VETTEL: Coaches On The Hot Seat

Coach Shula on the hot seat in the SEC

As we get set for fall practice to get underway for the 2005 college football season, it's interesting to note the large number of coaches who have to be viewed as entering this season under significant pressure.

Sure all coaches have a lot of pressure on them. That's the nature of competitive sports. But it's startling to me the number of coaches who may be coaching for their jobs in 2005.

Nationally you have to think about Greg Shiano at Rutgers (12-34) and Bobby Wallace at temple (19-60) as two guys in trouble. At Missouri, Gary Pinkel (22-25) has more than his fair share of detractors while the ACC has several coaches with issues, led by North Carolina's John Bunting (19-30) who saved his job with a home field shocker over Miami. Even though he's averaged better than seven wins a season, Tommy Bowden (44-29) is seemingly always on edge from fans that dream of a return to early-eighties glory.

Then in their own category are 70-something legends Joe Paterno (343-116) who's averaged just over five wins the last five years and Bobby Bowden (351-102) whose 'Noles have finished out of the top ten four years in a row. Neither will, or should be fired, but both are desperately seeking that back-to-glory type season that would put a fitting end to their phenomenal careers.

Closer to home is a group of coaches in the SEC who have more than a couple of detractors in their own backyards. Not all are in imminent danger of termination, but all have something to prove this season.

SEC Has Four To Watch

SEC football coaches fit rather comfortably into three clear, distinct categories with four men in each group.

The conference's four new coaches (Meyer, Spurrier, Orgeron, Miles) have absolutely nothing to fear from a job security perspective.

Four veterans (Fulmer, Richt, Tuberville, Croom) are quite popular on their home campuses. That leaves a quartet of conference coaches who will begin to hear the grousing with the first loss of the season.

Mike Shula, Alabama:

There is no place on earth with higher expectations than The Capstone where every loss is viewed as an insult to the memory of the game's greatest coach ever. Well Shula has been doing a lot of insulting in his two years in Tuscaloosa. The man who was chosen ahead of Sylvester Croom is 10-15 in two years and has lost all nine games decided by nine points or less.

Worse still, he has lost all two games against Auburn.

Shula has loads of talent on defense, but must keep Brodie Croyle healthy to give his team a chance against the contenders. 'Bama's schedule is favorable with Florida, Tennessee and LSU all coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Shula cannot afford a slow start and early challenges from Southern Miss and South Carolina simply must be won. The Florida game on October 1 looms as a huge one for both schools.

Rich Brooks, Kentucky:

Brooks and Shula have several things in common. They were somewhat controversial if not stunning selections when they got their job. They have been trying to overcome NCAA scholarship limits. And they don't win very often. Brooks is 6-17 after two seasons in Lexington and is clearly feeling some heat. Kentucky's only SEC win last year was over Vanderbilt and the offense finished 115th out of 117 Division-one teams.

The lack of success shouldn't be a big surprise. Prior to coaching in the NFL, Brooks had won 91 games in 18 seasons at Oregon and had only three years with eight or more wins, never winning ten games in a season. Oh, yeah he had two losing seasons in the NFL, too.

Kentucky has quite a few starters back and they have shown the ability to play tough for a quarter or two, but that's about it. With September games against Louisville and Florida, Brooks will likely enter October with a 2-2 record. If so, road matchups with South Carolina and Ole Miss may very well determine his future.

Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt:

This is the toughest job in the SEC and arguably the toughest in the nation in terms of trying to be competitive. Johnson averaged better than seven wins a season at Furman, but after three years at Vandy, he still doesn't have seven wins --- total! Three straight two-win seasons are bad no matter what your situation is. Last year was probably the most disappointing because the Commodores had more returning starters than anyone else in the league.

This year Vanderbilt gets stung by early departures to the NFL. Jovan Haye was their best defensive linemen in years, but they also lost useful players in Matthew Tant and Dominique Morris who weren't drafted. Add in the tragic shooting of talented tailback Kwane Doster and Vandy just lost too much.

Quarterback Jay Cutler can play but his supporting cast, such as it is scares no one. The defense won't be as good without Haye up front, but you gotta love tackling machine linebacker Moses Osemwegie. Johnson has just two SEC wins in three years and might get two league wins this year. Believe it or not, that might be enough.

Houston Nutt, Arkansas:

Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles is kinda like that candy commercial, "Some times you feel like a Nutt, sometimes you don't."

Two years ago Broyles was pleased that Nutt turned down a chance to coach at Nebraska and remained in Fayetteville. Nutt pledged his loyalty in an emotional speech about staying home. Then last year, Broyles was infuriated when Nutt chose to speak with LSU officials about the possibility of replacing Nick Saban.

Not good timing when you are coming off a 5-6 season and face life without mega-talented quarterback Matt   Jones. Nutt had led Arkansas to bowl games his first six seasons, but that's deceptive. Nutt has feasted on non-conference competition (24-6) but his overall record against the SEC stands at a rather pedestrian 29-27.

A seven-win season would be a great success, considering the Razorbacks must play Southern Cal, Alabama, Georgia and LSU ALL on the road. But don't bank on it happening.

* * *

I don't expect to see four new head coaches in the SEC next year, but it would be a major upset if at least two of those four are not replaced before the New Year.

By the way, if you're involved in Gator Clubs or live in one of these areas, I'll be out and about speaking quite a bit this fall: August 24 --- Sarasota

August 25 --- Brooksville

August 31 --- Lakeland

Sept. 1 --- Tallahassee

Sept. 29 --- Orlando

Hope to you see you there!

Keep those emails coming!

Don't forget to email me your questions and comments, but please do not include attachments! My email address is: vettel@gatorcountry.com .

I look forward to you joining me on the radio, Sunday nights from 6:00-to-8:00 on Gainesville's WSKY-FM 97.3 (877/975-9825 toll free)

Have a great week.

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