The five best coaching combos in the SEC


Earlier today, Chris Low and Adam Rittenberg ranked the top college football-basketball coaching combinations of all time. And boy, were there some doozies. In the SEC alone, you had Adolph Rupp and Paul “Bear” Bryant (Kentucky), Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer (Florida), and Donovan and Steve Spurrier (Florida).

What about the current state of the SEC? Who will be the next coaching combo to enter the ranks of the elite?

Some might think that basketball has held back the SEC in recent years, but the new additions, Ben Howland at Mississippi State and Rick Barnes at Tennessee, have changed that mindset. The “premier” football conference is getting serious about basketball. And don’t forget that Alabama is still looking for a basketball coach to pair with Nick Saban. Gregg Marshall, anyone?

For this list, we left off those teams because the new basketball coaches have barely had a chance to get their feet wet. But don’t be surprised if both Mississippi State and Tennessee make a run at the top five this time next year. We also left off Florida, despite Donovan's sparkling résumé (six conference championships, four Final Fours and two national championships), since Jim McElwain has yet to coach a game in Gainesville.

Now, without further ado, here is my top five coaching combos in the SEC:

1. Gus Malzahn and Bruce Pearl, Auburn

Between them, Malzahn and Pearl have only coached three seasons at Auburn. It’s not the most experienced group. But look at what they have accomplished. Malzahn won the SEC his first year as head coach and nearly won a national championship. Pearl has won everywhere he’s been, and he even made some noise last month at the SEC tournament. Once he’s able to recruit and bring his players in, the Tigers will likely become a staple in the NCAA tournament. The hard part might be hanging onto the two coaches, but if Auburn can do that, then it should boast one of the league’s top combinations for years to come.

2. Mark Stoops and John Calipari, Kentucky

This ranking is primarily based on Calipari, who is head and shoulders above every other SEC basketball coach right now. Since taking over at Kentucky in 2009, he’s been to five Elite Eights, four Final Fours, and he has a chance to win his second national championship this weekend in Indianapolis. Oh, and have you heard? The Wildcats are undefeated. As for Stoops, we just don’t know enough yet. Last season was obviously disappointing with the way his team finished, but he clearly has Kentucky moving in the right direction.

3. Les Miles and Johnny Jones, LSU

They might not be known for their in-game coaching abilities, but you can’t argue with their success. All Miles has done in 10 seasons is win 103 games, two SEC championships and one national championship. Who cares if he’s a little quirky? The guy wins. Jones just finished up his third season at LSU, but he’s had a winning record all three years, improved every year, and he just guided his team to the NCAA tournament. He also has the No. 1 player in the country signed for 2015. It’s an odd couple, but one that knows how to win.

4. Bret Bielema and Mike Anderson, Arkansas

Remember when Arkansas hired Bielema? I think everybody was a little surprised. It came out of left field. After Year 1, there were questions as to whether he could ever win in the SEC. But now people are picking the Razorbacks as a darkhorse team in the West. Clearly, Bielema is trending in the right direction and so is his counterpart. Anderson’s hoops team finished second in the conference and made the Round of 32 this past season. If history is any indication, that’s only the beginning. Once he gets players to fit his system, look out.

5. Mark Richt and Mark Fox, Georgia

This isn't the sexiest tandem, but it's solid. Mark Richt has made Georgia a perennial contender in the SEC East and has been to a bowl game in all 14 seasons he's been at the helm. He basically has the same résumé as Miles, minus the national championship. Mark Fox doesn't have any conference championships to his name yet, but he's been to the Big Dance twice in six years. Championships aside (Richt hasn't won the SEC since 2005), you can count on both of these coaches to compete year in and year out.