LITTLE ROCK — There are 14 options in the Southeastern Conference for an unwanted title and not one is viable.
Could it be that we will go through the 2013 football season without a coach on the proverbial hot seat? Sure looks that way. On the fringe at best, the only possibility is Gary Pinkel of Missouri and he has a legitimate explanation for 5-7 in 2012.
SEC schools with a combined 3-29 league record in 2012 hired new coaches so Mark Stoops, Butch Jones, Gus Malzahn, and Bret Bielema are exempt at Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn, and Arkansas. At 6-2 or better in the SEC were Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M and coaches who can survive a so-so season.
Adding A&M and Missouri to the SEC is part of the equation, but never before have a half-dozen schools won six conference games in one year.
In the next tier, Vanderbilt (5-3), Mississippi State (4-4), and Ole Miss (3-5) are on the uptick.
Vanderbilt gave James Franklin a contract extension and promised to upgrade football facilities after he was mentioned for several jobs, including Arkansas. The Commodores were bowl eligible in his first year and 8-4 this year.
MSU was 0-12 against Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Auburn under Mullen until a 28-10 victory over Auburn early in the season. Late in the year, the Bulldogs routed Arkansas. Quarterback Tyler Russell has another year and Dak Prescott behind him.
In Hugh Freeze’s first year, Ole Miss became bowl eligible in the sweetest way, beating Mississippi State and Mullen, who had made noise with "Our State" campaign. Sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace was instrumental in the Rebels’ victory.
That leaves Pinkel and, with him, Tiger fans must factor in the health of junior quarterback James Franklin. As a sophomore, Franklin threw 376 times for 2,865 yards and ran 217 times for 981. This year, he attempted 234 passes and kept only 88 times for 122 yards.
On the job since 2001, Pinkel is subject to the criticism that builds steadily for any coach at one school for an extended period. The Tigers’ pinnacle occurred in 2007 when they won 12, including a Cotton Bowl victory over Arkansas. They followed that with two 10-seasons in the next three years.
The free pass for Stoops, Jones, Malzahn, and Bielema is good for one season. After that, they are on the clock.
Because he is at Kentucky, Stoops will be held to a lower standard than the other three. The Wildcats have never done better than 4-4 in the SEC since Arkansas joined in 1992 and have not reached .500 since 2006.
In Lexington, merely winning six and getting to a bowl is acceptable. To do that, Stoops will need an easy non-conference schedule.
For the other three, the postseason is only a starting point considering the double-digit bowl ties in the SEC. By the third year, fans will expect their teams to be in the chase for a division championship.
As long as Nick Saban is at Alabama and Les Miles is at LSU, getting to Atlanta once every five years will be quite an accomplishment for both Arkansas and Auburn.
Jones might be under the most pressure, partly because Tennessee fans mistakenly perceive their Vols to be a good coach away from a return to the glory days and partly because in-state Vanderbilt has passed them by.
Tennessee fans will learn about degree of difficulty in 2013 — the Vols’ first four SEC games are Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. Arkansas and LSU are the only teams in the Western Division with games against two of the big three in the East. The Razorbacks have Florida and South Carolina; the Tigers play Georgia and Florida.
The hot seat hiatus won’t last more than a year.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.