In SEC football, a coach who can be fired next September should be fired today | Toppmeyer
Wisconsin and Colorado fired their football coaches on Sunday. That makes five FBS coaches fired this season.
In each of the past two seasons, three coaches were fired in September. That includes UConn – a basketball school – firing its football coach two games into last season.
None of those September firings came from inside the SEC.
Auburn’s Bryan Harsin entered the season on the hot seat, and the temperature hasn’t cooled after a 3-2 start.
He’s 9-9 in his tenure, with no relief in sight. Harsin’s record likely will drop below .500 after the Tigers’ rivalry game at No. 2 Georgia on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS).
Still, for the sixth straight year no September firings originated from the nation’s most rugged conference.
An SEC school has not fired a coach in September since LSU fired Les Miles five games into the 2016 season.
Don’t confuse this with SEC schools being patient and giving coaches a long leash.
In fact, the reverse is true.
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SEC schools aren’t kicking the can down the road, giving an embattled coach one last chance, and then firing him the following September after the course doesn’t reverse.
As former Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley once put it, “If something needs to be done eventually, it needs to be done immediately.”
And that’s why Arkansas fired Chad Morris in November of his second season. And Mississippi State fired Joe Moorhead after his second season. And when Jeremy Pruitt coupled rule-breaking with mounting losses, Tennessee threw him overboard after his third season.
Those three coaches, if retained into the next season, would have been ripe for September firings.
Florida could have opted to give Dan Mullen another go. After all, he led the Gators to three straight New Year’s Six bowl bids before last year’s tailspin. But rather than stick with a coach who had fallen out of favor and was losing ground in recruiting, Florida ousted Mullen last November.
In another conference, Mullen might have lasted another 10 months and become an early-season firing.
Nebraska gave Scott Frost every opportunity to succeed but fired him on Sept. 11 after a 1-2 start to the season on the heels of going 3-9 in 2021.
The September firing was proof that what needed to be done eventually was delayed, in Frost’s case. He should have been fired after last season.
The same is true of Geoff Collins, fired by Georgia Tech on Sept. 26. Collins totaled nine victories in his first three seasons. At an SEC school, he almost surely wouldn’t have seen Year 4. But Georgia Tech kicked the can down a road that led to an inevitable destination.
Southern Cal is the standard-bearer for early-season firings.
It fired three straight coaches – Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and Clay Helton – before the team’s sixth game of a season. Kiffin and Helton were fired in September. Sarkisian lasted longer, to Oct. 12.
A number of reasons are offered to explain the uptick in September firings.
Some point to the December signing period, instituted in 2017, combined with the surge in transfers, creating a hot winter market for talent acquisition that resembles free agency. One theory is, the earlier in the season a school fires its coach, the sooner it can work on hiring the next one and try to salvage a signing class.
That logic doesn’t add up, though.
Until coaches start leaving their jobs for new ones midseason, athletics directors face limitations in speeding up the hiring clock. USC fired Helton on Sept. 13 last year. It hired Lincoln Riley on Nov. 28. The same outcome probably could have been achieved if Helton had been fired a month later.
So, what else might explain the September firings?
Bowl games don’t mean what they used to, so hanging on to a coach until the regular-season finale in hopes that he can steer a mediocre team into a bowl game is not much of a carrot.
Plus, when Kiffin takes Ole Miss to the Sugar Bowl in his second season or Sam Pittman wins nine games at Arkansas in Year 2, other programs wonder: If those guys can succeed that quickly, why shouldn't our coach do the same?
Also – and I think this the a big one – coaches’ paychecks continue to balloon. A $5 million annual salary barely positions a coach in the middle of the pack in the SEC. With bigger salaries come bigger buyouts, but surging media rights revenue allows schools to pay severance like it's Monopoly money.
Coaches are paid too much to settle for mediocrity.
That brings us back to Harsin. Auburn is paying a coach $5.1 million to win half the time − and even less frequently in conference games.
Worse, no light awaits at the end of this tunnel.
Is firing a coach before the end of his second season fair? Maybe not, but what’s fair isn’t always synonymous with the best course of action.
Auburn is showing no momentum, on the field or in recruiting.
AU could delay the inevitable, see if Harsin’s Tigers can squeak into a lackluster bowl and award Harsin a third season.
And that likely would end with a September firing.
That’s not the SEC’s style.
While schools elsewhere drag their feet before issuing September pink slips, SEC schools act more swiftly and fire struggling coaches before they even reach the next season.
To recraft Foley's words: The coach who would be fired in September should be fired today.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.
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