Everyone in the SEC knows that Butch Jones is under pressure in Knoxville. But what happens if the hot seat gets too hot?
SEC teams don’t get rid of coaches during the season as often as fans might think. Even when SEC coaches have been informed they’re getting the boot, they’ve sometimes been allowed to finish out the season (see Curley Hallman at LSU in 1994, Jim Donnan at Georgia in 2000 or Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee in 2008).
These coaches, though, didn’t.
Here’s a list of in-season coach firings going back to 1992, the start of divisional play in the SEC. Interestingly enough, in three of the cases, the coaches’ long-term successors ended up winning a national championship within four years.
Are the pieces in place for that kind of resurgence at Neyland Stadium? Not necessarily — but read on.
Les Miles, LSU, 2016
Record at the time: 2-2
What happened: The Tigers were coming off a bizarre loss to Auburn when athletic director Joe Alleva decided he’d had enough of the unpredictable Miles, in spite of his national championship title from 2007 and a decade of success in Baton Rouge. Defensive line coach and ace recruiter Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach, went 6-2 the rest of the way, and ended up confirmed as permanent successor after weeks of speculation that Jimbo Fisher or Tom Herman would take over. Six weeks into Orgeron’s first full season, the initial reviews are not favorable.
Mark Richt, Georgia, 2015
Record at the time: 9-3
What happened: In charge for 15 years in Athens, Richt had brought the Bulldogs back to consistent respectability but hadn’t taken the team to the very top. The 2015 season was supposed to be Georgia’s chance, with Florida and Tennessee both emerging from struggles, but the team instead lost to both and SEC East hopes evaporated. The Bulldogs dismissed Richt at regular season’s end, naming receivers coach Bryan McClendon as interim coach for the TaxSlayer Bowl. Former Georgia safety Kirby Smart then came from Alabama as the next coach at Sanford Stadium, and he has the Bulldogs in the top five in his second year in charge.
Will Muschamp, Florida, 2014
Record at the time: 5-4 (at time firing was announced)
What happened: Coaching the worst Florida offense in decades wasn’t a recipe for job security for Muschamp, who didn’t make it through his fourth season in Gainesville. The athletic department announced his impending exit after a loss to South Carolina, which put an end to the Gators’ lingering SEC East hopes, though he was allowed to stay on for a win against Eastern Kentucky and a loss to rival Florida State. But Muschamp was gone for the Birmingham Bowl, with D.J. Durkin serving as interim coach. Colorado State’s Jim McElwain was hired for the following year and has won two SEC East titles, but one thing hasn’t changed: Florida’s offense is still a mess. Muschamp, of course, has since resurfaced as coach at South Carolina.
Mike Shula, Alabama, 2006
Record at the time: 6-6
What happened: Shula had taken charge of Alabama after turbulent times surrounding Mike Price’s bizarre and brief tenure, but what he couldn’t do was restore the Crimson Tide to prominence. The murmuring had built for a while before Shula’s run of three losses in as many weeks to Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn. That resulted in a 2-6 SEC record and got Shula fired, replaced by Joe Kines for the Independence Bowl trip. To make matters worse, even the games Shula won in 2006 eventually were vacated for NCAA violations. But once the Crimson Tide brought in Nick Saban following his exit from the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, those problems disappeared quickly.
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