All week, the writers on the SEC blog are previewing the upcoming season, hitting on several hot topics. Earlier today, we touched on the conference’s potential breakout players. Now we turn our attention to the coaches under the most pressure.
Edward Aschoff: Butch Jones, Tennessee
It seems that just about everyone is jumping on the Tennessee hype train. However, Butch Jones has to justify why the Vols are worth the love. Yes, 18 starters return, and Joshua Dobbs could be one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks. However, Tennessee hasn’t won more than seven games since 2007, and the Vols haven’t worn the “front-runners” tag well of late. Jones has brought passion, excitement and talent to Rocky Top, but it’s time to show that those back-to-back top-5 recruiting classes mean something. A good friend of mine called the Vols the Kardashians of the SEC because they’re popular without earning it. Prove him wrong.
David Ching: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
For a variety of reasons, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason faces considerable pressure this season. First is that the 2014 season (3-9, 0-8 SEC) marked a huge step backward from James Franklin’s successful tenure at Vandy. Second, Mason replaced both coordinators after just one season and took the unorthodox step of making himself the defensive coordinator. And third, the Commodores still haven’t alleviated their concerns at quarterback. Maybe this isn’t a do-or-die season for Vandy’s coach, but Mason desperately needs to show signs of progress in Year 2.
Sam Khan: Les Miles, LSU
Barring extenuating circumstances, LSU coach Les Miles will be back in 2016, but I wonder if pressure is building for the Tigers to take a step forward this season. Since appearing in the 2012 BCS championship game (for the 2011 season), they’ve gradually moved down the SEC West standings (second in 2012, third in 2013 and fifth last season, which concluded with an 8-5 overall record). LSU spends a pretty penny on its coaching staff, not only on Miles, but on the assistant pool also (it was the highest in the country in 2014). With an immensely talented roster and rising expectations as the young talent begins to grow, Miles isn't on the hot seat, but another middle-of-the-division or lower finish in the SEC West could make it that way.
Greg Ostendorf: Mark Richt, Georgia
Outside of maybe Mason at Vanderbilt, no SEC coach is on the hot seat. Not yet at least. But Georgia fans are growing impatient with Mark Richt. Sure, he’s been to a bowl game every year since 2001, but it’s been 10 years since the Bulldogs last won a conference title. And watching Missouri win the East two years in a row hasn’t helped his case either. Richt has a team this year that’s capable of winning the whole thing, but if they don’t at least make it to Atlanta, expect his seat to start getting warm.
Alex Scarborough: Nick Saban, Alabama
Look, I'm not saying Saban's on the hot seat. But if you're asking me who has the most to prove this season, I'm going with him. It's only been a few years since he last hoisted a national championship, but a lot has changed in that time. There have been too many off-field incidents. There have been too many excuses made for what happened on the field, too. The QB situation is in dire straits, and the defense has a lot to prove after falling all over itself late last season. If Saban wants to continue to be thought of as the best coach in the game, it will take nothing less than a trip to the playoff.