The SEC will see four new head coaches making their debut with their respective teams when the 2015-16 season begins in the winter, and all four coaches are about as diverse as possible. From a coach who's been in the NBA Finals to one who's never made the NCAA Tournament, the four newcomers bring differing styles and pedigrees to the SEC.
The Mississippi State Bulldgos made the first hire of the SEC offseason when they brought in former UCLA head coach Ben Howland to replace Rick Ray after 3 seasons. The Tennessee Volunteers followed soon after by hiring former Texas head coach Rick Barnes. Alabama was next with their hiring of former NBA coach Avery Johnson, and the Florida Gators replaced Billy Donovan after he took the Oklahoma City head coach position in the NBA with Louisiana Tech's Mike White.
It's too early to really make heads or tails of any of these coaches, but early impressions are already forming around the coaches and the perceptions around them and the programs they've taken over. Here are how the hirings of the new SEC coaches rank from this past offseason.
1. Ben Howland, Mississippi State
Mississippi State seemingly shocked the SEC and the whole NCAA with their hire of former UCLA head coach Ben Howland. The Bulldogs had floundered in obscurity the previous 3 seasons under Rick Ray, never winning more than 14 games under Ray.
Howland, however, is a proven winner. In 19 seasons, Howland has a 401-206 record as head coach at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh, and UCLA. In his 19 seasons, Howland has made the NCAA Tournament 10 times, and he made 3 straight Final Four appearances with UCLA from 2006-08 including the NCAA Championship game in 2006. He's also won 3 conference tournament championships and 8 regular season conference championships.
After missing the tournament twice in four years and not making it past the 2nd round in the other two seasons, UCLA parted ways with Howland in 2013. He's been out of basketball since then, but the time off doesn't seem to have affected him as he's already hit the ground running with Mississippi State.
Howland was able to help pull in Malik Newman, the No. 7 overall player and No. 1 point guard in the country, a mere month after taking the Mississippi State job. He headlines a Mississippi State recruiting class that ranks 24th in the country now after Newman's commitment.
Howland's track record suggests his first season with the Bulldogs won't be an easy ride. Howland has posted a losing record in his first season in all three of his previous stints, and Mississippi State doesn't seem to have the depth of talent to do much better. But Howland is undoubtedly a home run hire and is already proving to be a success.
2. Rick Barnes, Tennessee Volunteers
When a team has to hire its third head coach in three seasons, the assumption is that the attrition has taken its toll and the latest head coach is just someone hired to stop the bleeding. That's not the case for the Vols, however.
After being forced to fire head coach Donnie Tyndall after only one season due to NCAA violations, the Vols were searching for another coach not even a year after hiring their last. Luckily for Tennessee, however, a Texas legend had just left his post in the Lone Star State and was on the market.
Tennessee hired Rick Barnes not even a week after firing Tyndall, and his hiring has already made a splash in the SEC. Barnes is the most experienced of the new hires this offseason, coming in with a 604-314 record in 28 seasons as a head coach. Barnes coached at the University of Texas for 17 of those 28 seasons, appearing in the 2003 Final Four and in 2 Elite Eights . He took Texas to the NCAA Tournament in all but one of this 17 seasons as head coach, and he's only missed the Tournament 6 times in his 28 seasons of coaching.
Barnes faced a tough task of rebuilding a roster that has seen a massive amount of attrition over the last year. The Vols needed a point guard, post players, and consistent scorers, and Barnes has already gone a long way to addressing those needs.
In just a month on the job, Barnes has added three players that should provide immediate help for the Vols. Lamonte Turner is a 4-star point guard in the 2015 class, and Ray Kasongo and Kyle Alexander are two Canadian big men who will provide solid defense and athleticism down low.
The Vols have missed the NCAA Tournament 3 times in the past 4 seasons after making it every season of former head coach Bruce Pearl's 6 seasons. Rick Barnes doesn't make it a habit of missing the Tournament, but he's likely to miss it in his first season as Tennessee's coach. However, Barnes brings a winning pedigree to Tennessee and will act as much more than a stop-gag for the Vols.
3. Mike White, Florida Gators
Following a legend is never easy, but that's the job new Florida head coach Mike White has facing him. Billy Donovan coached for 19 seasons at Florida, winning back-to-back National Championships in 2006 and 2007 and appearing in 4 Final Fours and 7 Elite Eights.
That kind of success would be difficult for anyone to follow, but it's especially daunting for a coach who's never made it to the NCAA Tournament. Mike White had success at Louisiana Tech, winning 101 games in 4 seasons as the Bulldogs head coach. But he was never able to get Louisiana Tech to the Big Dance.
With that being said, White was easily one of the hottest coaching commodities on the market this offseason. White is viewed as an up-and-coming coach who has the ability to be a great head coach. The Florida Gators certainly think so, and they hope he follows in the footsteps of Donovan.
Before Donovan took over Florida's program in 1996, he coached 2 seasons at Marshall and didn't make the NCAA Tournament in either season. White has a similar playing style and personality, and Florida views him as the perfect replacement.
White has a solid base of talent to coach and a handful of talented newcomers coming in. Florida's 2015 class ranks No. 23 in the country and boasts three 4-stars who stand at 6-foot-7 or taller.
Mike White is only 38 and likely has his best years ahead of him. His potential in unlimited, and the Gators are hoping to cash in and ride his success.
4. Avery Johnson, Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama's hiring of Avery Johnson isn't a bad one; it's just a very bizarre, out-of-nowhere hire.
The Crimson Tide never found its footing under head coach Anthony Grant after a promising start. Grant won the SEC West in 2010-11 and made it to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, but since then the Tide have failed to make the Tournament and finished with a losing conference record the last two seasons. Grant was an upstart out of VCU when Alabama hired him in 2009, but he never lived up to what Tide fans hoped for.
Alabama pursued other up-and-comers such as Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart, but ultimately they came up empty. Alabama then went the complete opposite route and turned to the NBA. For the last two years, Avery Johnson had served as an analyst for ESPN after being fired from the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. But before that, Johnson cut his teeth as a head coach at the game's highest level, and he was a player in the league from 1988-2004.
Johnson took over as the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks in 2005 during the 2004-05 season after Don Nelson stepped down with 18 games remaining. Johnson only lost twice in those 18 games and made it to the Conference Finals. The next season, the Mavericks reached the NBA Finals and lost to the Miami Heat. After that, however, Johnson never made it out of the 1st round of the playoffs and was fired from Dallas in 2008.
The New Jersey Nets hired Johnson in 2010 to be their new head coach, and Johnson coached them for 2 and a half seasons while transitioning from New Jersey to Brooklyn. The Nets never won more than 24 games under Johnson, and after a 14-14 start in 2012, the Nets fired Johnson.
Johnson doesn't have any experience coaching in the collegiate ranks, and it remains to be seen just what kind of success he can have at Alabama. Johnson found success in the NBA, but he had more failure than fond memories from the NBA.
Alabama doesn't have a loaded roster, but they're not devoid of talent. Johnson welcomes in three newcomers in the 2015 class so far, and all three are highly-rated 3-star athletes with diverse skill sets.
Alabama has been criticized for not investing enough in its basketball program in the past, but the pursuit of Marshall and hiring of Avery Johnson looks to be an attempt to toss those critiques aside.