"Next Man Down"
November 1, 2017 | View PDF
In the August issue of the Alabama Gazette, my column was entitled: "1st Coach to Fall".
This story was about the demise of Coach Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss. The full story of the Ole Miss debacle has not been revealed, but enough was known by June to force Freeze to resign. Because of the short time left before the season started, Ole Miss officials had no time to search for a new head coach. Therefore, they did the only thing possible by naming a member if the present staff to be "Interim Coach". Sometimes this works out as a long-term solution, but most of the time it puts the "interim" in a position where he cannot succeed. No interim coach has been designated interim and handed the reigns of a national championship team. At any rate, the "lucky" guy at Ole Miss is Matt Luke, the offensive line coach. He is also a former offensive lineman for Ole Miss.
He really was the only person on the staff that had a chance of leading the Rebels to any appearance of success because of his dedication to the Ole Miss program. At this writing, Ole Miss has won three games, lost five games, with Kentucky, Louisiana Lafayette, Texas A&M and Mississippi State to go. Even though Ole Miss is now under a bowl ban, they probably won't qualify (6-6) anyway. Look for some of the better players to transfer. I don't see outstanding quarterback Shea Patterson hanging around this "train wreck" for another season. The only people hurt in this situation are the players and the assistant coaches. Freeze has his millions in the bank.
In the same column last summer, I talked about several other SEC coaches that would not have good Christmases. The three most vulnerable were Butch Jones at Tennessee, Bret Bielema at Arkansas and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. On stand by were Gus Malzahn of Auburn and Jim McElwain at Florida. The only thing that has changed this scenario is the fact that Coach Sumlin has at this writing a 5-3 record having lost in close games to UCLA and
Alabama and Mississippi State. He has Auburn and New Mexico at home. His last two games are on the road at Ole Miss and LSU. He could
At Auburn, Coach Guz Malzahn is walking a tight rope with the best talent Auburn has had since the Pat Sullivan era. Malzahn sits at 6-2 with a road trip to College Station staring him in the face and two games at Auburn with the number 1 and number 2 teams in the nation in Georgia and Alabama. If he loses any two of these games, he will finish no better than 8-4. The Auburn Alumni, Board of Trustees and the heavy donors are not paying Malzahn 5 million a year to go 8-4 or worse again. The end of the season at Auburn could get ugly.
Coach Butch Jones at Tennessee is in a tenuous position. He lost to Florida in Gainesville 26-20 on the last play of the game. That is a mortal sin to the Vol Nation. Two weeks later he was crushed by Georgia 41-0 in Knoxville. Then he let an average South Carolina team win 15-9, again in Knoxville. He was 3-3 going to Tuscaloosa. There was no sympathy for Butch Jones in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama's Nick Saban called the dogs off after holding a five-touchdown lead. Alabama beat up the Vols physically, psychologically as well as on the score board (45-7). The team, the fans and the coaches left Tuscaloosa in a state of depression from which they may never recover this year. Tennessee has winnable games left, but the embarrassing performance against Georgia (41-0) and the beat down in Tuscaloosa will be hard to recover from. In fact, Kentucky came into Knoxville and won, giving Jones a 3-5 record. They have three more games at home, which may be the worse place for them to play. Southern Miss, LSU and Vanderbilt come to Knoxville. A dangerous game with rebounding Missouri at Columbia is sandwiched in-between. Coach Butch Jones will coach his last game for Tennessee on November 25 against in state rival Vanderbilt. The Knoxville crowd will cheer loudly win or lose.
At Fayetteville, Arkansas there is a tornado spurning. Coach Bret Bielema blew into town five years ago after several trips to the Rose Bowl as the head coach of Wisconsin, where he had a better than seventy percent winning record. His plan was to bring his Big Ten style of play to the "Red Neck Riviera" known as the Southeastern Conference. The power running game that had been so successful for Bielema at Wisconsin required massive offensive linemen and big powerful running backs. For five years Bielema has recruited big massive offensive linemen and big powerful running backs to Arkansas. The plan has not worked well in the South.
There are basically two reasons this approach doesn't work. The August and September sun creates an environment similar to a large steam room. Big, strong, fat 6'5" lineman just cannot last for 60 minutes against the kind of talent in the SEC. For years, I have advocated playing Arkansas in September and early October. This is the time of year that is not conducive for big, strong, fat 6'5" linemen. The 90% to 100% temperatures during this period will make big, strong, fat 6'5" linemen decide that they don't like football so much in the fourth quarter. Also, the speed and quickness of the players in the Southeastern Conference was not calculated into Bielema's plan.
At this writing, Coach Bielema's record is (3-5). That's the good news. The bad news is that Arkansas fans have to put up with LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri. There is no way that I could vote to retain the big, strong, fat 6'5" coach any longer. I don't believe the big money boys in Arkansas will either.
So, with the season moving toward an end, the next man out should be Coach Butch Jones at Tennessee followed closely by Coach Bret Bielema at Arkansas.
Never in my lifetime can I remember this many coaches in the SEC being in trouble. Starting spring training there could be 43% of the SEC coaches that started spring training last year...gone!
We will all know who the next man down is before my next column.
Coach Jim McElwain is "next man down". After his fourth loss this year in a "beat down" by Kirby Smart's Georgia Bulldogs (45-7) the administration fired McElwain the next day. His record at Florida is not so bad (22-12) with two SEC East titles. But, discipline problems off the field, not so flattering remarks directed at the administration after Florida's bowl win last year, and lying about death threats that he, his family and players supposedly have had this year, finally sealed the deal. Good riddance! McElwain has always been an overrated coach, even when he was Nick Saban's offensive coordinator from 2008 through 2011. He might become a coordinator again, but he does not have the emotional capacity required to be a successful college head coach at the highest level.