With four coaching vacancies already out there, the 2012 silly season is already shaping up to be quite intriguing in SEC country.
Auburn joined Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee in the market, when it announced on Sunday that head coach Gene Chizik has been dismissed following a 3-9 season that saw the Tigers go 0-8 in the SEC for the first time in program history.
The four jobs will provide plenty of intrigue from coaches looking to change addresses in 2013 for a variety of reasons, but which one is the best. Here's our ranking:
4. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky is a better job than people give it credit for. Sure, football takes a back seat to basketball in the Bluegrass State, but that can work both ways.
It isn't the kind of place where coaches can win consistently, but it is the kind of place where coaches can earn a good living and achieve some stability if they can achieve marginal success.
A 2-10 record and a winless season inside the SEC like the one Joker Phillips posted in 2012 won't cut it. But consistent minor bowl games, like former head coach Rich Brooks led the Wildcats to in the late 2000s, is certainly good enough.
Kentucky is either a stepping stone job or a perfect place for a reclamation project (read: Bobby Petrino). That's not going to prevent the Wildcats from luring an up-and-coming coach like Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart, but it will prevent them from getting a big-name coach.
Former Tennessee Volunteer quarterback Erik Ainge suggested that Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones may be the guy.
Heads up, watch out for Butch Jones to Kentucky...coming soon— Erik Ainge (@ErikAinge3) November 26, 2012
Ainge later updated the Jones situation.
Reports coming out of Cincinnati that Butch Jones just met with team to confirm he WAS going to take KY job, but changed his mind...hmmm— Erik Ainge (@ErikAinge3) November 26, 2012
It would seem like a lateral move at best, but it would be hard to fault Jones if he decides to bail on the Big East for the stability of the SEC.
3. Arkansas Razorbacks
It's really a close call between Arkansas and Tennessee for the No. 2 spot, but considering the talent that is departing Fayetteville this season, the Hogs drop below the Vols on our list.
Quarterback Tyler Wilson, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, running back Dennis Johnson and linebackers Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright are all out the door, and running back Knile Davis could be as well.
Attrition, coupled with the fact that the Razorbacks live in the rough and tumble SEC West, makes it more of a gamble than some of the other SEC openings.
It's good enough to attract big-name head coaches, but it may take more time than some to rebuild than some Hog fans would like.
The biggest thing that Arkansas has going for it is the fact that it will have a ton of money to spend. Athletic director Jeff Long fired former head coach Bobby Petrino with cause, after it was discovered that he covered up a motorcycle wreck with his mistress, who just so happened to be the on-campus recruiting coordinator whom he hired. Recently-dismissed head coach John L. Smith was then signed to a 10-month contract in April.
Buyout money is more myth than reality on the Razorbacks' books, which will allow them to go out and lure high-profile coaches to northwest Arkansas.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee's 5-7 record may not be anything to write home about, but it was clear that this team improved after posting the same record in 2011.
The offensive line—which had only one senior starter—improved tremendously from a year ago, which helped a running game that should return essentially its entire corps. If nobody jumps to the NFL early, the Vols will return wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, and quarterback Tyler Bray.
Defensively, the Vols were a train wreck, giving up 471.3 yards per game—worst in the SEC. But the Vols have a good foundation with linebackers Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson, and they have nowhere to go but up.
It took a little while, but Tennessee has started pouring resources into its football program lately.
The Vols recently completed an immaculate training facility and allocated $6 million per year for three years to aide in transition to the new staff after former head coach Derek Dooley was let go earlier this month.
Tennessee is desperate, and whoever takes the job will have the opportunity to recruit and play at a high level rather quickly.
1. Auburn Tigers
If any coach wants to win quickly, Auburn may be the place for him.
The Tigers have reeled in top 15 recruiting classes in each of the last three seasons, according to 247Sports.com. It was the lack of the development of that talent that athletic director Jay Jacobs mentioned in his opening comments with the media as a primary reason for Chizik's dismissal.
A winless season in the SEC has fueled the desire of Tiger fans. Alabama being in the national title discussion in November for the fourth time in the last five years adds to the desperation, but the impact of the Alabama's success on the Auburn program isn't as much of a factor as it was prior to Auburn winning the 2010 BCS National Championship.
Auburn can be successful independent of Alabama, and the foundation for a quick turnaround is there.
Sure, the report of the potential NCAA investigation will cause some concern for some candidates. But if it is a big deal, you'd think that Auburn would be smart enough to distance itself from assistant coach Trooper Taylor, not welcome him back to help during the transition.
Georgia assistant coach Mike Bobo was once taken off the recruiting trail for getting a prospect into a $8 tennis match, so let's hold off on making Taylor and Curtis Luper's absence from the trail this fall a big deal. If it were, they would have been dismissed long before Sunday afternoon.
Auburn has talent on the roster and is desperate. That's a good combination for the next head coach.