SEC athletic directors have hired seven basketball coaches in the past two years; they’ve hired four football coaches in the same span.
The ADs have done a better job with their basketball hirings, and the stark truth is that the SEC — the conference that cares more about football than any league in the nation — has, top to bottom, better basketball coaches than football coaches.
In the past two years, the SEC’s new football coaches are Will Muschamp, Barry Odom, Ed Orgeron and Kirby Smart – two coaches who flopped miserably in former SEC jobs and two first-time head coaches.
In that same span, the new basketball coaches who came into the league were Rick Barnes, Bryce Drew, Ben Howland, Avery Johnson, Cuonzo Martin, Will Wade and Mike White. Barnes and Howland have been to the Final Four. Johnson is a former NBA coach who went to the playoffs four times and the NBA Finals once. Drew, Martin and Wade had been to the NCAA tournament. And White has his team in the Sweet 16 this season despite losing his starting center in February.
Martin (Missouri) and Wade (LSU) have been hired in the past week, and they take over for men who were ill-suited for their jobs. LSU’s Johnny Jones was a Tigers alum who is a great guy and a good recruiter; when it comes to X’s and O’s, though, Jones was … well, he’s a great guy. Wade is an X’s and O’s upgrade, but his recruiting ability will be tested. He did a nice job in that facet at Chattanooga and VCU, but recruiting at LSU (and in the SEC) will be different. Still, he’s an upgrade.
And Missouri’s Kim Anderson was an OK X’s and O’s guy, but his inability on the recruiting trail was an alarming red flag. Yes, Anderson took over a program on NCAA probation, but he’s leaving it in worse shape than when he got it. Martin had success in the SEC at Tennessee before feeling underappreciated and leaving for California. Now he’s back in the SEC, and his first signing class at Mizzou likely will include more talent than all three of Anderson’s put together. And Martin has shown at Missouri State, UT and Cal that he can coach as well as recruit.
As for the new football coaches, Muschamp, Orgeron and Smart certainly can recruit with the best of them. Truthfully, though, there are legitimate concerns about their abilities to be head coaches. Odom is not known as a great recruiter, and it will be interesting to see if he can do what his predecessor (and mentor) Gary Pinkel did at Mizzou: Take mid-level recruits and win at a high level.
The two newest basketball hires have further elevated the stature of all the SEC basketball coaches. Quick quiz: Who’s the worst SEC basketball coach? That’s tough to answer and it may take a while to form an opinion because no one truly stands out as being “bad.”
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