Each week, we here at MrSEC.com do about 20 radio interviews across the Southeastern Conference footprint. In recent days, we’ve been asked numerous times by talkshow hosts in Arkansas and Mississippi whether or not John Pelphrey, Andy Kennedy and/or Rick Stansbury should be fired.
The fact we’re being asked those questions tells you that those three coaches are feeling some real heat these days.
Pelphrey has lost two home games in a row in an arena that is no longer filled to capacity. That includes the luxury seats at Bud Walton Arena, a sign that some significant donors are off the Pelphrey bandwagon.
But Arkansas’ coach will likely be back next year — barring a total collapse — because he has one of the nation’s top signing classes coming to Fayetteville. Some fans and some media members won’t want to wait ’til next year, but it’s likely AD Jeff Long will do just that. The school is throwing millions at football and its doubtful UA’s administration will want to buy out a basketball coach, too. Add it up and Pelphrey will likely face a put-up or pack-up year in 2011-12.
Kennedy is on a two-game winning streak with a home victory over Kentucky and a road win at Arkansas in tow. But his Rebels still sit at just 3-5 in the SEC West (four games behind Alabama) and Kennedy has yet to take Ole Miss to an NCAA Tournament. In addition, he’s had his struggles against Mississippi State.
Despite the fact that this hasn’t been the breakthrough year most expected, Kennedy will still probably record his fourth 20-win season and secure yet another NIT bid in the process. Knowing that his program has the worst gym in the SEC, will AD Pete Boone blow up Kennedy and go hunting for another mid-major, up-and-comer who’ll take the job? Or will he give Kennedy one more year? Best bet right now: He’ll give him one more year.
The hottest seat in the conference belongs to Stansbury. The Bulldogs’ coach is in his 13th year at State — and that’s too long for most coaches to stay in one place. In that time he’s taken the Bulldogs to six NCAA tourneys, but only two in the last six seasons. And he’s never progressed past the second round.
Stansbury, until now, has been a solid coach. His teams tend to improve just as February and March roll around and the Bulldogs are usually one of the tougher outs in the SEC Tournament. The coach will need for that pattern to repeat in 2011.
State was expected to win the SEC West easily. Instead they sit three games behind Alabama and turmoil has surrounded the program all season. From NCAA suspensions for Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney to fist fights between players to insubordination via Twitter to in-season transfers to the latest suspension of leading scorer Ravern Johnson… State’s season is imploding. And while Stansbury made the right move by suspending Johnson and banning his players from Twitter — all coaches should follow suit — he has not spent much time addressing the internal strife that appears to be holding his team back this year.
MSU would likely have a hard time finding a replacement for Stansbury who would match his successes over 13 years. But the coach used up a lot of goodwill in fighting for Sidney. To date that fight hasn’t been worth the effort.
It all comes down to new AD Scott Stricklin. New bosses like to put their own people in place. But is the first-year athletic director ready to put a long-standing coach on ice so early in his tenure? The guess here is no.
That said, Stansbury had better start winning some games. And he’d better hope there are no other embarrassing episodes that land him and his team on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” for the wrong reasons.