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Football-centric league makes for some lopsided pairings
When we started this series on the top coaching tandems, we knew it would be tough, especially given our guiding principle that the football coach and the basketball coaches should be considered to be on equal footing
For most schools, they’re not. Especially in the SEC.
We set out to determine the coaching tandems able to keep fans happy from the start of football season to the end of basketball season.
Arguably, coaches like Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn do enough during football season to keep fans happy year round, no matter what happens on the basketball court. The same could be said of John Calipari and Kentucky, just in a different sport.
Still, we’re not going to stray from our plan. That’s why the top football coach in the league (Saban) and the top two basketball coaches (Calipari and Billy Donovan) are not in the top spot. Certainly, if Florida football returns to New Year’s Day bowl status or Kentucky starts to play in the football postseason, those two programs likely would move up.
For now, a different program gets the call for the top football-basketball coaching tandem in the SEC.
1. South Carolina
Football: Steve Spurrier | Basketball: Frank Martin
If anything, Spurrier could teach Martin how to mellow out. Away from game day, Spurrier knows how to relax, especially if there’s a golf course nearby. But the football coach is just as sharp as ever, leading South Carolina, once one of the league’s underachieving programs, to three consecutive top 10 finishes. After a successful run at Kansas State, Martin still has work to do to even get to an NIT, but there have been shades of improvement in his second season with the Gamecocks. He has one of the league’s top freshmen in Sindarius Thornwell.
Football: Les Miles | Basketball: Johnny Jones
Miles’ credentials are pretty clear: The 2007 national title and appearance in the 2011 title game and four consecutive 10-win seasons. Jones is in his second season at his alma mater after leading one of the most consistent Sun Belt programs at North Texas. Both coaches are standout recruiters in a region flush with prospects.
Football: Mark Richt | Basketball: Mark Fox
Richt has to wonder what might have been if his team had stayed healthy for all of 2013. Otherwise, Georgia has been the SEC’s most stable program since his tenure began in 2001. The Bulldogs haven’t reached a title game, but they’re consistently in the mix for the East title. Fox has had his own dose of bad luck with players like Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie leaving for the NBA Draft. The overall record isn’t pretty, but Georgia has been competitive in SEC play, including an 8-4 mark this season.
Football: Nick Saban | Basketball: Anthony Grant
Saban has few peers in football coaching with three national titles in the last five seasons. Another national No. 1 recruiting class ensures the Crimson Tide are still the team to beat in the SEC despite Auburn’s league title in December. Grant has recruited at a high level, though some of his top prospects have been washouts. This season has been the worst of his five-year tenure, which has included two NITs and one NCAA Tournament.
Football: Will Muschamp | Basketball: Billy Donovan
Normally, a coaching tandem with basketball national titles and a Sugar Bowl would be enough to be at or near the top. Indeed, if Florida overcame injuries last season to get to a second-tier bowl game, maybe the Gators would be No. 1. Alas, Muschamp will be under pressure in his fourth season after presiding over a loss to Georgia Southern and the program’s first losing season since 1979.
Football: Mark Stoops | Basketball: John Calipari
Again, the top two basketball coaches in the SEC are paired with football coaches we’re not quite sure about yet. The last two seasons probably haven’t gone the way most Big Blue Nation envisioned, but Calipari and Kentucky are a perfect match. If Kentucky football can get to regular bowl contention, then this might be the best tandem in the league. Stoops brought in a top 25 signing class in 2014, so it may happen in the near future.
Football: Gary Pinkel | Basketball: Frank Haith
The question if Missouri could stay afloat in the SEC has been answered with a resounding yes as the Tigers reached the SEC title game and had a shot at the national championship game. Missouri likely will make the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season under Haith, but some of the results — two early NCAA exits and a 17-13 record in lackluster league — make it tough to rank this tandem any higher.
8. Ole Miss
Football: Hugh Freeze | Basketball: Andy Kennedy
Ole Miss has a football coach who has gone to back-to-back bowl games and a basketball coach who went to an NCAA tournament. That hasn’t happened in the same season in more than a decade at Oxford.
Football: Gus Malzahn | Basketball: Tony Barbee
Few teams can figure out how to stop Malzahn’s offense. The problem, as far as this ranking is concerned, is that even fewer can figure out how to win basketball games at Auburn.
10. Texas A&M
Football: Kevin Sumlin | Basketball: Billy Kennedy
Sumlin gave Texas A&M instant credibility as an SEC program. Johnny Manziel is gone, but the Aggies have plenty of momentum. A&M basketball, though, is on the way to three losing conference seasons under Kennedy.
Football: Derek Mason | Basketball: Kevin Stallings
Both Vanderbilt positions are all about fit as the only private school in the league and the one with the highest academic standards. Mason knows the terrain coming from Stanford, but football fans have had a taste of the big time from the James Franklin era. Stallings is considered one of the league’s best tacticians.
Football: Butch Jones | Basketball: Cuonzo Martin
Any questions about Jones’ ability to recruit have been answered with a top 10 signing class in 2014. Now, he has to return the Volunteers to relevance. Tennessee has been just short of the NCAA Tournament in Martin’s three seasons, but the Volunteers have had a winning league record in the last two seasons.
Football: Bret Bielema | Basketball: Mike Anderson
Bielema and Anderson both have fine credentials with Bielema winning three conference titles at Wisconsin and Anderson reaching the Elite Eight while at Missouri. That said, never have proven they can approach that level at Arkansas.
14. Mississippi State
Football: Dan Mullen | Basketball: Rick Ray
Mullen’s four consecutive bowl games at Mississippi State shouldn’t be overlooked, especially as the SEC has been at the top of its powers. The Bulldogs’ basketball program has a long way to go in Ray’s second season.