Not long ago, one SEC program could easily claim having the best football-basketball coaching tandem in the nation. From 2006-08, Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan won four national championships for Florida.
Eight years later, Meyer and Donovan are in different jobs, and the SEC looks quite a bit the same and yet different. No tandem really towers over any other.
Sure, football — or at least Alabama football — is still on top of the world, and Kentucky basketball has Final Four hopes year in and year out. But no SEC school can hope to do both in the same year like Florida once did.
As we start our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.
Football: Nick Saban
Basketball: Avery Johnson
With four national championships at Alabama, one title at LSU, and eight consecutive top-10 finishes, Saban is the top coach in either football or men’s basketball right now. There’s no sign this streak is going to slow down any time soon. The former NBA coach Johnson seemed to be a questionable pick for Tide (especially as he was the program’s second choice after Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall). Now, Johnson could be the Coach of the Year in the SEC if the Tide reach the NCAA Tournament in his first year. He also had a standout recruiting class coming in for 2016-17.
2. Mississippi State
Football: Dan Mullen
Basketball: Ben Howland
This is rare territory for Mississippi State to be among the top coaching tandems in the SEC. Usually a place like Florida would be near the top. The case for Mississippi State is pretty clear: Mullen has taken the Bulldogs to unthinkable heights with 19 wins in a two-year span and six consecutive bowl games in a two-year span. Howland’s first season at Mississippi State may be somewhat of a disappointment considering the fanfare surrounding his hire and the presence of a five-star recruit (Malik Newman), but this is still a three-time Final Four coach in Starkville.
3. Ole Miss
Football: Hugh Freeze
Basketball: Andy Kennedy
Freeze has done what no coach at Ole Miss has been able to do since John Vaught in the ‘60s — turn the Rebels into a consistent heavy hitter in the SEC. Ole Miss’ win total has increased every year under Freeze, giving the Rebels only their second 10-win season since 1971. Kennedy isn’t competing for championships, but he’s turned the moribund Ole Miss basketball program into a consistent postseason contender, including two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last four seasons. He’s the school’s all-time wins leader by a wide margin.
Football: Gus Malzahn
Basketball: Bruce Pearl
A year ago, we could have ranked this as the top duo in the SEC. Now, we’re wondering where Malzahn and Pearl really stand. After a trip to the 2013 national title game, Auburn has gone just 6-10 in the SEC since then including a five-game losing streak at one point. Coaching turnover presents another challenge to Malzahn only two years after he was on top of the profession. Pearl’s program seemed to show momentum in the SEC Tournament last year, but they’re headed to another losing season. Pearl, though, can recruit and will have more talent next year than in either of his first two seasons.
Football: Bret Bielema
Basketball: Mike Anderson
Neither Arkansas football nor basketball are the best programs in the SEC, but both keep things interesting. For all of Bielema’s bluster, it gets overlooked that Arkansas has improved from 0-8 in the SEC to 2-6 to 5-3. Arkansas basketball probably could be better than one NCAA Tournament appearance in five years under Anderson, but the Razorbacks are just one year removed from a 27-win season and a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Football: John Calipari
Basketball: Mark Stoops
Calipari has a national championship and four Final Fours at Kentucky (plus two more at UMass and Memphis), but again this is a tandem ranking. The SEC’s top basketball coach is paired with Stoops, who is 12-24 overall and 4-20 in the SEC. Stoops has improved Kentucky’s recruiting, but his third season ended with a thud — a five-game SEC losing streak and a loss to rival Louisville.
Football: Butch Jones
Basketball: Rick Barnes
Some football fans might consider last season to be a disappointment, but the Volunteers are right where they should be in the rebuilding process. The 9–4 Vols lost to the national champion (Alabama), a playoff team (Oklahoma), the SEC East champion (Florida) and an eight-win team from the West (Arkansas). The Volunteers clobbered just about everyone else, and 2016 should be the season his standout recruiting classes will bring UT back to the top of the SEC East. Tennessee might sneak into the NIT this season, but if there’s any sign of life, it’s the Volunteers’ toughness at home, where they beat Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and LSU this season.
8. Texas A&M
Football: Kevin Sumlin
Basketball: Billy Kennedy
Sumlin’s program has garnered plenty of skepticism as the Aggies have gone 11-13 in the SEC during the last three seasons. The 2015 mess at the quarterback position could have ramifications into 2016 if Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight doesn’t pan out. After five seasons, Kennedy’s program has been building to this year when the Aggies at times looked like the best team in the SEC. They may still finish behind Kentucky, but they’ll be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Kennedy’s tenure.
Football: Jim McElwain
Basketball: Mike White
McElwain impressed in his first season at Florida, leading the Gators to the SEC East title. By the end of the season, the flaws were plenty evident that the offense has a long way to go for the Gators to be true SEC contenders again. Billy Donovan essentially handed his successor a blank slate after the Gators went 16-17 in his final season. Florida’s not a factor in the SEC race but could reach the Tournament as an at-large — a nice change of pace for White, whose three-time conference championship teams at Louisiana Tech stalled in the league tournament.
Football: Les Miles
Basketball: Johnny Jones
LSU has every reason to believe it’s not getting the most out of its coaching tandem. Since the 2012 title game, the football program under Miles has pulled in five top-15 signing classes, yet LSU is 20-12 in the SEC in that span. Under Jones, LSU likely won’t make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team despite having Ben Simmons on the roster. The Tigers squeaked into the NCAA Tournament last year, but bizarre losses to Missouri, Mississippi State and Auburn (twice) sent LSU to an 8-9 game.
11. South Carolina
Football: Will Muschamp
Basketball: Frank Martin
This would rank as the most combustable coaching tandem in the SEC as both have explosive personalities on the sideline. Martin’s gamble to leave Kansas State for one of the toughest jobs in the SEC is paying off as the Gamecocks should make the Tournament for the first time since 2004. Muschamp was a puzzling hire as he flamed out in the same division at Florida. South Carolina is banking on the promise that the defensive guru learned from his mistakes in Gainesville.
Football: Kirby Smart
Basketball: Mark Fox
Smart’s hire is a mystery as coaches from the Saban tree have been a grab bag. After Georgia parted with Richt, Smart has a good idea of the expectations at his alma mater. Fox is a solid coach, but Georgia doesn’t have the commitment to basketball to help him reach the next level.
Football: Derek Mason
Basketball: Kevin Stallings
Mason’s move to take over the defense himself may have taken some of the heat off a coach who went winless in the SEC in his first season. The Commodores went 2-6 in his second year. Stallings is the longest-tenure SEC coach in either sport, but he’s facing the most disappointing season of his career. The Commodores were a preseason top 20 team, but they’re fighting for an NCAA bid. If this is his last year, Stallings would have reached the NCAA Tournament six times in 17 years. Not terrible for Vanderbilt, but enough to leave fans wanting more.
Football: Barry Odom
Basketball: Kim Anderson
Odom has been groomed for the Missouri coaching job for a while now, playing linebacker for the Tigers in the 90s and spending 10 of the last 12 years on the staff in some capacity. Anderson was a questionable hire from the get-go, moving up from Division II ranks. With player defections and fallout from the Frank Haith era, he’s had little chance to succeed. Both coaches will need to navigate a host of issues brought to the forefront by student protests and ensuing administrative resignations last fall.