The home stretch of the 2017 SEC football season is upon us, which means that a few fan bases across the region are trying to figure out how their team might get to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
In this year’s SEC, though, what the final five weeks of the regular season will bring at more places is fan bases wondering if it’s the final stand for their head coach. When ESPN writer and longtime SEC observer Chris Low said on the radio this week that as many as six conference jobs could be open by the end of the season, it sounded like hyperbole, but a closer examination shows maybe it’s not.
It seems pretty clear now that Tennessee will part ways with Butch Jones before the 2018 season. The Volunteers are 3-4 overall and 0-4 in the SEC. Arkansas Bret Bielema also is 0-4 in the league and looks a lot like he’s on the way out. Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke has had a tenuous hold on that job from the start through no fault of his own, and the Rebels are now 1-3 in the SEC and just lost quarterback Shea Patterson for the season.
So that’s a pretty solid three. It gets more interesting from there. Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops looked to be in good shape after beating South Carolina earlier this year, but the Cats just lost 45-7 to Mississippi State and are 2-2 in the SEC. Missouri head coach Barry Odom is in only his second year, but the Tigers (2-5, 0-4) have been awful and Odom’s buyout is small. Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin looks safe at 3-1 in the SEC, but Novembers have been a problem for the Aggies.
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Those look like the only realistic spots where changes could be made, but it’s worth keeping an eye on things at Florida, where head coach Jim McElwain has won two SEC East titles but seems to be at odds with his athletic department after odd comments he made about receiving death threats this week. Also, the Auburn job might be open if Gus Malzahn decides it’s time to move on with his athletic director Jay Jacobs already heading out the door and the gap between him and Alabama only getting bigger.
Even getting to five changes would make recent history in the SEC. In the last 15 years, the league hasn’t turned over more than four coaches in one offseason and that has only happened twice – in 2015, when the Gamecocks hired Steve Spurrier, Florida hired Urban Meyer, LSU hired Les Miles and Ole Miss hired Ed Orgeron, and in 2013, when Arkansas hired Bielema, Auburn hired Malzahn, Kentucky hired Stoops and Tennessee hired Jones.
Chasing Alabama is costing a lot of coaches their jobs.