SEC coaching openings a hot topic

Beware what you hear regarding the coaching vacancies at Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee.

Everybody from Jon Gruden to up-and-coming assistants and little-known FCS coaches will be mentioned for those high-profile openings, three of which are among the most coveted jobs in the country.

Arkansas

Who’s out: John L. Smith

Record: 4-8 (2-6 SEC) in one season

Mitigating circumstances: Smith was put in a tough situation, taking over on an interim basis when Bobby Petrino was fired in April. Arkansas was ranked 10th in the AP’s preseason poll, but never recovered from a loss to Louisiana-Monroe, finishing 12th in the SEC in scoring defense and losing four of its final five games.

Pros: The university has made a commitment to winning, is financially stable and Petrino showed that sustained success can be had with the right coach.

Cons: The state doesn’t produce a large amount of talent, meaning the new coach must be able to recruit the Southeast and Texas.

Rumor mill: Tommy Tuberville (Texas Tech, formerly of Auburn), Gary Patterson (TCU), Gus Malzahn (Arkansas State) and Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State) are among the most frequently heard names. Chris Petersen (Boise State) always comes up, but he reiterated Monday: “… I say it every year. It’s just rumors.”

Auburn

Who’s out: Gene Chizik

Record: 33-19 (15-17 SEC) in four seasons

Mitigating circumstances: Chizik is now being called the worst coach to win a BCS championship after losing his job less than two years after Auburn went 14-0 to win the 2010 title behind star QB Cam Newton.

Pros: There’s a strong tradition with two undefeated seasons in the past 10 years. Auburn also has an outstanding recruiting base because of its proximity to Georgia and Florida.

Cons: It might take a couple of seasons to rebuild the program after the Tigers finished winless in the SEC for the first time since 1980. All three of the QBs struggled and the defense is a mess.

Rumor mill: The list is long and includes Malzahn (a former Auburn offensive coordinator), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), James Franklin (Vanderbilt), Kirby Smart (Alabama defensive coordinator), Charlie Strong (Louisville), Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech) and even Bobby Petrino, who flirted with Auburn when he was at Louisville.

Tennessee

Who’s out: Derek Dooley

Record: 15-21 (4-19 SEC) in three seasons

Mitigating circumstances: Dooley was fired with one game remaining this season, and his replacement will be Tennessee’s fourth coach in six years. Dooley was charged with righting the program after the Lane Kiffin disaster, but the Volunteers haven’t been to a bowl since 2010 and were 1-7 in the SEC this year, beating only Kentucky.

Pros: This might be the best position available in the country right now and has plenty of cash to pay a big-name coach. There is an established tradition, great recruiting territory, a huge stadium and a devoted – but impatient – fan base.

Cons: The program has been on a steady downward slide with only one winning season in five years. Don’t worry. Orange pants aren’t a mandatory part the wardrobe.

Rumor mill: Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Art Briles (Baylor), Larry Fedora (North Carolina), Fisher, Gruden and Petrino are the biggest names linked with this job. Vols fans would have welcomed back former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, but he agreed to an extension that keeps him at Duke through 2019.