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When Auburn hired Bruce Pearl as its men’s basketball coach last year, I wrote that the Tigers now had the best coaching duo in the SEC, and one of the top duos in the country. Many of you agreed, but some of you disagreed, tossing out other duos and asking me to consider them as well. So I decided to show you guys my work and rank every SEC football and basketball coach just in time for the new school year to begin.
So now I’d like to unveil Outkick’s first annual ranking of the top football and basketball coaches in the SEC. As with all rankings, I expect you to completely agree with every decision I’ve made and all herald my acumen.
After flawlessly ranking every football and men’s basketball coach such that no one can disagree with any of my opinions, I’ll then combine those ranking numbers and divide by two to give you the overall school coaching score for the top jobs at both schools. I’m well aware that there are other important coaches on campus, but you don’t want me to attempt to rank the top swim programs or softball teams. So we’ll stick with the revenue producing sports, the ones that most of you watch too. I don’t want to be getting your gay Tweets over my gymnastics team rankings.
One note, these rankings are predicated on this exact moment in time. That is, I’m ranking coaches based on their current performance at their current school before the 2014-15 school year begins. This means new coaches are at a rankings disadvantage. For instance, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason has never coached a football game before as a head coach. Therefore he has to be ranked 14th in the SEC this year. Depending on how he does this year, he can surge up our rankings or just slide up a bit.
With that in mind, here we go.
Ranking the SEC Football Coaches 1-14:
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
The unquestioned best coach in college football is also the unquestioned best coach in the SEC.
2. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
He nearly won a national championship with a defensive back playing quarterback last year. He already won a national title as an offensive coordinator — I’ve been saying since Auburn won the 2010 title that Malzahn deserved the credit not Gene Chizik — and he’s got a top ten team this year. If he hadn’t left to take the Arkansas State job then, interestingly enough, Gene Chizik is probably still in charge and things aren’t going that badly for Chizik at Auburn.
Sure, he’s only been an SEC head coach for a year, but if I told you that you could have any current SEC coach except for Saban to lead your favorite team and you didn’t pick Malzahn, I think you’d all be insane.
3. Les Miles, LSU
Les has gone 95-24 at LSU, winning ten or more games in seven of his nine seasons. That’s an incredible level of success given the history of the LSU program. It may be crazy talk, but isn’t it time for Les to get an on-campus statue? Hell, at this rate the stadium might end up named after him. At the very least, the field has to be named after him, right? I mean, he eats it.
You want a really wild thought? What does Les’s resume look like right now if Nick Saban never returns to college coaching? He’s got at least two more national titles and we’re talking about him as one of the ten greatest coaches of all time.
4. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Spurrier is the second best football coach in the history of the SEC, but I can’t rank him any higher than fourth in the SEC at this exact moment. Put it this way, if you were hiring a coach today, would you really put Spurrier any higher than this? Wouldn’t you have to take Saban, Malzahn, and Miles in front of him strictly based on age? (Honestly, Sumlin should probably be above him too, but Spurrier’s got a better team and has been more successful in the league over the past two seasons so I just can’t do that).
5. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sumlin’s been insanely hot on the recruiting trail, but he’s only coached for two seasons. And that was in the midst of the SEC move and the Johnny Manziel circus. What will Sumlin’s team look like this year? I expect they’ll be better than expected.
And next season I expect A&M to be back to contending for the SEC West title.
6. Mark Richt, Georgia
Mark Richt has won two SEC titles and he’s a mid-tier coach right now in the conference. You want to know the difference between SEC football and basketball standards, compare Richt’s resume with Johnny Jones at LSU, the conference’s sixth best basketball coach.
I feel like Richt is going to be a lot like Phil Fulmer. Everybody gripes about him while he’s there, but then he leaves and the program goes off the precipice and everyone looks around and thinks, why did we ever think a season where we won nine football games was disappointing? Have Georgia fans just completely forgotten Ray Goff and Jim Donnan?
7. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Pinkel went 12-2 last year in the SEC, meaning that Mizzou has now won eight or more games in seven of the last eight seasons. That’s a pretty impressive resume, but it makes him the most average coach in the SEC.
8. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Freeze is 15-11 in two seasons at Ole Miss, but he’s recruited incredibly well and he returns a ton of talent this year. Which means now is his chance to demonstrate that he can take Ole Miss to a top 15 caliber ranking and win nine games or more.
If that happens then Freeze’s reputation as a boy wonder coach will be solidified. If it doesn’t happen then lots of Rebel fans are going to wonder if the tantalizing promise is ever going to materialize.
9. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Speaking of tantalizing promise, Mullen won nine games in his second season at Mississippi State convincing Bulldog fans that he was the greatest thing in Mississippi since casinos. But he hasn’t equaled that performance since, tallying a 9-15 mark in conference games over the past three seasons.
Mullen’s team should be much better this season, but the SEC West just isn’t getting any easier eitehr. Is this the year that State finally breaks the .500 mark in conference? We’ll see, I have my doubts.
10. Will Muschamp, Florida
My how things can change in a year. Coming off an 11-1 2012 regular season, Muschamp’s Gators looked to have emerged from the Urban Meyer shell and established themselves as a bona fide national contender.
Then Louisville boatraced the Gators in the Sugar Bowl and 4-8 happened. Honestly, what odds could I have gotten on the Gators going 4-9 ever since they walked off the field with a win on the road at Florida State?
Muschamp actually has a worse record after three seasons at Florida than Ron Zook did.
11. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Tennessee fans will be mad with this ranking — Tennessee fans are always mad, honestly — but where’s the clear evidence that Jones deserves to be ranked above any of these guys in the top ten? He’s coming off a 5-7 first season and hopes to make a bowl game in year two. Sure, the recruiting is outstanding, but until we actually see tangible results, he can’t be ranked any higher. I feel like Tennessee is still a year away from being able to judge Butch much at all.
12. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
This is where the importance of having success in your own conference matters. Sure, Bielema ran roughshod over the Big Ten, but he didn’t win a conference game last year in the SEC. And this season he might not win one again.
If you’re staring down the barrel of an 0-16 start in SEC football games, you’re lucky to be ranked above anyone.
13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Sure, Stoops is recruiting well for Kentucky. But so far that hasn’t translated on the field. The Wildcats were 2-10 last year and I think they’ll be 3-9 this season. Maybe next year has been the rallying cry of Kentucky football for four generations. Is Stoops really that different?
14. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
He’s never won a single game as a head coach. Given that we’re ranking coaches based on present status, I don’t see how you can have Mason any higher on this list than 14.
Ranking the SEC basketball coaches 1-14:
1. Billy Donovan, Florida
Probably the most underrated coach in college sports. All Donovan does is win. In fact, the only coach in the SEC who is more accomplished than Donovan is Nick Saban.
2. John Calipari, Kentucky
As long as Kentucky continues to manage the salary cap well, Calipari will continue to win big.
3. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
Pearl has been to seven straight NCAA tournaments as a head coach. including four trips to the Sweet 16 or better during that time frame. How does that compare to the rest of the basketball coaches in the SEC? Pearl has been to the Sweet 16 more times than every coach ranked 4-14 on this list has been to the Sweet 16 combined.
4. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
It’s a testament to how awful SEC basketball coaches are that Kevin Stallings ranks this highly. Stallings, who has been at Vanderbilt for 15 years, has a losing record in conference, but in the lilliputian world of SEC basketball, he’s one of the tallest midgets. Amazingly, Stallings has won just one NCAA tournament game in the last seven years.
And he’s the fourth best coach in the SEC.
5. Mike Anderson, Arkansas
He’s 26-26 after three years at Arkansas and has made no NCAA tourney appearances. Yet this is enough to get you a top five ranking among SEC basketball coaches.
Talk about a weak bench.
6. Johnny Jones, LSU
Jones coached at North Texas for 11 years, where he made the NCAA tournament twice. After going 91-88 in the Sunbelt, LSU decided Jones was worthy of a promotion to coaching SEC basketball.
He’s recruiting really well at LSU and has won 19 and 20 games in his first two seasons. Which, to be honest, is good enough to make you a top half coach in the conference.
7. Anthony Grant, Alabama
Alabama fans are thinking, you ranked him way too high. But, honestly, who else would you put above Grant? He has a winning record in the conference and in five seasons has won over twenty games three times.
Sure, he still hasn’t won an NCAA tourney game, but neither have most of the rest of the coaches in the SEC.
8. Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss
After eight years Andy Kennedy’s SEC basketball record is 74-73. His teams have made the NCAA tournament one time, winning one game. If you had to sum up SEC basketball in one coach, it would have Andy Kennedy’s bio. Thoroughly mediocre, occasionally entertaining, not that good, but good enough that you’re afraid you’d become truly awful if you fired him.
9. Mark Fox, Georgia
Mark Fox has been at Georgia five years. He has not won an NCAA tournament game, has a losing conference record, and is just 84-76 overall. Yet, remarkably, you find yourself watching his team play and thinking. “You know, this guy is not that bad of a coach.” If this was football he would have been fired two years ago. Since this is basketball he was given a two-year extension last year.
