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SEC Coaching Tandems: Where Does Tennessee Rank?

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Significant change in basketball has altered the overall landscape for many of the league's top programs. Where do Butch Jones & Rick Barnes rank among the SEC's coaching tandems?

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The last couple of Februaries Athlon Sports has ranked the SEC's football and basketball coaching tandems.  This is always a fluid experiment; Arkansas went from 13th in their 2014 rankings to third a couple of months ago.  But now that the league is finished with basketball coaching changes (we think, with John Calipari looking at nearly eight million a year to stay in the bluegrass instead of moving to the loser of the Cleveland/Chicago series), you have a whole new set of arguments again.  Billy Donovan, the league's longest tenured and most successful coach, did make the leap to the NBA to lead Oklahoma City.  Florida was one of four new basketball hires in the SEC, including ours, the league paying up to get significantly bigger names under its banner.

So now, how would you rank the SEC's football and basketball tandems?

I think the clear-cut number one hasn't changed from Athlon's February rankings:  Auburn is the only school with two coaches who have won SEC Championships.  If Bruce Pearl struggles again some of the bloom will diminish, but right now you have to feel better about Malzahn and Pearl than any other combination; both coaches have history that suggests their programs can compete for the biggest prizes in the conference and beyond.

To me, there's also an obvious (and surprising) number two:  Mississippi State.  If you consider success relative to each school's history, Dan Mullen has done one of the best jobs in the league:  last year was Mississippi State's second 10-win season.  Ever.  He got the Bulldogs atop the polls mid-season and finished in the Top 15 for the second time in Starkville.  He and Mississippi State seem to be together for the long haul.  Then the Bulldogs made big waves when they went out and got Ben Howland and his three Final Fours.  Our comment section has a love/hate relationship with Howland, but there's no denying he's one of the most prestigious coaches in the SEC.

So, if Malzahn/Pearl is one, and Mullen/Howland is two...who's three?

And here's where I think the strength of the league in both sports really begins to shine.  Because I believe you can make solid arguments for six different teams:

  • Alabama - For the sake of this exercise we're treating football and basketball equally, but if you weigh football more heavily (as most do in the SEC), you could argue you'd take Nick Saban and some guy from the Y and have one of the best tandems in the league.  Avery Johnson might be the most interesting hire made in either sport this off-season; could be great, could be nothing if he can't translate to the college game.
  • Arkansas - Malzahn and Pearl have the advantage in SEC accolades, but if you account for what Bret Bielema and Mike Anderson did in their previous stops, they can go toe-to-toe with anyone.  Bielema is 10-15 in Fayetteville but made three straight Rose Bowls before that.  Anderson took four years to get Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament, but won 31 games and made the Elite Eight at Missouri.  You know exactly what you're going to get from both of these guys in terms of style of play.
  • Georgia - If you like stability, you like what's been happening with the Marks in Athens for the last six years.  Mark Fox got the Dawgs in the NCAA Tournament for the second time this past season and is ten games over .500 in SEC play the last three years.  Mark Richt is 136-48 (.739) at Georgia and finished in the Top 10 for the second time in the last three years.  Both have bars they haven't been able to clear and would be on hot seats if a disastrous season beckoned, but both do significantly more winning than losing.
  • Kentucky - Take what I said about Nick Saban and apply for John Calipari.  Mark Stoops has Kentucky fans optimistic, but it will take at least one more year to see if the results will follow.
  • South Carolina - I was going to make a, "Senior citizen crowd will vote for these guys," comment, but did you know Frank Martin is only 49?  Anger will age you.  I still have a hard time not considering Spurrier one of the top five football coaches in this league, so if you disagree you're likely to think a couple of schools not on this list have stronger arguments than the Gamecocks.
  • Tennessee - How one hire can make a difference:  the Vols were 13th in Athlon's February rankings.  Even if you still have to wait for the on-field results for Butch Jones, he's recruiting like one of the best coaches in the league.  And even if you still have to wait for the on-court results in Knoxville for Rick Barnes, he walks into this league as one of its top three basketball coaches without batting an eye.  In a very short time more than just our site could be arguing for UT's combo as one of the best in the SEC.
What also strikes me about this exercise is one of the conference's mightiest programs in both sports is now facing a restart with unproven SEC names.  Florida's combo of Jim McElwain and Michael White could end up being great or disastrous or anywhere between.  But the Gators have gone from a top two coach in both sports to less proven than any school in the league in a very short time.

Where would you rank Butch Jones & Rick Barnes among the SEC's coaching tandems?