May 06, 2009
Inspired by this post, Coach Rank 2009 is The Dagger's creatively named inaugural look at which conferences have the best coaches, and why. After we get through the major conferences, we'll rank them. The whole goal is to make you argue about something that's impossible to prove in any objective way. Sports! Let's do this!
Ah, the SEC. Where the beer flows like wine, the women flock instinctively like the salmon of Capistrano, and most fans spend most of their sporting calendar on the important things in life, which is to say, football. Oh, people care about basketball. I would never assert otherwise. But with the exception of Kentucky, basketball occasionally feels like football's neglected younger brother, doesn't it? Where are all the good looking people tailgating in seersucker for Ole Miss basketball, huh? That would be awesome.
If the SEC has a reputation toward basketball apathy, it's probably slightly deserved, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few really, really good coaches working the sidelines -- and a few nameless wonders toiling in the self-imposed shadows. Let's go to the tape.
(There are a lot of these. Brace yourself.)
Anthony Grant, Alabama; John Pelphrey, Arkansas; Trent Johnson, LSU; Mark Fox, Georgia; Darrin Horn, South Carolina; Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss: Anthony Grant is a wunderkind with the quick rise at VCU behind him. His VCU teams weren't just occasional NCAA spoilers but were also entertaining, high-tempo teams. Will that acumen carry over into a traditionally just-OK major conference job? ... John Pelphrey took the Razorbacks to the NCAA tournament in his first season, but his second one suffered from severe second-half derailment. Which is the real Pelphrey? ... Trent Johnson's first year at LSU (Johnson is the first African-American head coach of any LSU men's sport, by the way) couldn't have gone much better: 13-3 in conference, NCAA tournament bid, pretty much good things all around. But, you know, it's just one year ... Mark Fox just got hired away from Nevada. Nevada was always good. That's incisive analysis, I know. ... Darrin Horn's success at Western Kentucky kind of/sort of transferred to his first season at South Carolina; the Gamecocks were 21-10 and second in the SEC East, but in 2008-09, that wasn't exactly a major feat. ... Andy Kennedy gets the benefit of the doubt here, despite the whole assualt and possible racist thing, because in three years, Kennedy has showed some signs of coaching prowess. (The best part of researching Kennedy for this post? Reading his Ole Miss athletics PR page. It reads like a comic book of which Kennedy is the major protagonist.)
THE FACELESS WONDERS
Jeff Lebo, Auburn; Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt; Rick Stansbury, Mississippi State: With the exception of serious SEC fans, or serious college basketball people, how many people on this beautiful, slowly overheating planet of ours could pick any of these three out of a lineup? That doesn't have to be a bad thing, as in the case of Kevin Stallings, who built Vanderbilt from an also ran at the turn of the millenium into an occasional competitor. If there is an invisible good-basketball hump, though, Stallings has rarely gotten over it. Same goes for Rick Stansbury: 11 workmanlike years at Mississippi State, two conference tournament titles, a handful of NCAA bids, and very little recognition. But with Lebo, the obscurity is deserved: In five years, Auburn has won more than 17 games only once, in 2008-09, and never made an NCAA tournament.
THE ALMOST ELITE
Bruce Pearl, Tennessee: Tennessee basketball not only has football to contend with. For years, it was an also-ran to the women's basketball team. Bruce Pearl's takeover in 2005-06 changed all that. In four years, Pearl has gone to two Sweet Sixteens. He's recruited pro level talent. He's made Tennessee a force in the SEC East. And more than anything, he's promoted the program like only a few coaches in the country can. You know who Bruce Pearl is. Shirtless or no, you know this man. For a program competing against so many traditional forces -- not to mention John Calipari's former leadership at Memphis -- Pearl has done everything right. Next up: a Final Four. Anyone think it won't happen?
John Calipari, Kentucky; Billy Donovan, Florida: There's not much reason to list the accomplishments here, but the obvious answer is that in the SEC, these two are the standard. It says something about Calipari's ability as an innovator and recruiter that he's already in this company; after all, he was titleless at Memphis, while Donovan has won two titles in his tenure at Florida, and competed for a third years before. Either way, these two are the utter cream of the crop in the conference. Calipari plus Kentucky's allure will be an unnatural force. Donovan could have three more tourney-less years (he won't) and still be as in demand as ever. So, yeah. The SEC may have its fair share of verdictless newcomers and questionable also-rans, but at the top, it is as heavy as any conference in the country.
COMPLETELY ARBITRARY GRADE THAT WILL LATER BE USED FOR AN ONLY SLIGHTLY ARBITRARY RANKING: C. Too many newcomers and too weak a conference last year, but the Pearl, Calipari and Donovan keep things afloat.