Too early in the season to scrutinize job security?
Not when the vultures/boosters/administrators/media are circling coaches already on the hot seat. Not when athletic directors long ago broke the seal on firing a coach at midseason.
Three weeks into the season, it seems like a good idea to revisit the annual Hot Seat Rankings from the summer.
|Hot Seat Ratings Key|
|Rating||What it means|
|5||Win or be fired|
|4||Better start improving|
|2||All good ... for now|
|1||Safe and secure|
Just because it's hard not to in the modern what-have-you-won-for-me-now landscape. Sorry if anyone is offended but what you see below is approximately $19 million worth of 2016 contracts hanging in the balance for the five coaches most in danger of losing their jobs at the moment.
They care. We care. The people paying them the money care. The coaches most in danger are listed in descending order.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky (5): Athletic director Mitch Barnhart has spent millions on facilities, raises and stadium upgrades. One problem: Stoops' program hasn't done its part with all that cash behind it. That's kind of a big deal with Stoops in his fourth season and Kentucky off to a disappointing 1-2 start. Entering the fourth game of that fourth season, Bob's brother has exactly nine FBS victories. Two of them are over South Carolina.
Let's just call it a must-win this week, then, against the Gamecocks. Or something close to it. Aside from Vanderbilt, Kentucky's last three-game winning streak over an SEC opponent came in 1959 (over Tennessee).
Barnhart must decide if -- for starters -- he wants to write a $12 million check to buy out Stoops. That doesn't include the cost of firing and replacing the remainder of the staff. We're probably talking about $18 million to $20 million to redo Kentucky football for 2017.
Except that all the money Barnhart has spent to date was supposed to keep this from happening. At a basketball flagship, it will be interesting to see if there is the, uh, financial gumption to write that check. Previously: 4
Gus Malzahn, Auburn (4): If Auburn loses this week to LSU, the Tigers will be 1-3 without having played a road game. And with six more SEC games still to go. Yes, Malzahn could be in trouble.
But who's going to make the call? Auburn's president (Jay Gogue) is retiring. Athletic director Jay Jacobs has to put his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. All-powerful trustee Bobby Lowder is out of the picture.
Meanwhile, Auburn's offense remains bogged down. Malzahn questioned his own play-calling this week, adding that this season's two losses "have probably hurt me worse than one of the others."
That's a very bad combination for the latest Auburn coach to suffer the fast-changing whims on The Plains. At the root of this issue is quarterback play. Malzahn coached Cam Newton and Nick Marshall to greatness. Since then, Jeremy Johnson (2015) and Sean White (2016) have failed to impress.
Auburn's coach is at his best when his quarterback is a true run-pass threat. But isn't everyone? This is at least as much about Auburn watching Alabama dominate the landscape (again) and being compared to Nick Saban every day.
If Auburn chooses to fire Malzahn, it would continue an impatient legacy. Pat Dye was fired three years after three consecutive seasons of at least sharing the SEC title. Terry Bowden was canned in 1998, half a season after playing in the SEC Championship Game. Gene Chizik was gone two seasons after winning the 2010 national championship.
Malzahn is less than three seasons removed from losing to Florida State in the last BCS title game. After LSU, the next three SEC games are against Mississippi State, Arkansas and Ole Miss. Yes, Malzahn could be in trouble. Previously: 3.5
Clay Helton, USC (3.5): The always level-headed Trojan fans (sarcasm added) have weighed in quickly after USC's first 1-2 start since 2001. Add to that superstar receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster duking it out at practice and Helton having to deny rumors he was punched by a player.
There is little here that is good in the near term. The Trojans were humiliated in the Alabama opener. They were physically dominated last week at Stanford. The grind of the Pac-12 remains. USC wanted some consistency, tapped out on the Carroll coaching tree. It got it, but will Troy calm down long enough for Helton to get a fair chance?
Even if USC wanted to make a change after one season, Helton has a reported guaranteed contract. Rookie AD Lynn Swann's experience at hiring football coaches is, well, none. In fact, the last USC AD who took the job having previously hired a head football coach was Mike McGee in 1984.
Then there is the inherent danger of changing coaches after one season. USC probably doesn't want to get on that carousel. Helton is the program's third permanent head coach in the last 6.5 years. Prior to that there had been five in 41 years.
But if Houston's Tom Herman becomes available, how does USC not make a change if things continue to sour? That's where Swann's expertise will be tested. If he thinks a change is possible, he needs to reach out to Herman through third parties because, news flash, Lynn: Houston's coach is really popular.
A Friday trip to underrated Utah could be a season-breaker. USC hasn't been 1-3 either since 2001. Previously: 2
Les Miles, LSU (5): The state's depressed finances, Les' prohibitive buyout and his unrealized popularity by the administration kept LSU from firing Miles last year. But the unstated standard is still there: beat Alabama and subsequently play for the SEC title.
The loss to Wisconsin and Brandon Harris' relegation to the bench ratchets up the pressure. Lose to Auburn and the Tigers are off to a 2-2 start for the first time since Nick Saban's second season in 2001. The play of Danny Etling has provided a glimmer of hope. Previously: 5
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (5): The opening-night loss to South Carolina restarted the chatter on Mason's job security. In his third season, Mason hasn't been able to field a serviceable offense. After three games, only four teams are worse in total yards.
The punchless offense is harder to sit through than your average city council meeting. Mason made is rep coaching up a stingy Stanford defense. His offenses at Vandy have struggled to average 17 points.
After a 31-point loss to Georgia Tech, Mason is 8-19 having won only two of 17 SEC games. Whatever the buyout is after three years, it's getting easier to pay. All of it is making James Franklin's back-to-back nine-win seasons look miraculous. Previously: 3.5
Hot starts instead of hot seats
If we're going to take shots at guys not doing well, then in the interest of fairness we should credit these five coaches who have improved their long-term employment prospects.
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest (3): So the competition has been slight -- Tulane, Duke, Delaware -- but the Deacons have won three in a row for the first time since 2011. The 3-0 start is only the 10th in program history. Previously: 3.5
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (3): There are two undefeated teams in the moribund Big 12. Holgorsen gets credit for being one of them at this early date. Previously: 4
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: (3): Look who's back to being the Quarterback Whisperer? Trevor Knight has been surprisingly efficient. The Aggies (3-0) are suddenly a factor in the SEC West heading into the Arkansas game. Previously: 3.5