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Benchmarks: Reasonable Expectations for Head Basketball Coaches in the SEC


This evaluates the program history, current situation, recent developments that led to firing decisions and the type of coach hired.

An examination of SEC coaching tenure has revealed that with a few exceptions the SEC basketball coaching job is the place where careers come to peak.

Ole Miss

Ole Miss has the lightest basketball tradition in SEC basketball with the fewest highlights.  Rebels have reached the NCAA tournament just nine times in school history, winning as many as one game only three times. Ole Miss has reached the Sweet 16 round only once, in 2001.  On Valentines Day, 1998, Ole Miss led by guard Mike White beat eventual NCAA Champion Kentucky in Lexington.  It was the Rebels' second win in Lexington, KY in program history.

Andy Kennedy is the winningest coach in Ole Miss history (245) lasting twelve seasons and averaging just over 20 wins a year.  His SEC record was just over .500 at 102-98.  It is rare for a coach to end his SEC career with a winning regular season conference record.  It was clear that the '17-18 team with Breein Tyree and Terrence Davis had quit on Kennedy and the reasons were not revealed. The game after Kennedy's accelerated in-season resignation was a big win in Columbia over Mizzou.  These guys played for new coach, Kermit Davis, Jr. leading the team to an NCAA tournament bid and program-typical first round exit.

After firing the then-SEC Dean of Coaches, Ole Miss hired a veteran mid-major (MTSU) coach and Mississippi native in Davis, Jr. Kermit Davis, Sr. coached at Mississippi State from '71-'77.  The '18-19 Ole Miss season was on par with a typical Kennedy season with the NCAA tournament bid being more atypical and the first round loss par for the course.  It was the turnaround from '17-'18 that was encouraging. Coach Davis appears to be a great fit.

Ole Miss has the newest arena in the SEC but may some inherent recruiting difficulties.

Georgia Bulldogs

For a program with as much athletic history and accessibility to major talent it is remarkable that Georgia Men's Basketball has one of the weakest traditions of any program in the SEC.

Stegeman Coliseum (Capacity 10,523) was built in 1964. It underwent an $8 million renovation completed in 2017.

Bulldogs had their most successful NCAA tournament run in their first appearance (of 12 to date), advancing to the Final Four in 1983. That year's team, led by coach Hugh Durham, won the SEC tournament, then beat No. 5 VCU, No. 1 St. John's and defending champion North Carolina before falling to eventual national champion North Carolina State led by Jim Valvano. The program's greatest player, Dominique Wilkins left UG for the NBA in 1982 and did not get to participate but certainly helped build the foundation of short-lived success.

Tubby Smith led 8-seed Georgia to the Sweet 16 in 1996. That is the only other Sweet 16 or better appearance in program history. The Bulldogs, led by Dennis Felton, won the infamous SEC Tornado Basketball Tournament in 2008, having to play four games to win including two on March 15. That earned Georgia the distinction of entering the NCAA Tournament as a 14-seed. Georgia was SEC Regular Season champ once in 1990.

Mark Fox coached the Bulldogs for nine seasons from 2009-2010 to March 10, 2018 when he was fired. His SEC regular season record was 77-79, falling below .500 in his last season (7-11). His teams made the NCAA Tournament twice and did not record a win. A close fried of Mark Richt, Fox left somewhat bitter over having "done it the right way" while unnamed coaches were cheating their way to the top/survival.

Georgia hired Tom Crean, known for rebounding Indiana, leading Marquette to the Final Four, and renting space in John Calipari's head. In 2003, the Dwayne Wade team upset SEC's 19-0 Kentucky in the Regional Final.  Crean's 2012 Indiana team defeated UK's 2012 National Champ in Assembly Hall effectively ending the series between the two schools.

Crean went 11-21 in his first season at UG going 2-16 in the conference schedule and having Vandy to thank for not landing at the bottom.

Jury's still out on the value of the Crean hire.

One trend is clear with the firings in 2018 of Andy Kennedy and Mark Fox. Having a career record of about .500 in SEC play with little to no NCAA Tournament success was no longer going to be acceptable with the rising tide of SEC hires and the money being paid.


Commodores have played in the NCAA tournament 15 times in school history, and reached the Sweet 16 six times (most recently in 2007). However, Vanderbilt's most accomplished team was the 1965 squad led by coach Roy Skinner and All-American Clyde Lee. Only 24 teams qualified for the tournament in those days and Adolph Rupp's Kentucky team, led by Pat Riley with Larry Conley and Louie Dampier went 13-13 allowing another SEC team a chance to dance. Vandy received a bye into the Sweet 16, and the Commodores beat DePaul  before falling to Michigan and the great Cazzie Russell 87-85.

