November 6, 2008

SEC: Tuberville assumes place on hot seat

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The announcement this week that Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer will lose his job at the end of the season leaves Auburn's Tommy Tuberville as the SEC coach with the longest tenure at one school.

Of course, that could change if Tuberville gets fired in the next few weeks.

And that both men could lose their jobs underscores the lack of security in a conference as competitive as the SEC. One bad season can put just about anyone's job in jeopardy.

"That's just kind of the nature of the beast," Fulmer said.

Fulmer lost his job just one season after guiding the Vols to the SEC Championship Game, though the program had fallen back to the pack in the SEC after posting a combined 45-5 record from 1995-98. Fulmer owns a 150-51 record at Tennessee and led the Vols to a national title in 1998.

Then again, that hardly makes him unusual in the SEC ranks.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, Florida coach Urban Meyer, LSU coach Les Miles and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier have national titles to their credit. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, Georgia coach Mark Richt and Tuberville have won BCS games, and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt won two SEC Western Division titles at Arkansas.

That unprecedented collection of star power has produced a survival-of-the-fittest attitude across the SEC. Even a championship coach can get on the hot seat after one down season.

The timing of Fulmer's move also reflects the trend to make coaching changes during the season instead of waiting until the end of the season. Clemson's Tommy Bowden, Washington's Tyrone Willingham, Toledo's Tom Amstutz and Kansas State's Ron Prince also have announced they will leave their positions at the end of the season.

"I think everything kind of evolves from pro football," Tuberville said of the shift toward midseason announcements of coaching changes. "I think that's how people look at it. I'd hate for us to ever compare pro football to college football because it's not even in the same category in terms of what you are trying to get out of young people and teach them and all those things.''

Now that Fulmer has announced his impending departure, Tuberville is occupying the SEC's hottest seat. He led Auburn to an undefeated season in 2004 and has beaten rival Alabama six consecutive times, but he picked the worst possible time to have a bad season. Picked to win the SEC West, Auburn is in danger of finishing 5-7 and failing to earn a bowl bid just as Alabama has surged to the top of the national rankings.

Of course, Tuberville didn't help his cause by hiring Tony Franklin and switching to the spread offense, then firing Franklin midway through the season. Auburn (4-5) ranks 114th in the nation in scoring and has lost four consecutive games.

"It's been tough, especially when our kids have really practiced hard," Tuberville said. "They're doing everything every week to try and win a game. I put us in a bind obviously early in the season, and we're trying to work our way out of that. I do appreciate what our players have done. They've accepted the change we made midseason and have worked to try and make it better, and we have improved. We have gotten better. We just haven't been good enough to win a game."

Auburn's struggles come after the Tigers won at least nine games in four consecutive seasons, while Tennessee (3-6) could be headed toward its second losing record in the past four seasons. But that didn't make Fulmer's departure any less shocking to his players.

"I feel like I just lost one of my ribs or a kidney," Tennessee strong safety Eric Berry said.

If Auburn doesn't turn things around in a hurry, the Tigers soon could feel a similar pain.

  • Best matchup
  • LSU offensive line vs. Alabama defensive line. This matchup features two of the heaviest players in Division I football: 6-foot-7, 386-pound LSU guard Herman Johnson and 6-2, 365-pound Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody. Both are legitimate All-America candidates. The presence of Johnson, OT Ciron Black and C Brett Helms has helped LSU's Charles Scott rush for 111.1 yards per game. But they could have a tough time creating as much running room against an Alabama defense that ranks second in the nation against the run. Alabama is allowing just 2.6 yards per carry and 65.6 yards per game. That defense should get a boost this week from the expected return of Cody, who missed two games with a knee injury. Alabama has dominated teams in the first quarter this season, so LSU's best chance to win is to grab an early lead and put the Tide in the unfamiliar position of playing from behind. LSU probably won't grab that early lead unless the Tigers' line paves the way for a big performance from Scott.

  • Player to watch
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Saturday
    Georgia at Kentucky, 12:30 p.m.
    Arkansas at South Carolina, 1 p.m.
    Wyoming at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
    Tennessee-Martin at Auburn, 2:30 p.m.
    Alabama at LSU, 3:30 p.m.
    Florida at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m.
    Alabama's Cody. The mammoth run stuffer has returned to practice and is expected to play Saturday after missing two games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. But how close will he be to full strength? Alabama allowed just 127 rushing yards on 58 carries against Tennessee and Arkansas State in the two games that Cody sat out, but the level of competition had plenty to do with that. Tennessee is 106th in rush offense. Arkansas State is 17th in rush offense, but the Red Wolves have done most of their damage against Sun Belt opponents. LSU will need a healthy Cody in order to keep LSU's running game under wraps.

