SEC Football: 4 Coaches Who Will Start 2014 on the Hot Seat
Despite the efforts of some of the best "sources," the 2013-14 offseason looks to be a placid one for the SEC's coaching carousel.
That doesn't mean things are all sunshine and apple pie in the nation's most elite conference, however. With the SEC playing for its eighth straight national championship, head coaches have less room for error than ever before. And winning ain't easy.
As the 2013 season comes to a close, some SEC coaches are just beginning to feel the warmth of their seat, others have felt it mildly for some time, and others are suddenly on fire and have barely saved their jobs.
This is my look at which coaches will need big seasons in 2014 to hold onto what job security they may have at the moment.
4. Bret Bielema
Years at Arkansas: 1
Record at Arkansas: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)
Seat Temperature: Warm
Despite his successes, former head coach Bobby Petrino's poor judgement off the field led to a change at the helm for 2012. After a disappointing, but entertaining, outing from interim head coach John L. Smith, the administration announced a coup in December of 2012: The Razorbacks snatched Bret Bielema out from under the nose of the Big Ten's Wisconsin.
The shock, and the prestige, of the hire can not be overstated. Bielema had coached the Badgers for seven seasons, winning the Big Ten championship the three previous years. For a program with the level of disarray that Arkansas was battling, to pull a coach of this level away from a program like Wisconsin was nothing short of historic.
Bielema, however, faced problems of perception from the outset. In February of 2012, before he could fathom he'd be coaching in the Southeastern Conference, Bielema was quoted as stating, "I can tell you this: We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC in any way, shape, or form." Now, imagine being an Arkansas player hearing the announcement of Bielema as your next head coach.
His ability to sell his program has so far shown to be lacking. After winning his first three games against cupcakes, Bielema's Razorback squad finished the season with nine consecutive losses, ending the season winless in the conference. Even John L. Smith, that supposedly subpar interim head coach, won two conference games.
No one is expecting miracles from Bielema. Not immediately, anyways. The program is in need of a complete rebuilding from the ground up, and that will take some time. In the SEC, though, another three-win season could very well put a coach who was never friendly with the conference to begin with in the middle of his fanbase's crosshairs.
3. Dan Mullen
Years at Mississippi State: 5
Record at Mississippi State: 35-28 (16-24 SEC)
Seat Temperature: Warm
Dan Mullen has blown away records at Mississippi State. He's the fourth-winningest coach in program history, has the second-best winning percentage among MSU coaches that have coached at least three years and has tied the program's highest number of postseason wins.
In the SEC, though, good just isn't good enough.
The media seems to think Mullen's time has come. After what could be, with a bowl game loss, his worst season since his debut in 2009, the story has it that MSU fans have become restless and are looking to take that "next step".
Luckily for Mullen, and MSU fans, the media don't make the decisions. In a recent poll from Public Policy Polling, not only do 48 percent of Mississippians polled approve of Mullen's job performance (versus 18 percent), a full 56 percent (versus 16 percent) believe he should return after 2013.
Perhaps his job isn't in nearly as much danger as the media would have you believe.
If there ever was a chance for the Bulldogs to make noise in the SEC, it will come in 2014. Mississippi State returns a developing star in senior quarterback Dak Prescott and a wealth of talent at skill positions on both sides of the ball, will compete in an SEC that is losing the majority of its experience and will finally have the favor of a (relatively) weaker league schedule.
If MSU can take that next step, can win 10 or more games, perhaps Mullen's outstanding performance at—and loyalty to—Mississippi State will finally quiet the naysayers.
2. Mark Richt
Years at Georgia: 13
Record at Georgia: 126-44 (72-32 SEC)
Seat Temperature: Warm
Imagine coaching in the nation's most competitive conference. Now imagine coaching in that conference and winning twice as many league games as you lose and nearly three times as many overall. Now imagine all of that and your job being in danger.
Welcome to Mark Richt's life.
To be fair, where the media have little to go on against Mullen at MSU, there are legitimate arguments against Richt. Georgia is a historic program with ample resources. A lot is expected, and Richt didn't deliver this season.
After winning two SEC championships and attending two BCS bowls in his first five years at the UGA helm, Richt's Bulldog program struggled in 2013. Perhaps no program in recent memory has had more "what ifs" than Georgia endured this year. Injuries, including to all-everything starters Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley, left the team decimated in a year that had national title written all over it.
While Richt is in no serious immediate danger, the patience of UGA fans seems shorter than most. With Murray and several other long-time starters graduating, the Bulldog coach can't afford to reload for long.
1. Will Muschamp
Years at Florida: 3
Record at Florida: 22-16 (13-11 SEC)
Seat Temperature: Sizzling
Everyone is allowed a down year, right? Injuries—a lot of them—hit the Gators where it hurt over and over in 2013. Offensive line, quarterback, you name it, and they were on the DL. A year removed from 11 wins and a BCS bowl berth, Muschamp had done enough to warrant the benefit of the doubt.
And then, Georgia Southern visited. In what was the program's first ever loss to an FCS program, the highly funded SEC program just five years past a national title was embarrassed on its home field. GSU was completely unidimensional, passing just three times for zero yards, and still left The Swamp with a victory. This, undeniably, was an utter coaching catastrophe on the highest of levels.
As a reminder, FCS programs are only allowed 63 scholarships compared to 85 for the FBS. With the level of talent and resources at the fingertips of head coach Will Muschamp, injuries simply were not an excuse to lose to Georgia State. There was no excuse.
Muschamp has lost his fans, saying they need to "get a grip." Though his players have voiced their support for their head coach, the former Texas associate head coach barely kept his job after his disastrous 4-8 campaign this season. After firing multiple staff members in an effort to shirk the blame, Muschamp cannot fall short of competing for at least a divisional title in 2014.
And with names like Jeff Driskel, Solomon Patton, and Mack Brown graduating, that will be a tough order to fill returning, that type of turnaround might just within reach.