Vandy plays in the nearly 70-year-old Memorial Gym configured for home team advantages.  Proximity to talent and promise of a great education should provide fertile recruiting ground. Bryce Drew was having success but had bad fortune with injuries and getting a team to gel.

Kevin Stalling's 2012 five won the program's first-ever SEC Tournament over eventual National Champion Kentucky but lost in the NCAA Second Round to Wisconsin. Stallings coached Vandy in seven of their fifteen total NCAA appearances reaching the Sweet 16 in his fifth and eighth seasons. Stallings won 332 total games in 17 seasons and went 138-142 in SEC regular season action.  He had a disastrous two season run at Pitt ending in 2018.  Bryce Drew had been successful at Valpo but had program historic futility and was let go after only three seasons.

Vandy hired Jerry Stackhouse, the North Carolina alum and 18-season NBA pro. This is Jerry Stackhouse's first NCAA coaching job. He was the D-League Coach of the Year in 2017 and has stated that he has aspirations of becoming an NBA head coach.  Vandy's new Athletic Director, Malcolm Turner is a UNC alum and was the President of the G-League. The day before the hiring of Stackhouse, Vandy Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos stepped odwn.

In SEC lore, Jerry Stackhouse was an All-American on the North Carolina team that defeated the 1995 SEC Champion Kentucky team in the Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament.  Stackhouse was named National Player of the Year by at least one publication.

Vandy used connections of the new AD to make a non-traditional hire. How it turns out remains to be seen.

SEC Newbie A&M

A&M hired Buzz Williams to replace Billy Kennedy. He credited Billy Gillispie for giving him the chance as an assistant at A&M in 2004.  Williams agreed to a six-year, $3.8 million annual contract which increases $100,000 each season.  This makes Coach Williams the second highest paid coach in the SEC.  He was impressed with the new practice facility attached to Reed Arena which had been near empty during 2019 play.

Williams, a Texas native, born in Greenville and raised in Van Alstyne (north of Dallas), inherited the worst program in the ACC but in five seasons led the Hokies to a school-record three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Virginia Tech lost by a bucket to Duke in the '18-19 season’s Sweet 16.

Buzz Williams coached at Marquette from '08-09 to '13-14 and was known for community involvement and getting his team into the NCAA Tournament his first five seasons. Williams' '09 squad lost to Mike Anderson's Mizzou Five in the Round of 32.  Following consecutive Sweet 16 seasons, Coach Williams' '13 Team made the Elite Eight. After a rebuilding season in '14, Williams answered to call to replace Seth Greenberg at VPI.

The hiring of Buzz Williams appears to be a great fit for A&M.  How he does in the SEC remains to be seen but he did well in the shark infested waters of the Atlantic Coast.

The year before A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies hired Billy Kennedy to replace Mark Turgeon who left for the Maryland job.  Kennedy's first and last season in the Big XII ('11-12) and last season in the SEC ('18-19) were 14-18. Billy Kennedy finished with a 66-78 (.458) SEC regular season record in seven seasons.  The Aggies were SEC regular season champions in 2016 and reached in the NCAA Sweet 16.  They returned to the Sweet 16 in 2018. These were Kennedy's only NCAA appearances at A&M.

Kennedy was reported to be one of three finalists to replace Turgeon in 2011 along with Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson and Johnny Jones who was then at North Texas. He was born at Cape Canaveral and played High School ball in New Orleans. In October 2011, Kennedy was diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson's Disease and turned the team over to interim Glynn Cyprien. Coach Kennedy returned for the second game.

Long-time Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was brought on as the head assistant coach for the '15 and '16 seasons bringing his recruiting acumen. He left for Western in 2016.

Kennedy led A&M to its first conference title in 30 years when he shared the SEC crown with Kentucky in 2015-16. The Aggies also made the SEC Tournament final game before losing to Kentucky in overtime. For his efforts, Kennedy was given a new 5-year contract. Coach Kennedy's squad that year also orchestrated the largest final-minute come-from-behind victory in college basketball history by overcoming a 12 point deficit in the final 34 seconds of the Second Round of the 2016 NCAA tournament. Kennedy led A&M to a number five ranking early in the 2017-2018 season. The team advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament to play defending National champion North Carolina, ultimately beating North Carolina by 21 points to advance to the Sweet 16. It was the SEC's best win of the Tournament with eight teams eligible for the first time effort.

