- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Head coaches are hired to be fired in the SEC. OK, not really, but it sure seems that way.
The league will have four new head coaches this season, and only six of the 14 coaches have been in their current jobs longer than two seasons.
The leash is shorter than ever. Consider this: Georgia's Mark Richt is the dean of SEC coaches at the same school. He's entering his 13th season in Athens. Dating back to when Richt was hired at Georgia in 2001, there have been 43 different head coaches at the other 13 SEC schools, which includes Missouri and Texas A&M.
The reality is that you're always on the hot seat if you're coaching college football in this day and age. But we've also seen that making a change, especially when it's a longer-tenured coach, doesn't always guarantee success.
Look at what happened at Texas A&M after R.C. Slocum was forced out, and look at what's happened at Tennessee following Phillip Fulmer's ouster. By the same token, when Auburn and Tommy Tuberville parted ways in 2008 after 10 years together, the Tigers won the national championship two years later under Gene Chizik. But then two years after that, Chizik was gone following a 3-9 season, Auburn's worst in 60 years.
Here's a closer look:
Coach on the bubble: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
SEC precedents: Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee and R.C. Slocum, Texas A&M.
Phillip Fulmer, 152-52-1 at Tennessee
Prior to his arrival: Fulmer was promoted from offensive coordinator after veteran head coach Johnny Majors was forced out toward the end of the 1992 season. Fulmer took over a program that had won SEC championships in 1989 and 1990 and played in the Fiesta Bowl in 1991. But after a promising start to the 1992 season that included wins over Georgia and Florida with Fulmer serving as interim head coach, the Vols lost three straight when Majors suddenly returned to work after missing the first part of the season while recuperating from heart surgery. To this day, Majors and Fulmer don't speak, and Majors holds Fulmer responsible for being part of the group that Majors says conspired to push him out after 16 seasons at his alma mater. It's a charge that Fulmer adamantly denies.
Why he was fired: Fulmer led Tennessee to its first national championship in nearly 50 years in 1998, and from 1995-98, the Vols went 45-5 and won two SEC titles and a national title. He won 10 or more games in nine of his 16 seasons, and Tennessee made five SEC championship game appearances in his last 12 seasons. But the program dipped toward the end of Fulmer's tenure with a pair of losing seasons in 2005 and 2008. The Vols also lost badly to rivals Alabama and Florida in each of Fulmer's final two seasons and dropped 14 of their last 20 games to nationally ranked foes. With much of the Tennessee fan base growing increasingly restless, the final blow for Fulmer was a 29-9 loss to Alabama in 2008. Tide fans all but took over Neyland Stadium that night, and the only thing left at the end of the game was a sea of crimson.
The aftermath: The Vols haven't won more than seven games in a season since Fulmer's ouster and have suffered through three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1909-11. They've lost 14 of their last 16 SEC games, and Butch Jones is Tennessee's fourth head coach in the last six years. Some fans have pinned the blame on Fulmer for leaving the cupboard bare and his last couple of recruiting classes not panning out. Others point to Lane Kiffin's tumultuous 14-month reign as what triggered the downfall of the program. Kiffin's highly ranked 2009 signing class turned out to be a dud, and he bolted for USC just weeks before signing day in 2010. The bottom line is that Tennessee has endured one of its worst stretches of football in school history after firing a coach who was inducted last year into the College Football Hall of Fame and won 98 SEC games. The only coaches who've won more are Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, John Vaught and Vince Dooley.
R.C. Slocum, 123-47-2 at Texas A&M
Prior to his arrival: Texas A&M was rolling along as a Southwest Conference power under Jackie Sherrill, who guided the Aggies to three straight league titles from 1985-87. But NCAA problems caught up with the Aggies, and they were placed on probation for recruiting violations. Sherrill resigned under pressure following the 1988 season, and Slocum was promoted from defensive coordinator to be Texas A&M's new head coach.
Why he was fired: Slocum was Texas A&M's head coach for 14 seasons from 1989-2002 and won three Southwest Conference championships and one Big 12 championship. He won nine or more games eight times and had four straight seasons of 10 or more wins from 1991-94. The Aggies finished in the Top 25 of the final polls 10 of his 14 seasons. But in Slocum's last four seasons, he never won more than eight games and dipped to 6-6 in his final season. Even then, he never had a losing record overall, and his only losing record in league play came that final season in 2002 when the Aggies finished 3-5 in the Big 12. Slocum was 7-7 against rival Texas, but lost his last three to the Longhorns. The final loss to Texas was a 50-20 blowout. As fate would have it, Slocum promoted Kevin Sumlin to offensive coordinator during the middle of his final season, and Texas A&M beat then-No. 1 Oklahoma with a true freshman quarterback. But after Slocum was fired, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops snatched up Sumlin, who was instrumental in recruiting Adrian Peterson to Oklahoma after Peterson had also shown heavy interest in Texas A&M.
The aftermath: Until last season, when Sumlin returned to Texas A&M as head coach, the Aggies had struggled mightily to match the success they enjoyed under Slocum, who was inducted last year into the College Football Hall of Fame. Since Slocum's departure in 2002, Texas A&M has won more than seven games in a season only three times, and one of those came last season when Sumlin guided the Aggies to an 11-2 finish. They also haven't won a conference championship since Slocum was shown the door 11 years ago. Texas A&M was just 3-6 against Texas under the two coaches who followed Slocum -- Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman. Last season marked only the second Top 25 finish by the Aggies in the final polls since Slocum was forced out. Also, until last year, the Aggies had lost 29 of their last 36 games against nationally ranked opponents post-Slocum, who remains Texas A&M's all-time winningest coach.
Head coaches are hired to be fired in the SEC. OK, not really, but it sure seems that way.The league will have four new head coaches this season, and only six of the 14 coaches have been in their current jobs longer than two seasons.