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With Nick Saban and Anthony Grant, Alabama takes the No. 1 spot here, too
With college football’s spring practice and basketball’s postseason around the corner, Athlon Sports decided this would be a good time to evaluate each school’s coaching tandem.
In this ranking, we aimed to reward balance. In short, which school’s fanbase is most likely to be satisfied from September to March? A handful of schools may have an accomplished football coach while the basketball coach is looking to keep his job, or vice versa. We did not grade on a curve in those cases.
In evaluating coaches, we examined past performance, with more focus on current and recent results and future expectations. We also considered how good a fit a particular coach is for a particular school.
In the SEC, Alabama’s Nick Saban looms over every football coach in the country, but is his dominance on the field and in recruiting enough to give the Tide the best two-fer of coaches in the league?
We say yes. Alabama’s Anthony Grant is not the top basketball coach in the league. He may have trouble cracking most people’s top five. But for a non-traditional basketball power, he’s holding his own in the SEC through his first four seasons.
Winning titles in football and staying competitive in basketball is enough to take the top tandem in the league.
Other coach tandem rankings:
ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC’S TOP COACHING TANDEMS
Football: Nick Saban | Basketball: Anthony Grant
There’s not much more we can say about Nick Saban that hasn’t been said since Alabama won its second consecutive national title and third in four seasons. Yet again, he reeled in the nation’s No. 1 signing class, and he's continued to change the face of the SEC. After the SEC was remade by the Fun ‘n’ Gun and the spread, Saban has brought the league back to a combination a punishing run game and physical defense. On the basketball side, Grant hasn’t had the same success as he did at VCU, but hoops isn’t the focus in Tuscaloosa. After a 6-10 SEC season in his first year, Grant has gone 28-14 in conference play since.
2. South Carolina
Football: Steve Spurrier | Basketball: Frank Martin
What Spurrier has accomplished really is quite extraordinary: He brought two SEC programs to national prominence using different approaches at each spot. At South Carolina, he’s abandoned the high-flying pass offense in favor of a standout run game and stout defense (the Gamecocks have ranked in the top four of the SEC in total defense in four of the last five seasons). Before Spurrier, South Carolina had never finished a season in the AP top 10. Spurrier has done it in back-to-back seasons. The Gamecocks’ basketball program now is the one needing a turnaround. Martin is enduring a dismal first season in Columbia as expected, but the fiery former Kansas State coach has a track record of winning at a place others have not.
Football: Will Muschamp | Basketball: Billy Donovan
Billy the Kid is the longest-tenured SEC basketball coach, landing at Florida in 1996-97. He’s turned the Gators into one of the most consistent programs in the country with 14 consecutive 20-win seasons, two national championships, and three Final Fours and two more Elite Eights. Though a highly coveted assistant, Muschamp was a curious hire for the Gators, whose last coach without previous head coaching experience (Ron Zook) didn’t pan out. After a 7-6 first season, Muschamp returned Florida to top-10 status last season. The Gators’ 2012 was flawed but still managed to win four one-score games against one of the nation’s toughest schedules.
Football: James Franklin | Basketball: Kevin Stallings
When was the last time Vanderbilt was a factor in both football and basketball? Since 1974, Vanderbilt has reached the NCAA Tournament and a bowl game in the same calendar year only four times. Kevin Stallings was the basketball coach for three of them. James Franklin was the football coach for two of those years. Vanderbilt is the most unique job in the league as the SEC’s toughest academic school and the only private university in the league. Stallings built his program (six NCAA Tournaments in the last nine seasons) on player development. And Franklin has proven to have the recruiting zeal and enthusiasm to keep the Commodores competitive.
Football: Les Miles | Basketball: Johnny Jones
The SEC just wouldn’t be the same without Les Miles, whose unpredictability as a gameday coach is matched by eccentricity as a communicator. But he’s had some darn good results at LSU, too. In addition to the 2007 national title, LSU has finished in the top 10 five times under Miles and spent at least one week in the top five in each of his eight seasons in Baton Rouge. In basketball, LSU won’t make the NCAA Tournament in Jones’ first season, but the Tigers could have their best win total since 2008-09. A player on LSU’s Final Four team in 1986, Jones was one of the best coaches in the Sun Belt at North Texas.
Football: Bret Bielema | Basketball: Mike Anderson
Few tandems in the SEC took their current jobs with resumes as accomplished as Bielema and Anderson. Bielema led Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls and won at least 10 games four times in seven seasons. Anderson won at UAB, including an upset of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, and Missouri, where he won 31 games and reached the Elite Eight in 2008-09. The question is how they will fare at Arkansas. Anderson’s road woes may cost the Razorbacks another Tournament bid, and Bielema is entering his first season coaching and recruiting in the SEC.
