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September 18, 2012

HURT: Fans are rumbling at four SEC schools

Arkansas has done it before, one game into the 1992 season. Alabama has done it, leaving Joe Kines to coach a bowl game. Auburn once had Bill Oliver finish out a season. Phil Fulmer got the head coaching job at Tennessee that way when Johnny Majors got off to a 2-3 start after Fulmer had the Vols 3-0 while filling in because of Majors' heart surgery in 1992, a notoriously bad year for coaches at Alabama's rivals.

We are talking, of course, about changing horses - or, more specifically, coaches - in midstream, although the football season is only at about quarter-stream at the moment. Patience is not abundant in the Southeastern Conference, however, and after last weekend, at least four schools have fans who are rummaging through the broom closet in hopes of finding a way to sweep out the current coaching administration.

The rumblings at two of those schools are probably just superficial. I don't think Auburn is getting rid of Gene Chizik less than two years after a BCS championship, even if the Tigers are just 9-7 since. Tennessee fans were starting to like Derek Dooley after winning two games, although the bandwagon unloaded even more swiftly than it loaded following Florida's second-half dismantling of the Vols. Dooley is not popular - eight losses in nine SEC games tends to irk people - but probably isn't headed for the unemployment line in the next few weeks, either.

In a couple of spots, though, things are more grim. At Kentucky, Joker Phillips has a long record of loyalty but a short record of wins. Sheer respect for his years at UK may win him a stay of in-season execution, but losing to two in-state teams before the fourth game is ominous.

John L. Smith, meanwhile, was probably doomed at Arkansas anyway, but whatever tolerance there might have been at one time has dissipated. It would be rare, maybe unprecedented, for Arkansas to replace an interim coach with another interim coach, but I frankly don't think Smith could survive a loss to Rutgers this Saturday. Replacing him might be a really stupid and futile gesture at this point, but to paraphrase John Belushi, Arkansas might be just the guys to do it.

The trap for all those coaches, though, is that they have to focus on winning, which takes away from focusing on building the things required to win.

No one asked Nick Saban about anyone else's job security in his weekly press conference, but he also didn't talk about winning, because coaches who are winning don't have to discuss it.

"You've never really arrived," Saban said.

"The goal should be to make the team stronger. We need to work on demanding more from each other and ourselves so that we can become a better team. It's human nature sometimes that people respond better when things go bad. I want to see if our players have the maturity to be able to respond even when things don't go bad."

That is the view from the top. But elsewhere in the SEC, there are coaches who hope Saban is right about the effects of adversity - and that their players respond to it in a pretty big hurry.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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