The mighty SEC could see a 29 percent change in coaches before November is done. Joker Phillips has already been told he’s out at Kentucky, and Arkansas is conducting a search even as interim John L. Smith lobbies to stay. (Good luck there. Smith inherited a Top 10 team and has gone 4-6. He has also declared bankruptcy, which may be why he needs the job.) And two of the league’s flagships — Auburn and Tennessee — figure to be holding we’ve-decided-to-go-in-different-direction press conferences soon.
Gene Chizik won a BCS title in 2010. In 2012 his Auburn Tigers have gone 0-7 in league play and have lost 63-21 to Texas A&M and 38-0 to Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Matt Scalici of Al.com reports that Chizik is telling recruits he will be back next season, but what’s a coach supposed to say?
After Tennessee lost to Missouri 51-48 in overtime Saturday to fall to 0-6 in SEC play, rumors swirled that Derek Dooley had been fired. Those weren’t accurate, but he did meet with athletic director Dave Hart Jr. on Sunday, which can’t be a good sign. As much as Tennessee might like to keep Dooley, there’s no getting past his career SEC record: It’s 4-18, the victories coming against Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vanderbilt (twice).
It would be a major upset if either Chizik or Dooley returns, and that would leave the biggest of all football conferences in serious flux. Going alphabetically, here’s a look at what at what could transpire.
ARKANSAS: This is only one of the four jobs for which Bobby Petrino isn’t apt to campaign, given that he just got fired after wrecking both his motorcycle and his career. Gary Patterson of TCU was identified as the frontrunner — he called such rumors “unfounded” — by CoachingSearch.com. It’s believed that Tommy Tuberville, who has already coached two of the seven programs in the SEC West (Ole Miss and Auburn), would have interest. But Tuberville’s candidacy for this or any other job might have been compromised: He was caught yanking the headset off a graduate assistant and has since been reprimanded by the Big 12.
X-factor: Charlie Strong, whose Louisville Cardinals are 9-1, has a sterling SEC history (defensive coordinator at South Carolina and Florida) and Arkansas ties (born in Batesville, played at Central Arkansas), but his name hasn’t been circulating the way Patterson’s has. Maybe it’s because Tom Jurich, the Louisville AD, told Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports he’ll make Strong the highest-paid coach in the land if that’s what it takes to keep him.
AUBURN: Writing for Mr. SEC.com, John Pennington has tabbed Petrino and Jimbo Fisher of Florida State as the leaders in the clubhouse for a job that hasn’t officially come open. (Not that such a thing has ever bothered Petrino.) Fisher made noise this week by complaining that the BCS system, which ranks his once-beaten Seminoles behind three two-loss SEC teams, “stinks.” He also asked: “How retarded is that?” He later apologized for what he called “a poor choice of words.”
X-factor: There has been speculation that Jay Jacobs, the AD who hired Chizik and who handed him a massive raise after Auburn won it all, would be sacked along with his coach. (Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News has advocated as much.) But 247Sports reported that school president Jay Gogue has told board members he plans to keep Jacobs.
KENTUCKY: The least of the four jobs, and the hardest to handicap. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports reported the Wildcats aren’t considering Petrino, which seems surprising. For all his foibles, the man can coach, and his father told Adam Himmeslbach of the Louisville Courier-Journal that his son “is interested” in Kentucky. Sonny Dykes, who was a grad assistant in Lexington under Hal Mumme and whose Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are 9-1 and ranked 20th in the BCS standings, is seen as a possibility, but it’s not clear if the Wildcats will pay the going rate to hire a Hot Name. (They pay big in basketball, as we know.)
X-factor: Forde also mentioned Dirk Koetter, who’s the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, as a possibility. Koetter hasn’t worked in college since being fired at Arizona State after the 2006 season, but he was the coach who put Boise State on the football map. And Mitch Barnhart, the Kentucky AD, had a history of tapping a man with Northwest roots who last worked for the Falcons: In 2002 Barnhart hired Rich Brooks, once Oregon’s coach and later Dan Reeves’ defensive coordinator here, and Brooks led Kentucky to four consecutive bowls before retiring.
TENNESSEE: There has been a goofy cyber push for Jon Gruden, but it’s easier to see the ESPN analyst coaching the Philadelphia Eagles next season. Tuberville figures to be in play, and maybe Petrino. Both Pennington of Mr. SEC and Knoxville blogger Tony Basilio mention Miami coach Al Golden, whose Hurricanes are trying to hold off Georgia Tech in the ACC Coastal, and former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio.
X-factor: He’s bright, he’s brash and he has won more SEC games in two seasons than Dooley has in three. Trouble is, James Franklin has done his winning at Vanderbilt, which Tennessee barely deigns to acknowledge. Franklin is clearly bound for big things at a bigger program — VandySports.com reported he spurned an overture from North Carolina State — but for the Big Orange? That’d be like Georgia hiring Paul Johnson.
By Mark Bradley