Ranking the SEC's basketball coaches
Calipari's title lands Kentucky the top spot
By: David Fox | 7/24/12, 5:24 AM EDT
When SEC basketball coaches get together for media days or other offseason events, they may need name tags.
Three programs -- LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina -- have new coaches, more coaching changes than any other major conference. Throw in Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy and Missouri’s Frank Haith, who arrive via expansion, and the SEC coaching rankings will have new faces at 14 jobs.
That said, the top spot in our SEC coach rankings needs little introduction. John Calipari has won more games than any other coach in the country the last five seasons, and now he has a national title to add to his resume.
Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.
1. John Calipari, Kentucky
Overall record: 547-154 (38-13 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Kentucky: 102-14 (40-8 SEC)
Kentucky and John Calipari was the perfect marriage even before the 2012 national championship. Before then, the question was if Calipari would win a title at Kentucky with cycling through a roster of one-and-done players. With a team featuring six NBA draft picks, including the top two selections, Calipari answered. Now, the question seems to be how many titles Calipari could win at Kentucky -- provided he doesn’t dip is toe into the NBA again. Senior Night may be a bygone tradition for Calipari teams, but he’s suffered minimal drop-off from year to year. His 173 wins over the last five seasons at Kentucky and Memphis are more than any other coach in the country. Kansas’ Bill Self is No. 2 at 154.
2. Billy Donovan, Florida
Overall record: 421-178 (28-10 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Florida: 386-158 (160-96 SEC)
Donovan may not lead back-to-back teams to the national championship again, but he’s built a power at Florida that will outlast Al Horford, Joakim Noah, et al. The Gators returned to the Elite Eight the last two seasons, but both times Florida was denied a trip to the Final Four due to late-game collapses. With Patric Young and Kenny Boynton returning, Florida appears to be back among the most consistent programs in the SEC. Once Billy the Kid, Donovan is now the dean of SEC coaches and the most logical consistent foil for Calipari and Kentucky.
3. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
Overall record: 384-222 (6-8 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Vanderbilt: 261-159 (103-105 SEC)
Stallings’ losing record in the SEC may come as something of a surprise, but most of the losing took place early in his tenure in Nashville. Since 2006-07, the Commodores are 59-37 in the conference. Wins in March have been lacking during that timespan -- the ‘Dores have three wins in the last five NCAA trips and have been upset by Richmond (2011), Murray State (2010) and Siena (2008). Still, Vanderbilt’s not an easy basketball job, especially when programs like Kentucky and Florida are performing at an elite level. But Stallings has been able to develop veterans like Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins, both of whom were major recruits, while unearthing difference-makers like Festus Ezeli.
4. Frank Martin, South Carolina
Overall record: 117-54 (6-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at South Carolina: first season
He has a fiery demeanor. He’s prone to shouting and staredowns on the sidelines. And cynics might say he got his first head coaching job only to hold together a Michael Beasley-led recruiting class at Kansas State. All may be true, but Martin can coach. Kansas State hadn’t had a five-year run in both the regular season and postseason since the late 1970s. Martin led Kansas State to at least 10 wins in the Big 12 in four out of five seasons and has never failed to advance in the NCAA Tournament. He inherits a dreadful team at South Carolina, so his record is going to suffer. Considering the results at Kansas State, Martin should have the Gamecocks competing for the postseason in a matter of years.
5. Mike Anderson, Arkansas
Overall record: 218-111 (7-6 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Arkansas: 18-14 (6-10 SEC)
Forty Minutes of Hell -- or the Fastest 40 Minutes of Basketball, as he calls it -- is back in Fayetteville, but it may take some time for Anderson to get his system running at full capacity. Anderson has experience in that department, taking over for Quin Snyder at Missouri. After two non-winning seasons with the Tigers, Anderson led the Tigers to a 31-7 season, the Big 12 Tournament and the Elite Eight in 2008-09. He also ended a streak of non-productive seasons at UAB by his second season with the Blazers.
6. Anthony Grant, Alabama
Overall record: 139-64 (1-3 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Alabama: 63-39 (27-21 SEC)
Grant is working to do what his old boss, Billy Donovan, did at Florida -- build a consistently relevant basketball team in the shadow of an elite football program. So far, he’s had success. After narrowly missing out on the NCAA Tournament (but reaching the NIT title game) in 2011, Alabama played a tougher schedule in 2011-12 to reach the field. The next step is to win an NCAA game. There’s good reason to believe that is in the future for the Tide. Grant has recruited well, adding young talent like Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey to the roster. Before Alabama, Grant led VCU to three consecutive Colonial Athletic Association regular season titles, two CAA Tournament titles and a first-round upset of Duke in 2007.
7. Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee
Overall record: 80-56 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)
Record at Tennessee: 19-15 (10-6 SEC)
A longtime Purdue assistant, Martin has not reached the NCAA Tournament in his four seasons as a head coach, but he may be right on the cusp. After going 11-20 in his debut season at Missouri State, the Bears improved to 24-12 in his second season. In his third, Missouri State won the Missouri Valley regular season but landed in the NIT after losing in the conference tournament. Tennessee was picked near the bottom of the SEC last season, but the Volunteers finished 10-6 in the league thanks to the midseason arrival of Jarnell Stokes. The damage was done in the non-conference schedule, and the Vols settled for the NIT. With most of his roster returning, Martin may be in line for that elusive first NCAA appearance.
8. Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M
Overall record: 225-197 (1-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Texas A&M: 14-18 (4-14 Big 12)
After a successful stints at Southeastern Louisiana and Murray State, Kennedy landed his big break at Texas A&M. The excitement was short-lived as Kennedy was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s Disease and Exhaustion weeks before the season. He coached the season, but the Aggies struggled mightily for their worst season since 2003-04, the year before Billy Gillispie took over. Kennedy’s health has improved since the start of 2011-12, but the departure of Khris Middleton means the program will continue to rebuild.
9. Frank Haith, Missouri
Overall record: 159-106 (1-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Missouri: 30-5 (14-4 Big 12)
Haith proved his doubters wrong in his first season with Missouri. After a mediocre tenure at Miami, his hire in Columbia was a head-scratcher. But Haith led the Tigers to a 30-win season and a Big 12 Tournament title to win National Coach of the Year honors. That’s the good news. The end of the season, however, reinforced the skepticism when Missouri lost to 15th seeded Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament. A former assistant at Texas, Texas A&M and Wake Forest, Haith struggled in his first seven season as a head coach with Miami, never finishing with a winning conference record. The resources and commitment are strong at Missouri than Miami, so perhaps this is the start of a strong second act.
10. Mark Fox, Georgia
Overall record: 173-89 (2-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Georgia: 50-46 (19-29 SEC)
Fox didn’t have an opportunity to build on the momentum of Georgia’s 21-12 season and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011 when Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins left early for the NBA Draft, where they were both second-round picks. The Bulldogs slipped back to 5-11 in the SEC, same record as Fox’s debut season. Nevada won four WAC titles in five seasons under Fox, so he’s been a winner in his career. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s in new geographic territory after spending his entire career out West.
11. Johnny Jones, LSU
Overall record: 205-162 (0-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at LSU: first season
Jones never had an attention-grabbing breakout season at North Texas. He was simply steady in his 11 seasons in Denton, especially over the final six. Jones’ predecessor at North Texas, Vic Trilli, won 20 total games in four seasons. On the other hand,, Jones won at least 20 games for five consecutive seasons before going 18-14 in 2011-12. At LSU, Jones will be familiar with his territory. He was a former player and assistant for Dale Brown in addition to serving as an assistant at Memphis (pre-Calipari) and Alabama.
12. Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss
Overall record: 146-91 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)
Record at Ole Miss: 125-78 (40-43 SEC)
Kennedy has never coached a bad team. He hasn’t coached many good ones, either. All of his teams have floated with in a game of .500. Six of his seven teams at Cincinnati and Ole Miss landed in the NIT. That’s about par for the course for Ole Miss basketball.
13. Tony Barbee, Auburn
Overall record: 108-88 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Auburn: 26-36 (9-23 SEC)
Barbee inherited a mess of a roster in his first season at Auburn with only one returning player who played quality minutes. The Tigers were dreadful early in 2010-11 but improved as the season went a long. The record in 2011-12 wasn’t that much better -- from 4-12 in the SEC to 5-11 -- but Auburn jumped 99 spots in the RPI. Barbee, a John Calipari assistant at Memphis, came to Auburn with the reputation as a quality recruiter. He’ll need to up the talent level at Auburn if the Tigers are going to compete for the postseason.
14. Rick Ray, Mississippi State
Overall record: first season as a head coach
Ray is a rarity by landing his first head coaching job in a major conference. Besides that, Ray takes over at a Mississippi State program accustomed to competing for NCAA Tournament berths. An assistant for two seasons at Clemson and four at Purdue, Ray is an unknown commodity as a head coach.
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