Prediction: Nick Saban will be the head football coach at Alabama in 2018.

Otherwise, in the SEC, your guess is as good as mine.

Well, yeah, Kirby Smart remains a safe bet at Georgia. They love Will Muschamp at South Carolina. Ed Orgeron has earned another year at LSU (and nobody else would hire him). Can’t imagine Gus Malzahn hasn’t regained steady footing at Auburn.

But generally, in the SEC, this will be a year of fruit basket turnover.

For starters: Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida don’t have permanent football coaches. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen is mentioned as a potential candidate for every big-time job that comes open, including Tennessee’s and Florida’s. Brett Bielema’s approval rating at Arkansas supposedly has fallen to 17 percent, which has a lot to do with why athletic director Jeff Long has been canned. Bielema surely is next. Kevin Sumlin reportedly is on the ropes at Texas A&M, and Ole Miss could deliver the knockout punch Saturday in Oxford.

The next SEC coaches meeting is going to have a decidedly different look. Name tags might be necessary. And, between all the buyouts and new, multi-year contracts, millions upon millions upon millions of all that SEC Network money is about to be spent.

This is Mississippi Today, so we first should address the situations at Ole Miss and State. And anything at this point is guess work. You may think you know, but you don’t. I don’t either, but here’s what I think.

Everyone in the national media seems to assume Mullen will leave Mississippi State for either Florida or Tennessee or somewhere. (A & M and Nebraska are two more possibilities.) That’s assuming two things: that Mullen will be offered a job and that he would take it. I’m not ready to make either assumption. The guy makes $4.5 million a year and that goes a long, long way in Starkville. Yes, and when he finished 6-7 last year, he got extended. Jim McElwain won the SEC Eastern Division last year. He got fired this year. Do you have a better chance to win the national championship at Florida? Sure. You also have a better chance of getting your butt fired. Besides, I’m not sure Scott Stricklin wants to raid his alma mater for his next football coach.

The popular choice at Tennessee appears to be Jon Gruden, which certainly would be the splashy hire. Gruden, owner of a Super Bowl ring, was once a graduate assistant at Tennessee but hasn’t coached in college football since 1991 when he directed wide receivers at Pittsburgh under Paul Hackett. That means he hasn’t recruited in 26 years.

If I were Tennessee, I’d much rather have Mullen, who has evaluated and recruited extremely well at State and has become something of a quarterback whisperer. And there’s this: He had Mississippi State ranked No. 1 in the country for five straight weeks. He’d win big at Tennessee. On the flip side, would Mullen leave what he has built at State for Tennessee where the last three coaches have lasted one, three and not quite five seasons? I don’t know, but I do know there are a lot more quality football players in Mississippi than in Tennessee.

One factor few have mentioned is the theory that in college football, there’s a limited shelf life for any coach at any school. Mullen has been at State for nine seasons, which is a long, long time these days in college football. Reminder: Mark Richt remarkably lasted 15 seasons at Georgia before we can only assume the Bulldogs got tired of winning an average of of 9.5 games a year. And now, look at what Richt is doing at Miami. Again, we don’t know if Mullen buys into the shelf-life theory. He should at least consider it if and when he has a decision to make.

Ole Miss? So many questions and none will be answered until the NCAA Committee on Infractions hands down whatever decision it hands down.

Matt Luke has earned respect with job he has done as interim coach at Ole Miss. Credit: Ole Miss athletics

Should the Rebels go after a big, splashy hire? Who would take the job considering the scholarship limitations and other possible sanctions?

We don’t know. What I do think we know is this: Interim coach Matt Luke should have earned the respect of all those making the eventual decision. He has kept the Rebels together and playing hard in a difficult situation. If he beats Texas A &M Saturday, expect a deserved groundswell of support. If he beats A & M and State – and stranger things have happened – he’s a slam dunk.

Fact: No matter what happens, Ole Miss could do a lot, lot worse than Matt Luke.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

3 replies on “Most precarious position in sports is head football coach in the SEC”

  1. Mullen would HAVE to win at TN, and quick, and a lot, otherwise he would be out of a job, quick. I think State could match TN, plus Mullen wouldn’t have to go deal with their unrealistic fans and start over building a program.

    It’s fascinating to me though how obsessed people are with Mullen leaving, particularly the media. It’s as if they are WANTING him to leave.

    1. Everyone except MSU supporters does want Mullen to leave. All opposing fans hope State can have to start over after the success under Mullen. National pundits, especially the likes of one Dennis Dodd, say MSU doesn’t deserve Mullen or State is too small for Mullen or Mullen can do much better and owes it to himself. It’s sad what “journalism” has morphed into nowadays. Most stories are simply outlets who’ve piggybacked off another breaking story. There is very little credit given to the first outlet that breaks a story, either. Everyone just retweets, retweets, retweets. (Not you, Rick)

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