Football: Mark Stoops | Basketball: John Calipari
Calipari may be the top coach in the game right now. Even one of his down teams this season will make a run at an SEC regular season title. From 2005-12, his average record each season was 34-5. And in the outlier (29-9 in 2010-11), Kentucky still reached the Final Four. His strategy of cycling through one-and-dones isn’t everyone’s favorite vision for college basketball, but he proved last season he can win a national title doing it. Football is a second priority at Kentucky, but they’ll hope first-time head coach Mark Stoops is more like Bob than Mike. He impressed on the recruiting trail with the nation’s No. 36 class. Still, in the SEC, that ranks only 13th.
8. Texas A&M
Football: Kevin Sumlin | Basketball: Billy Kennedy
Sumlin’s teams at Texas A&M and Houston have finished in the top three nationally in total offense in four of the last five seasons. The exception was 2010 when Houston quarterback Case Keenum was injured (Houston still finished 11th nationally). With a Cotton Bowl victory, a win over Alabama and a Heisman Trophy for Johnny Manziel, Sumlin rode that wave to a top-10 signing class, outpacing former recruiting rivals Texas and Oklahoma. The basketball program isn’t where Mark Turgeon and Billy Gillispie had it, but the Aggies have already matched last season’s win total (14). Billy Kennedy built Southeastern Louisiana and Murray State over the course of a few years, so his upcoming seasons will be worth watching.
Football: Mark Richt | Basketball: Mark Fox
The hot seat talk form when Georgia went 14-12 and 7-9 in the SEC in 2009-10 has cooled. Richt’s 14-2 record in the SEC the last two seasons is his best in any two-year span at Georgia, though Georgia has been the beneficiary of some fortunate scheduling. Still, the Bulldogs were a play away from reaching the national title game before losing the SEC Championship Game. The hire of Georgia’s other Mark from Nevada was greeted with skepticism as Fox hadn’t coached anywhere near the Southeast. At 12-11, Fox is trying to avoid his third losing season in four years at Georgia.
Football: Gary Pinkel | Basketball: Frank Haith
Missouri’s run of six consecutive bowl games came to a halt during the Tigers’ first season in the SEC. Mizzou has won at least 10 games in three of the last six years, but they’re five years removed from the magical 2007 season. The Tigers also had the lowest-ranked signing class in the SEC on national signing day only a year after signing the nation’s top prospect, Dorial Green-Beckham. In basketball, Haith exceeded expectations after his hire was lampooned two years ago. The Tigers are 47-11 under Haith, though the NCAA investigation stemming from his time at Miami looms over the program.
11. Mississippi State
Football: Dan Mullen | Basketball: Rick Ray
Mississippi State may not have been as good as its record indicated early last season, but the Bulldogs reached their third consecutive bowl game under Mullen. That tied the longest postseason streak in Starkville, matching Jackie Sherrill’s run from 1998-2000. In basketball, Rick Ray took over for longtime coach Rick Stansbury, and he’ll need some time to rebuild. Mississippi State has one of the most undermanned rosters in the SEC, and it shows.
12. Ole Miss
Football: Hugh Freeze | Basketball: Andy Kennedy
Hard to believe Freeze has only been a Division I head coach for two seasons. In that time, he won a Sun Belt title at Arkansas, won more SEC games in his first season (three) than his predecessor won his last two combined (one), and signed a top-10 recruiting class out of nowhere. Now the pressure will be on for Ole Miss to produce. The basketball program is also enjoying a bit of a comeback under Kennedy. An NIT regular the past six seasons, the Rebels may reach their first NCAA Tournament since 2002.
Football: Butch Jones | Basketball: Cuonzo Martin
Tennessee fans seem to be in a perpetual state of angst regarding their coaches, so they’re not going to like seeing Tennessee this low in the league. But relax: There’s plenty of upside in Knoxville. Jones will be criticized for riding Brian Kelly’s coattails at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but he upgraded a defense shredded by Florida in the 2010 Sugar Bowl and turned in one of the Big East’s best coaching jobs with a 10-3 season last year. In basketball, Martin has never reached the NCAA Tournament in Knoxville or at MIssouri State, but he hasn’t had a full deck since landing at Tennessee. He didn’t have Jarnell Stokes until midseason last year and has been without Jeronne Maymon for all of 2012-13.
Football: Gus Malzahn | Basketball: Tony Barbee
When we graded the coaching hires for 2013, we liked Malzahn’s return to Auburn. But considering the coaching heft elsewhere in the SEC, it’s tough to rank Malzahn ahead of more proven commodities. Even as an assistant, Malzahn hasn’t stayed at a place than three seasons (his first stint at Auburn as offensive coordinator). His offensive acumen is unquestioned. His ability to serve as CEO of program is undetermined. In basketball, Barbee may be on his way to his third losing season at Auburn, a feat that’s pretty tough for a power conference program.