On Monday, SEC Media Days will make its way back to the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the second time, looking like an entirely different league than it was just four years ago when the event was last held there.
No, the pending addition of Texas and Oklahoma isn’t the big difference.
Let’s spin the clock back, to SEC Media Days 2018, and welcome our coaching contestants: Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason closed things out on the final day. LSU’s Ed Orgeron was among the Day 1 openers.
Notice a pattern yet?
In between, we heard from Ole Miss’ Matt Luke, Arkansas’ Chad Morris, Florida’s Dan Mullen, Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead, Missouri’s Barry Odom, and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt. They’re all gone now.
That’s turnover at 10 of 14 SEC programs in just a four-year stretch. Your lone survivors since then: Alabama’s Nick Saban, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher.
Big salaries beget big expectations, which in turn beget big buyouts.
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So, with consideration for both accomplishments and expectations on each given campus, here’s a ranking of the hottest seats in the SEC, in reverse order:
14. Nick Saban, Alabama
There’s not a three-year stretch without a national title anywhere in Saban’s 15-year run at Alabama. Even at UA, with the most demanding fan base in the league, that makes for the SEC’s coolest seat.
13. Kirby Smart, Georgia
At 46, he’s defending the Bulldogs’ first national title since he was 5. Enough said.
12. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
There aren’t many safer places to be than a 10-win football coach at a basketball school.
11. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss
After a Sugar Bowl run, the Rebels bought a ticket for the Kiffin ride — and all the fireworks that come with it — at $7-plus million a year.
10. Sam Pittman, Arkansas
His new contract includes a clause triggering a one-year extension if he just wins seven games once over the next five years.
9. Shane Beamer, South Carolina
The Gamecocks fan base affords coaches the unique combination of passion and patience. Intense support without too much of a panic factor.
8. Josh Heupel, Tennessee
Coming in with his previous athletic director, Danny White, buys Heupel ground-floor capital, and he’s recruiting exceptionally well.
7. Billy Napier, Florida
No, he hasn’t coached a game yet, but as UF’s fourth coach since 2014, the runway to take off doesn’t look especially long.
6. Mike Leach, Mississippi State
This strange marriage is working out so far, and with 16 starters returning this fall, Leach is poised for another step forward.
5. Brian Kelly, LSU
See Billy Napier, but at LSU, patience can run even thinner.
4. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
How do you beat Alabama and fall toward the bottom of this list? Follow the signing of a 10-year, $95 million extension with a 4-4 season in league play. Nevertheless, the Aggies should be very good this fall.
3. Clark Lea, Vanderbilt
The Commodores were a predictable disaster in Lea’s first season, but there’s more tolerance for losing at Vandy than most SEC teams could fathom.
2. Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri
If you are what your record says you are, Missouri has been downright average under Drinkwitz. But Missouri can put up with average longer than most.
1. Bryan Harsin, Auburn
In February, with his job status under heavy fire, Harsin was about as popular in Alabama as a $5 gallon of gas. Now with a revamped coaching staff, there’s enough heat under his seat to melt all the ice above him here.