The SEC competes at the highest level of sports, and its teams have all-time great coaches. It’s no wonder the conference won national titles in both football and basketball in recent years years.
Of course, the SEC lost some of their best in previous years. This isn’t the same type of pedigree that boasted Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan at the same school. Excelling at multiple sports consistently is difficult. However, there are great pieces.
Here are the 5 best basketball-football coaching partnerships in the SEC.
5. Tennessee – Butch Jones/Rick Barnes
Jones record: 80-48 (30-21 at Tennessee)
Barnes record: 629-342 (26-28 at Tennessee)
Oddly enough, Jones and Barnes fall into similar categories. Both are adept at recruiting and obtaining top talent. There are some results. However, these coaches also started to underachieve against their lofty expectations. Both deserve credit as great coaches.
Barnes previously coached at Texas, Providence and Clemson. He took those teams to 6 Sweet 16s, 3Elite Eights and a Final Four with T.J. Ford at Texas. However, he also wasted a year with Kevin Durant on campus. After an Elite Eight run in 2008, Texas failed to get past the first weekend of the tourney in Barnes’ final 7 seasons.
Tennessee was a mess when Jones took over the football program, but Jones got back to a bowl game in his second season. With the talent Jones accumulated, 9-win seasons each of the past two years were underwhelming.
4. Auburn – Gus Malzahn/Bruce Pearl
Malzahn record: 44-21 (35-18 at Auburn)
Pearl record: 501-192 (39-47 at Auburn)
Auburn is in a transitionary period, especially considering Alabama’s strength at the top of the college football world. However, the Tigers have a pair of excellent coaches to do it.
Malzahn took Auburn to the national title game with Nick Marshall under center. Since then, he’s struggled the replicate the success. However, Auburn is in a healthy place as a program. Coaching on the other side of Nick Saban is a tall task. He’s done a decent job with the circumstances he was given.
Pearl made some stupid recruiting mistakes during his time at Tennessee, but his coaching ability has never been in question. In 19 seasons as a head coach at Tennessee, Milwaukee and Southern Indiana, Pearl never had a losing record. Auburn was a bigger rebuilding job. Without a doubt, he’ll have the program to prominence before long.
3. Mississippi State – Dan Mullen/Ben Howland
Mullen record: 61-42 (all at Mississippi State)
Howland record: 425-231 (26-23 at Mississippi State )
Mississippi State has major disadvantages against other teams in the SEC, but the Bulldogs boast a surprising comprehensive coaching roster. Mixed with Vic Schaefer, the women’s basketball coach who has his team at No. 4 in the nation, Mississippi State has one of the best coaching crews in the conference.
Things went downhill by the time Howland left UCLA, but his successes can’t be discounted. His Bruins reached the Final Four in 3 consecutive seasons. Howland earned conference coach of the year honors at each of his previous stops (UCLA, Pitt, Northern Arizona) and national coach of the year in 2002. He has a tall task trying to raise the Bulldogs to prominence, but the talent is there.
Similarly, Mullen has taken a tough coaching destination and turned it into a conference power. It took Mullen just 1 season to get the Bulldogs to a bowl game. Now, he’s been to 7 in a row. For comparison, Jackie Sherrill and Emory Bellard are the only other coaches to drag MSU to multiple bowl games.
2. Kentucky – Mark Stoops/John Calipari
Stoops record: 19-30 (all at Kentucky)
Calipari record: 679-190 (234-5 at Kentucky)
There are two exceptional coaches in the major SEC men’s sports. One is Saban. The other is Calipari. Stoops is average, but that’s good enough to be here on this list.
Calipari led Memphis to great success, including a narrow loss in the 2008 national championship game. Since then, he has been masterful at Kentucky. The Wildcats are easily one of the nation’s 5 best programs in recent years. Even though Calipari leveraged it into just 1 national title, he reached four Final Fours in 7 years. Kentucky hadn’t been to that point since Tubby Smith’s national championship in 1998.
Stoops is nowhere near that caliber, but he’s done a good job rebuilding Kentucky’s football program. Joker Phillips left the program in a bad spot after 2012, but Stoops grew the Wildcats into a bowl team in his fourth year. With improved recruiting, the ceiling appears higher.
1. Alabama – Nick Saban/Avery Johnson
Saban record: 210-61-1 (119-19 at Alabama)
Johnson record: 29-22 (all at Alabama)
It’s hard to evaluate Johnson at this point, considering he’s only in his second season as Tide coach. However, Saban ensures this duo would be at the top of this list.
Saban doesn’t have a peer in the SEC, including Calipari. He is better compared to the other greatest coaches in SEC history, like Bear Bryant and Pat Summitt. The Crimson Tide lost the 2017 national championship game because of a superlative performance from a player who will rank as one of college football’s best. To Tide fans, the season feels like a disappointment. That’s the standard when you have a 5-time national champion coach.
Johnson had a heck of an NBA coaching career before taking the job in Tuscaloosa. He led the Dallas Mavericks to the 2006 NBA Finals and followed that with a 67-win season. Johnson was fired after a 51-31 season, which is nearly unheard of. His stint with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets was less impressive, but his coaching chops are unquestioned. It will be interesting to see how the program grows under his leadership — Alabama has been to the NCAA Tournament once since 2007.