a little bit of a mirage. Over the last two seasons, under Petrino’s guidance, Arkansas has gone 21-5 with those five losses coming to Alabama and LSU last year, Alabama in 2010, a national-title Auburn team, and in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State. The combined record of those five teams was 61-6; the Hogs aren’t losing any cheap ones. Even more impressive is that Petrino is doing this without the talent of LSU or Alabama. He’s getting some nice recruits, but he had to build the program to this level. And that’s the point. Whom would you want to take over your program and make it shine at the highest of levels? Petrino has done it twice.

Hot Seat Status: Where is he going to go? Arkansas ended Petrino’s reputation for having a wandering eye by locking him up tight. His alma mater is Carroll, so it’s not like there’s a heartstring job out there. To be kind, let’s just say the NFL isn’t exactly an option, and at the moment, few college gigs are stronger or more promising than Arkansas after the rebuilding job he did. Only 51, if he keeps this up there might be national championships, plural, before he’s done.

1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Three national championships With the 2012 BCS championship victory, Saban has entered the hallowed territory where only the true college football coaching legends reside. Bo Schembechler never won one. Joe Paterno, Tom Osborne, and Bobby Bowden each won two. Woody Hayes won three, as did Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer. Saban has done the near-impossible and won national championships in two different schools, raising the trophy three times in seven seasons with more likely on the way.

He and his Alabama program have become the gold standard of college coaching, currently revered in the same way the NFL types do Bill Belichick and the Patriots. After time spent as Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns, Saban has created a no-nonsense, pro-style atmosphere with a task-master approach to his assistants. Now, no one has more respect when it comes to putting together a gameplan; he’s the proverbial coach you’d want for the one game with the fate of the planet, or the BCS championship against LSU, on the line.

The superstar recruits keep on coming with top five class after top five class brought in, and while he and his staff still have to work for players in the cutthroat SEC, it has become a badge of honor just to be recruited by Alabama. Schools are always quick to highlight when a new recruit was also wanted by the Tide, giving the new pickup a special sort of validation.

Saban will never be Bear Bryant, but he’s carving out his own niche for a whole new generation of Tide fans. He’ll turn 61 on Halloween, and the stability of his job and the program isn’t in question after whopper of a contract extension. The fire appears to still be there to do even more with another team returning that’ll be a favorite to win the national title. No coach in college football is any better, and while it wouldn’t be a long run, he’s the top coach going right now to run a program for the next five years.

Hot Seat Status: $6 million. There was no need to give Saban such a massive raise, but Alabama did it anyway. The NFL will never come calling again after the Miami fiasco, and there’s no college job right now bigger or better.

SEC East Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status