10. Frank Martin, South Carolina
Need proof that SEC basketball drags everyone down? Frank Martin had won games in the NCAA tournament three straight years before he came to South Carolina. In the past two seasons he is 9-27 in conference. The only thing of note Martin has accomplished at South Carolina is getting suspended for berating his players too aggressively during timeouts.
11. Rick Ray, Mississippi State
He’s only here because Kim Anderson hasn’t coached in the league yet and Billy Kennedy has coached one more year than he has. Otherwise he’d be last.
Also, tons of you are like, “Wait, Rick Stansbury isn’t still coaching Mississippi State? What happened to that guy?”
12. Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M
In three years his Texas A&M teams have never finished higher than 9th in the conference.
13. Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee
Until you’ve coached a game in the conference, you start off low on our lists. Clearly, Tyndall may move up the list substantially after this season — hell, if you go to two straight NCAA tourneys at this point you’re probably top five in the league — but right now he’s in coaching purgatory
14. Kim Anderson, Missouri
He hasn’t ever coached a D-1 basketball game, but he did win the DII national championship last year, meaning he’s probably a pretty damn good coach. Maybe he’ll be great, maybe he won’t. But until there’s evidence either way, he’s our 14th best basketball SEC coach.
Combined SEC football and SEC basketball coaching rankings:
1. Auburn 2.5
Even the most rabid Alabama fan in the country can’t object with this ranking. Auburn has the best coaching duo in the conference by a substantial margin. What’s more, Malzahn and Pearl look like they could be dominant as long as they stay in Auburn.
2. Alabama, 4
Nick Saban is pulling up Anthony Grant a ton here. If the Tide had hired Pearl last season Alabama would have had an average coach rank of two, best in the conference. Instead they stuck with Anthony Grant.
3. LSU 4.5
Les Miles is a sold three, perhaps I’ve overranked Johnny Jones, but I expect LSU to be pretty damn good this year. And, honestly, did you just read the resumes of these coaches?
4. Florida 5.5
If we’d done the rankings last year, Florida would have been number one in the conference. Then the wheels came off Muschamp’s Gators. A solid rebound by Muschamp could push the Gators back up to second in the conference.
5. South Carolina, 7
I keep thinking Frank Martin will win at South Carolina. But he keeps losing. Maybe this is the year he surges up our basketball ranking board and carries the Gamecocks into the top four tandems in the SEC. But I have my doubts.
6. Georgia, 7.5
If Richt wins his third SEC title that will put him rarefied company. But until that happens, it’s hard to see him moving much higher than sixth. As for Mark Fox, I’ve given up trying to predict Georgia basketball.
6. Arkansas, 7.5
Mike Anderson is going to have to pull off an incredible run at Arkansas to get higher than fourth in the conference. Or Donovan, Calipari, or Pearl will have to leave. I see a big gap after those three. As for Bielema, he’s at least another year, and maybe two years, away from making a climb up the SEC coaching board.
6. Texas A&M, 7.5
Most of you can’t name Texas A&M’s basketball coach. It’s okay, I had to look his name to make sure I didn’t screw that up too.
6. Kentucky 7.5
Coach Cal will never pass Billy Donovan in my eyes. But Mark Stoops would surge up the coaching list if he could make the Cats competitive again.
10. Ole Miss, 8
I’m convinced Andy Kennedy will coach at Ole Miss for 25 years and go to three NCAA tournaments. So I don’t see him moving much higher. But this could be Hugh Freeze’s year.
11. Vandy, 9.5
lf James Franklin had stayed at Vanderbilt I would have had him top five in teh conference for sure. Based on last year’s crowds, one day Kevin Stallings is going to show up to coach in Memorial Gym and no one will be there to watch.
12. Mississippi State, 10
Remember after he won nine games when every Mississippi State fan you talked to would say, “He and his family love it in Starkville,” within ten seconds of you mentioning Dan Mullen’s name.
Well, last year the natives started to get a bit restless before the Bulldogs put together a fantastic finish to the season. Will Mullen finally regain the legend of his second season? We’ll see.
Meanwhile, Rick Ray is a real person, I swear.
13. Mizzou, 10.5
Gary Pinkel is solid, Kim Anderson is a total wildcard.
What if I’d told you that Mizzou would have more SEC road wins after two seasons of football than they would have in basketball? You would have said that was impossible, right? SEC basketball of late is like the reverse Midas curse, everything it touches turns to crap.
14. Tennessee, 12
YOU HATE TENNESSEE, CLAY.
Nope, I just recognize that the Vols have the two most unproven coaches in the conference. Maybe Butch Jones and Donnie Tyndall will be great. But after three year of hearing how Derek Dooley’s teams were about to turn the corner, I’m not believing anything has happened in Knoxville until the wins start to pile up.