The Southeastern Conference coaches who entered the season facing questions about their job security haven’t done much to quiet them.
In fact, the heat from fans has intensified around coaches like Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Tennessee’s Butch Jones . The season’s only about a quarter of the way done so much could change the rest of the way – good and bad.
There’s been some bad already for each of those four coaches.
Fans and bosses don’t exactly celebrate blowing 34-point leads (Texas A&M), managing a feeble 117 total yards (Auburn), losing on a last-play heave to a rival (Tennessee) or dropping three of four games (Arkansas).
The Aggies (2-1) and Razorbacks (1-1) square off Saturday. Sumlin and Bielema are longtime friends from previous stops as Big Ten assistants but their job security doesn’t typically come up when they talk.
”As coaches, those are the kinds of things you don’t talk about,” Bielema said. ”When Sumny and I have gotten together, whether we’re at SEC meetings or different times, or just shoot the breeze with a conversation or a phone call or a text, they’re usually about everything other than those kind of scenarios or situations.”
Those kinds of scenarios or situations are covered well enough on talk radio and message boards, anyway. And in other forums, including critical posts on social media after the Aggies’ opening loss to UCLA from a regent. Houston attorney Tony Buzbee’s reaction included a Twitter post saying ”Sumlin has got to go” that drew mixed responses from fans.
Jones came under intensified fire following a 26-20 loss at No. 20 Florida for the Volunteers’ play calling in the red zone and the defensive alignment on the final play, a 63-yard touchdown pass.
”The sense of urgency, it starts with me,” Jones said. ”It starts with our coaching staff. It starts with our leaders. I’m responsible and I can promise you we’ll get to it. We’ll get to work and work to make the corrections.”
There’s also unrest among fans over Barry Odom at Missouri, who is 5-10 in just over one season and has the league’s worst defense. He’s already fired his defensive coordinator. And for Jim McElwain at Florida, which has the league’s most unproductive offense – but two straight SEC East titles, too.
Here’s a look at each of the other four coaches’ situations with plenty of football left this season:
On the hot seat because: Went 8-5 three straight years after much more promising 5-0 starts and had high-profile quarterback defections.
Cause for concern: The Aggies blew a 34-point third-quarter lead to the Bruins. Trailed Louisiana-Lafayette 21-14 at halftime before dominating the second half for a 45-21 victory.
Reason for optimism: Much touted freshman quarterback Kellen Mond is gaining experience after getting thrust into the UCLA game with Nick Starkel’s foot injury. Mond ran and passed for third quarter touchdowns against Louisiana-Lafayette.
On the hot seat because: Auburn has gone 11-13 in SEC games since making it to the national championship in Malzahn’s debut season, 2013. Tigers are 0-6 against top rivals Georgia and Alabama the past three seasons and have struggled at quarterback, Malzahn’s supposed area of expertise.
Cause for concern: Produced just 117 total yards against No. 2 Clemson , the lowest of Malzahn’s time as a college coach. Struggled to put away FCS Mercer . Has just two scholarship QBs, one of whom hasn’t played in a college game, after Malzahn’s dismissal of backup Sean White.
Reason for optimism: The defense has been among the nation’s best. A healthy Kerryon Johnson gives the Tigers a strong backfield tandem along with Kamryn Pettway. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s performance against Mercer renewed hopes that he’s the answer at that position.
On the hot seat because: He’s 1-4 against Florida, 0-4 against Alabama and 2-2 against Vanderbilt. The Vols are 6-5 since an 11-game winning streak ended last season.
Cause for concern: The defense has lost linebackers Darrin Kirkland Jr. to a season-ending injury while safety Todd Kelly Jr. and linebacker Cortez McDowell are out indefinitely. Ranks 10th in the SEC in scoring defense, 11th in total and pass efficiency defense and last against the run.
Reason for optimism: Running back John Kelly is leading the SEC in rushing. The Vols have shown resilience in battling back from double-digit deficits against Georgia Tech and Florida.
On the hot seat because: He has a 26-27 record at Arkansas, including 10-22 in SEC games. Has dropped three of the last four games and failed to score in the second half of those losses.
Cause for concern: A 28-7 loss to No. 16 TCU, struggles by quarterback Austin Allen and a coach frustrated enough to deliver withering criticism of his kicker following that TCU game.
Reason for optimism: Bielema still has the vocal support of athletic director Jeff Long. The next few games against Texas A&M, New Mexico State and South Carolina are certainly winnable. Allen remains one of the SEC’s more experienced passers, but is working with an overhauled group of receivers.
AP sports writers Steve Megargee, Kristie Rieken, Kurt Voigt and Mark Long contributed to this report.
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