Les Miles at Louisiana State just the latest example of SEC coaches facing unyielding pressure to win

Coaching is a result-oriented business, and maybe more so than anywhere else in American college football, pressure from Southeastern Conference fans and administrators is rooted in “What have you done for me lately?”

Les Miles may not have many more steps left to tread as coach of the Louisiana State University Tigers. Rogelio V Solis / AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

Louisiana State coach Les Miles will not read papers or watch television this week preparing for Texas A&M.

Everyone else will, trying to see if Miles’ 11-year run with the Tigers is finally over.

Coaching is a result-oriented business, and maybe more so than anywhere else in American college football, pressure from Southeastern Conference fans and administrators is rooted in “What have you done for me lately?”

Prior successes are often forgotten, and no one is exempt. Not Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier.

Miles has re-discovered that now.

The one-time national championship coach had the Tigers rolling and ranked No 2 in the initial College Football Play-off rankings early this month. Three straight losses later and Miles’ hold on the programme seems all but done.

“I don’t want to go there,” the coach said earlier this week. “I would be not doing my job as the head coach at LSU, one that I’ve enjoyed doing.”

And Baton Rouge is not the only place a successful leader’s hold on the job has been challenged.

Georgia coach Mark Richt seems to be under constant scrutiny, and it has intensified since the Bulldogs (8-3) were knocked out of the title chase by rival Florida.

Richt fended off questions on his future this week, the normally affable coach threatening to end his news conference.

“Are you going to ask the same one?” Richt asked of a reporter. “We can end this thing as fast as you want. I’m here to talk about the game” against Georgia Tech on Saturday.”

That tact does not make the uncertainty go away.

Spurrier did not stick around to take such questions, quitting in mid-October with his Gamecocks 0-4 in the SEC. Things have not improved much under interim coach Shawn Elliott, as the Gamecocks (3-8) have lost four straight and face No 1 Clemson on Saturday.

The only SEC jobs currently open are Spurrier’s and Gary Pinkel’s at Missouri. And Pinkel resigned for health reasons.

SEC Network commentator Paul Finebaum was in Columbia, South Carolina, for the Gamecocks’ 23-22 loss to Football Championship Subdivision opponent Citadel – their first loss to a lower division club in 25 years.

“I heard some things on the way to my car in the parking lot [from fans] that made me think Spurrier, if he had not stepped down, wouldn’t have made it back to his car,” Finebaum said.

Wins in college football are frequently taken for granted by SEC fans accustomed to the league’s decade of dominance. Saban pointed out after a loss to Mississippi this year that some wrote off his Alabama programme.

The Crimson Tide was part of the SEC’s seven straight national crowns from 2006 through 2012, forging a standard of success that lures top recruits to the conference – but a standard that also can weigh like an anvil around a failing coach’s neck.

Gene Chizik was the toast of Auburn after the Tigers’ 2010 national championship, yet was out of the job by the end of 2012.

Will Muschamp led Florida to an 11-2 season in 2012. He, too, was let go two years later.

“You sign up to be a coach, that’s part of the deal,” said Muschamp, Auburn’s defensive coordinator. “You want to be at a place where there are high expectations. That means you’ve got a chance to win a championship.”

Money is rarely an object to parting with a coach.

Chizik, North Carolina’s defensive coordinator, was owed US$7.5 million (Dh27.5m) by Auburn and Muschamp $6.3 million by Florida. Miles’ contract calls for a buyout of $15 million, a mind-blowing sum to pay someone not to coach.

“I don’t think it’s always been like this,” Finebaum said.

SEC coaches typically got the chance to develop recruits over four or five years before the pitchforks came out from fans, Finebaum said.

Blogs and social media sites, Finebaum believes, have shortened a coach’s shelf life. The immediacy of a fan base’s fury spreads so quickly and deeply that administrators must listen.

“There are no filters, no checks, no balances,” Finebaum said.

There also is very little time allotted for coaches attempting to turn around slipping programs or reawaken past giants.

Butch Jones is in his third season with the Tennessee (7-4). He accepts the intensity needed to succeed in the SEC, saying every day is “fourth-and-one for the national championship”.

“Everything is contested,” he said.

Elliott, South Carolina’s interim coach, was angered about a phony post on social media stating he had resigned after the Citadel loss.

SEC jobs, he said, are too coveted to simply surrender.

“They’re going to have to kick me out of here and tell me I didn’t get it or I’ve been reassigned or I’ve got to do something else before I just give up on anything,” he said.

The way Elliott will not get kicked out is to not fail – it is the only approach that guarantees longevity in the SEC.

Follow us on twitter at @NatSportUAE