SEC Football Is the Russian Roulette of Coaching

Michael OleszekAnalyst IOctober 9, 2008

Coaching football in the SEC can be very rewarding, given the number of National Titles SEC teams have won, the high dollar salaries SEC coaches earn, the BCS bowl berths, and so on.

Winning in the SEC comes at an extremely high cost.

No other conference in America has the emphasis on winning that the SEC does. All 12 coaches are on the perpetual hot seat. There is no higher profile coaching position in the country other than maybe Notre Dame.  

Even the assistant coaches come and go at a breakneck pace. Just yesterday Auburn's offensive coordinator was shown the door after seven games. Not seven seasons—seven games. This will now throw Auburn's season into a deeper tailspin and could cost Tommy Tuberville his job.

Tony Franklin isn't the only assistant who is on the hot seat.

Florida OC Dan Mullen has been on a hot seat since the first game of the Urban Meyer era. The heat has been turned up this season simply because the offense isn't playing "Florida Football." New Tennessee OC Dave Clawson is on a hot seat just as warm as head coach Phil Fulmer's.

It only gets worse for the head coaches too. Now, in all fairness, some have left schools for vastly different reasons.

Some, like Jackie Sherrill and Lou Holtz, would rather retire than face the NCAA's wrath for being program-raping cheaters.

Some, like Houston Nutt and Tommy Tuberville, took jobs at other SEC schools.

Some, like Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier, tried their hand at the NFL before coming back to another SEC school.

Most coaches have been let go for one indiscretion or another: strip club visits, affairs with secretaries, boosters making payments, etc.

None of those are as bad as losing football games, and no one is safe. Coaching in the SEC has become a game of Russian Roulette. It is win, win now, win again, or be fired. That's the reality. Every week the coaches are looking down the barrel of a gun. Win and pass that gun on to the next coach.

I applaud the ADs at Mississippi State and Vanderbilt for allowing their respective coaches to build the programs despite the losing. The day and age of the five-year plan to build a team in coaching is long gone.

The new five-year plan is: How many times will you make the BCS? How many SEC titles will you win? There is no learning curve when a coach inherits another coach's recruits.

Remember, this is the conference where a school (Auburn) courted another coach without firing the current coach. The Zook-era Florida coaching staff coached the 2004 Peach Bowl practices with Illinois sweatshirts on while serving under interim coach Charlie Strong.

There are five coaches with National Championships under their belts, and a couple more coaches in the conference will probably win at least one title before their careers are done.

The stakes in the SEC have been raised so high, and the margin of error so thin, it boggles the mind why anyone would want to coach in the SEC.

The reason? It's the SEC. There's not a better way to put it. The prestige of the conference draws the big-time "it" coaches, chews them up, and spits them out—only the strongest survive.

The fanbases in the SEC are bloodthirsty and hungry for championships. A 4-7 season at most schools will not have the RVs showing up on a Thursday, except for those schools like Auburn, who in the midst of a season (1998) that saw the head coach resign in the middle of the season still packed Jordan-Hare Stadium full. 

Let's take Phillip Fulmer, for example. A National Championship coach in 1998 is now on the hottest seat of them all. Why? Some say it's because the Vols have gotten worse. If anything, the SEC has gotten better.

During the Vols' heyday of the 1990s, it was Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and a rotation of whoever else was good in the pecking order. The other nine teams in the conference were up and down during the 1990s, but now the talent level has caught up to the Vols, and suddenly a coach like Fulmer is in danger of losing his job.

If out of conference coaches like Les Miles and Urban Meyer can win National Titles, why can't our coach? What makes it so easy for them to win and not us? Now that in-state school Vanderbilt is the newest flavor of the month, the rumblings in Knoxville are getting much louder.

A football program that was once a punch line is now a player. For how long will that last? You never know. Bobby Johnson may get an offer this year for a more prominent football program, and Vandy will resume its rightful place at the bottom of the SEC.

Then some other coach will get their opportunity to pick up the gun. What they do with it is another story.