  • Who's hot
  • Arkansas TE D.J. Williams has 129 receiving yards in each of his past two games. Florida QB Tim Tebow has six touchdown runs, six touchdown passes and only one interception in his past three games. Florida WR Percy Harvin has scored two touchdowns in each of his past three games. Florida SS Ahmad Black has picked off a pass in back-to-back games. LSU's Scott has rushed for 258 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries in his past two games. LSU WR Brandon LaFell has scored three touchdowns in his past two games. LSU DE Rahim Alem has recorded a sack in four consecutive games. Tennessee SS Eric Berry has picked off a pass in four of his past five games. Vanderbilt DE Broderick Stewart has 6.5 tackles for loss in his past four games.

  • Who's not
  • Auburn QB Kodi Burns has thrown six interceptions and only one touchdown pass in his past three games. Auburn kicker Wes Byrum is 4-for-9 on field-goal attempts in his past seven games. Georgia kicker Blair Walsh has gone 3-for-8 on field-goal attempts in his last three games. Vanderbilt QB Mackenzi Adams has gone 35-for-72 for 388 yards with five interceptions and three touchdown passes during the Commodores' three-game losing streak.

  • What they're saying
  • "He was pretty upset. It went from him trying to talk to me to calling me a traitor and saying I'm only doing this because the devil is coming back to college football and trying to create a big buzz, when it wasn't at all about that. The fact that he got mad that I even took a visit (to Alabama) showed that I was just going to be another number on the team or I wasn't going to be as important as he made it out to be."
    Alabama DE Luther Davis to the Mobile (Ala.) Press-Register on LSU coach Les Miles' reaction to his decision to decommit from LSU and sign with Alabama.

    "Oh, my gosh, no. Are you kidding me? Not in any way."
    Miles' response when a reporter asked him if he had called Saban "the devil" during a conversation with Davis.

    "We're not tough enough right now. Running the football, we're not where we were last year. I don't know whether we had a little setback or whatever. We keep striving for that (toughness). It ain't the 'want to.' We want to. We just have to get it done. We have to stop talking about it and just do it."
    Auburn OT Lee Ziemba to AuburnSports.com about the offensive line's performance.

    "Maybe five years ago I would've (been interested). But it wasn't open five years ago. I'm at my last gig right here. And we've got a pretty good team if we can get a little offense going."
    South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, a Tennessee native, to The (Columbia) State about whether he would have any interest in Tennessee's coaching vacancy.

    "It was the kind of day around campus where everybody was walking around like they were at a funeral or something. People were just dead."
    Georgia LB Rennie Curran to UGASports.com about the reaction around campus Monday after the Bulldogs' 49-10 loss to Florida.

    "It doesn't get any sweeter than this."
    Florida QB Tim Tebow to The Orlando Sentinel after the victory over Georgia.

  • Etc.
  • Alabama is ranked first in all the major polls for the first time since its national championship season of 1992. This marks the first time Alabama has been ranked first during the regular season since 1980. Alabama is on a 10-game winning streak for the first time since it won 12 in a row from 1993-94. Auburn is ranked 14th in the nation in scoring defense. Auburn is the only team in the top 24 in that category that doesn't own a winning record. Tennessee SS Eric Berry leads the nation with six interceptions. Kentucky's 14-13 victory over Mississippi State made the Wildcats eligible for their third consecutive bowl bid. The Wildcats haven't reached bowl games in three consecutive seasons since 1949-51. South Carolina LB Eric Norwood recorded two tackles for loss against Tennessee last week to give him a school-record 36 for his career. Norwood broke the mark of 35 set by Andrew Provence, who played for the Gamecocks from 1980-82. Florida CB Jacques Rickerson has been dismissed from the team after getting arrested Monday on a domestic battery charge. The SEC has three of the nation's top six players in punt-return average: No. 3 Brandon James of Florida, No. 5 Trindon Holliday of LSU and No. 6 D.J. Moore of Vanderbilt.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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