KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Coaching in the SEC means taking home some of the biggest paychecks in college football — and managing some of the greatest expectations in the sport.
The Southeastern Conference will play for its seventh consecutive national title this year. As the championship total has increased, so has the pressure to win.
Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee fired their coaches this year. No other league has dismissed more than two coaches thus far.
"This league, it's a different world," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said.
This marks the first time the SEC's had as many as four coaching changes in one year since 2004. Before then, the last time the SEC had four vacancies in one season was 1961.
Kentucky went out and tapped Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. He replaces Joker Phillips, who posted a 13-24 record in three years.
Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas are still looking.
Derek Dooley was let go at Tennessee after he went 15-21 in three seasons. Auburn's Gene Chizik, who owned a 33-19 record in four seasons, was fired just two years after leading the Tigers to a national title. Arkansas announced John L. Smith wouldn't return after he led the Razorbacks to a 4-8 mark in one season as an interim coach in place of Bobby Petrino.
"There seems to be a lot more pressure on winning and winning quickly," Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said. "I think if you go way back, probably not that far back, people were generally going to give people four, five years. But I don't think that's the case anymore."
SEC schools aren't alone in that regard.
Jon Embree played for Colorado, but that didn't stop the Buffaloes from firing him after he went 4-21 in two years. Southern Mississippi dumped Ellis Johnson on Tuesday after just one disastrous season, as the Golden Eagles went from 12-2 in 2011 to 0-12 this year.
Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said the college football landscape has changed considerably. He posted a 152-52 record and won one national title in 17 seasons with the Volunteers before getting fired in 2008.
"There's a tremendous amount of financial pressure on athletic directors coming from all directions, from coaches wanting bigger and better facilities, fans wanting more and more wins, and donors wanting more return for their investment," he said.
That investment is particularly high in the SEC.
According to the USA Today database of coaching salaries released last week, four of the nation's eight highest-paid coaches this year were from the SEC: Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Chizik. And Miles just got a raise. He agreed to a contract extension with LSU on Wednesday that will pay him around $4.3 million annually.
SEC coaches are even paid handsomely to go away.