Do Alabama's Nick Saban and Avery Johnson form the top coaching tandem in the SEC?
The SEC’s coaching depth has only gotten better with Jimbo Fisher leaving Florida State to take over at Texas A&M. Fisher adds to the conference’s national championship pedigree, which is led by Alabama’s Nick Saban of course, but it’s a club that his former assistant Kirby Smart almost joined in just his second year leading at Georgia. Elsewhere on the gridiron, Dan Mullen moved from Mississippi State to Florida presenting Joe Moorhead and fellow SEC newcomers Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee) and Chad Morris (Arkansas) an opportunity to prove they belong in the nation’s toughest college football conference.
On the hardwood, it’s Kentucky’s John Calipari and then everyone else. Who is No. 2 in the SEC is up for debate, but Bruce Pearl, Rick Barnes, Avery Johnson and Cuonzo Martin are putting together solid seasons leading their respective teams. One thing’s for sure, expect more changes the next time this list is revisited, as several head coaches in both sports are firmly on the hot seat and one job is currently vacant.
Each year, Athlon Sports ranks the coaching tandems from each Power 5 league. A variety of factors are considered for this exercise. 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.
Ranking the SEC's Football-Basketball Coaching Duos for 2018
Football: Nick Saban
Basketball: Avery Johnson
Saban’s (deserved) reputation as the top college football coach in the nation vaults this duo to the top of the list. Johnson has done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail and will have Alabama in the NCAA Tournament this March for the first time since 2012.
Football: Gus Malzahn
Basketball: Bruce Pearl
Malzahn’s stock is up after guiding the Tigers to the SEC West championship in 2017. The Tigers’ basketball team — on the verge of an SEC regular-season title — has been arguably the biggest surprise in the nation this season. Pearl, however, could find himself out of a job due to the ongoing FBI investigation.
Football: Mark Stoops
Basketball: John Calipari
After a rocky start, Stoops has led Kentucky to two straight bowl games. The Wildcats are 8–8 in the SEC over the last two seasons. Calipari’s status as the most prominent basketball coach in the league puts Kentucky near the top of this list.
Football: Dan Mullen
Basketball: Mike White
Mullen did an outstanding job during his tenure as the head coach at Mississippi State and should thrive at Florida, potentially one of the top programs in the country. White finally broke through and took a team to the NCAA Tournament in 2017 for the first time in his six years as a head coach. The Gators will be back in the NCAAs this March and have an outstanding recruiting class coming in.
Football: Kirby Smart
Basketball: Mark Fox
Smart and the Bulldogs made a huge leap in Year 2, improving from 8–5 in 2016 to 13–2 and a spot in the national title game in 2017. And with the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation on the way to Athens, Georgia will remain one of the nation’s elite programs. Fox could be on his way out as the Bulldogs figure to miss the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in his nine seasons.
6. Texas A&M
Football: Jimbo Fisher
Basketball: Billy Kennedy
Texas A&M wanted to make a big slash with its football search — and the Aggies did just that, luring Fisher away from Florida State. In eight seasons at FSU, Fisher went 48–17 in the ACC and won the national title in 2013. The A&M basketball team has rebounded from a disappointing start to SEC play and should be back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in Kennedy’s five seasons at the school.
7. South Carolina
Football: Will Muschamp
Basketball: Frank Martin
Muschamp has improved his reputation nationally — which wasn’t great after his struggles at Florida — by guiding South Carolina to a bowl game in 2016 and then a nine-win season in '17. Martin broke through with a trip to the Final Four in his fifth year at South Carolina — it’s his only trip to the NCAA Tournament at the school — but the Gamecocks will miss the NCAAs this season.
8. Mississippi State
Football: Joe Moorhead
Basketball: Ben Howland
Moorhead is a highly respected former offensive coordinator at Penn State and head coach at Fordham. He is inheriting a talented team from Dan Mullen, who's now at Florida. Mississippi State is making progress in Year 3 under Howland but likely will fall short of the NCAA Tournament yet again. He’s recruiting well but has yet to make a big move in the SEC.
Football: Jeremy Pruitt
Basketball: Rick Barnes
Pruitt is a first-time head coach who is taking over a program that needs a jolt after slumping to 0–8 in the SEC in 2017. He has a fine pedigree but is unproven as a CEO. Barnes has done a terrific job in Year 2, taking a team that was picked 13th in the SEC in the preseason to a likely top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. And with a young roster, Tennessee should remain relevant in the SEC for the foreseeable future.
Football: Ed Orgeron
Basketball: Will Wade
The jury is still out on Orgeron as the Tigers’ head coach. His record since taking over on an interim basis during the 2016 season is 15–6 overall and 10–4 in the SEC. That’s fine — but not quite good enough for the rabid and demanding LSU faithful. Wade has overachieved in his first year as the basketball coach and has an outstanding recruiting class signed for next season.
Football: Derek Mason
Basketball: Bryce Drew
Mason followed up his bowl season of 2016 with a disappointing 5–7 campaign last fall, though he did beat rival Tennessee for the second straight season. Drew took Vanderbilt to the NCAA Tournament in his first season at Vanderbilt, but the Commodores likely will have a losing record this season. He has, however, signed the top recruiting class — featuring (at least) two McDonald’s All-Americans — in school history.
Football: Barry Odom
Basketball: Cuonzo Martin
Odom engineered one of the most impressive in-season turnarounds we have seen in recent college football history. The Tigers started 1–5 overall (with the one win over Missouri State) but won their final six regular-season games (five by 28 points or more) to finish with seven wins. Still, Odom is 11–14 overall and 6–10 in the SEC. The well-travelled Martin did a tremendous job reshaping the SEC’s worst roster in a short time and appears to have the Tigers headed to the NCAA Tournament in his first season — and he’s done so without the services of elite freshman Michael Porter Jr.
Football: Chad Morris
Basketball: Mike Anderson
Morris did a decent job in a very difficult rebuild at SMU. The talent level is down in Fayetteville, and the Hogs’ 2018 recruiting class was ranked last in the SEC. Anderson’s inability to get Arkansas basketball back to the upper tier of the SEC has been puzzling. The Hogs have reached the NCAA Tournament two times in his six full seasons.
14. Ole Miss
Football: Matt Luke
Basketball: TBD (was Andy Kennedy)
Luke did just enough — 6–6 overall with a win over Mississippi State — to earn the job on a full-time basis. He must now prove he’s the long-term answer at his alma mater. Kennedy stepped down as the Rebels' basketball coach in mid-February after 11-plus years in Oxford. He reached the NCAA Tournament only two times but had a .500 or better record in the SEC eight times.