The SEC is the unquestioned best conference in college football and is quickly emerging as a challenger to being the best basketball conference as well.
That success can be directly attributed to the quality of coaches the league has been able to attract and retain.
Despite all that success, only two current SEC football coaches and one basketball coach have ever won a national championship. Nick Saban is at six and counting (one at LSU and five in the last nine seasons at Alabama). Jimbo Fisher won one at Florida State and is now trying to rediscover that magic at Texas A&M.
In basketball, only John Calipari at Kentucky has a single national championship. So, six for Saban, two total for the other 27 league coaches in the two major sports. Still, there’s almost no question that the collection of coaches in the SEC today is stronger than it has ever been.
That got me thinking: Which SEC school has the best duo of coaches directing its football and basketball programs?
Here are the criteria: As a package deal, which two coaches would you choose to direct college programs? Factor in longevity, how likely the coaches will be to lead your program to NCAA prominence and your chances to win championships.
Here are my choices, starting with the best.
No. 1 Alabama — Nick Saban and Avery Johnson: Saban is the greatest college football coach of all time. Johnson, at the very least, has Alabama back in the college basketball conversation for the first time in more than a decade. Plus, he’s recruiting at a very high level.
No. 2 Georgia — Kirby Smart and Tom Crean: Neither Smart nor Crean has won a national championship but they are the only duo in the league that has been to the national championship game in football and the Final Four in basketball. Smart has already proven Georgia was a sleeping giant in football. Crean now has the chance to do the same in basketball.
No. 3 Texas A&M — Jimbo Fisher and Billy Kennedy: If Fisher can win a national championship at Florida State there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it with more resources at Texas A&M. Kennedy has been SEC Coach of the Year once.
No. 4 Auburn — Gus Malzahn and Bruce Pearl: Malzahn has been maddeningly inconsistent, but he joins Saban, Fisher and Smart as coaches who have reached the national championship game. Pearl has never reached the Final Four but he has breathed life into Auburn basketball with a regular-season title this season.
No. 5 Kentucky — Mark Stoops and John Calipari: It’s hard to win in football at Kentucky, but Stoops has gone 4-4 in the SEC and been to a bowl game in each of the past two seasons. Calipari is the league’s only national champion in basketball and continues to contend every year with almost all freshmen.
No. 6 Florida — Dan Mullen and Mike White: Everyone said Mullen did the most with the least at Mississippi State. Now we get to see what he can do with all the resources in the world.
No. 7 South Carolina — Will Muschamp and Frank Martin: Muschamp’s reputation is having a resurgence after a rough go at Florida. Just last year South Carolina was in the Final Four. That takes great coaching.
No. 8 Missouri — Barry Odom and Cuonzo Martin: Martin has been a strong leader not just for the basketball program but the entire university during times of social unrest.
No. 9 Tennessee — Jeremy Pruitt and Rick Barnes: Pruitt has never coached a game as a head coach but I like his chances in Knoxville. Barnes has been to one Final Four.
No. 10 Mississippi State — Joe Moorhead and Ben Howland: Moorhead is as anonymous as an SEC football coach can be. Howland won big at UCLA but still got fired.
No. 11 Arkansas — Chad Morris and Mike Anderson: Morris is an unknown at this level but Anderson has proven at every stop that he’s a winning coach.
No. 12 Ole Miss — Matt Luke and Kermit Davis: I would like to put this duo higher, since I like what both coaches bring to the job. But the fact is they have a total of three SEC wins between them.
No. 13 LSU — Ed Orgeron and Will Wade: Except for being straight out of central casting, I’m not sure what qualified Orgeron for this great job. Wade needs to realize that beating Louisiana-Lafayette in the NIT does not warrant trash talk.
No. 14 Vanderbilt — Derek Mason and Bryce Drew: The deck is stacked against Vanderbilt. Still, somebody has to lead one of these programs to respectability.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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