After the disappointing 2018-19 season, losing four of five starters from the previous season also riddled with injuries and only seven scholarship players, Coach Kennedy was fired with two years remaining on his contract. Among those who covered A&M, Kennedy was regarded as one of the most decent men they have covered. During his up-and-down tenure, the program experienced two of their greatest seasons in Men's College Basketball.

In the period just prior to SEC transition, Mark Turgeon coached A&M from '07-08 through '10-11. Consistent, his squads won 24-25 games and lost 9-11. Each team advanced to the NCAA-T but none advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 like Kennedy. Turgeon answered the call to Maryland.

Billy Gillispie (BCG) coached A&M for three seasons ending in 2007. His third team went 27-7 advancing to the Sweet 16 beating Rick Pitino's Louisville five in Rupp Arena. This got the attention of Kentucky who was replacing Ten-Loss Tubby Smith though Gillispie had a contract extension famously on his A&M desk and had been courted by another SEC school with a vacancy.  Despite going 22-14, Gillispie broke down and was let go by Kentucky after two seasons.


Nate Oats, 45, was named Bama coach to replace Avery Johnson, Sr. Bama AD Greg Byrne hired Oats less than a week after letting Avery Johnson go. Oats had just led the Buffalo Bulls to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament Round of 32 achievement after going 32-4 in 2018-19. Oats' wife Crystal has an aggressive form of lymphoma and will be leaving the Northeast for the first time in their lives.

New Orleans native Avery Johnson was named Bama's coach in 2015. Johnson played in the NBA from '88-'04 and was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2006 when he led the Mavs to the NBA Finals.  This was Johnson's first college coaching position. His initial salary of $2.8 million was then the second highest in the SEC trailing only Calipari. His son played for A&M and transferred to Bama. He was Sao Ming's favorite to replace Heath in 2007.

As of Feb. 2017, Coach Johnson was 5-5 against ranked teams. This may sound ordinary until compared to his predecessor Anthony Grant's 3-28 mark against ranked teams. In his four seasons, Bama was eliminated in the first round of the NIT three times. Bama was one of eight SEC teams to make the 2018 NCAA Tournament despite an 8-10 conference record.

Avery Johnson, Sr.'s Bama teams recorded a cumulative 34-38 record in SEC regular season games.

John Brannen, a six-year assistant, was interim coach for Bama's 1-1 showing in the 2015 NIT. The Northern Kentucky native was named head coach at NKU and has got them in the NCAA Tournament two of the last three seasons out of the Horizon league.

Anthony Grant was fired after his sixth regular season at Bama. The former Billy Donovan assistant and VCU head coach led Bama to one NCAA Tournament game in 2012 after finishing 5th in the SEC. Grant finished 53-47 in SEC regular season games. He is currently head coach of the Dayton Flyers after serving as an NBA assistant for Billy Donovan.

Philip Pearson was an interim coach at Bama who replaced Mark Gottfried in season in '09. Pearson was 5-6 during his regular season run.

Mark Gottfried coached at Bama for 10.5 seasons. His regular season SEC record of 84-83 of course prorates a shade better than 8-8. Gottfried led Bama to five straight NCAA-T appearances from his 4th season to his 8th. His '04 team (20-13, 8-8 SEC) made the NCAA-T Elite 8, Bama's best showing in the Big Dance ever. Bama made the post season 8 times under Gottfried reportedly turning down an invite to the CBI in '08.

Gottfried's '02 team was the SEC regular season champion (12-4). His '03 team was Number 1 in the AP poll for two weeks, the first time ever for Bama. His name has been mentioned in the 2019 federal investigations of facilitating cash payments to players while at NC State. He has denied the accusations through his attorney. He is currently head coach at Cal-State Northridge.

David Hobbs coached at Bama from '92-93 to '97-98. In his six seasons, Bama made the second round of the NCAA-T twice. Hobbs had a 110-76 overall record during his Bama tenure and a 50-46 record in SEC conference play.

Winfrey Sanderson coached Bama's first year in the expanded SEC and his last of 12 seasons as Bama's head man.  Sanderson was 10-6 in his last SEC regular season taking Bama to the SEC-T finals and the NCAA 2nd round. Sanderson was associated with Bama athletics for 32 years until Nancy Watts' face made contact with his hand.

Sanderson led Bama to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA-T six times. His teams won the SEC Conference Tourney in '82, '87, '89, '90, and '91. Bama also won the SEC regular season title in '87.

CM Newton led Bama into integration and had some great teams in the mid-to-late '70's when multiple teams were first allowed in the NCAA Tournament. Newton went into SEC Adminstration before coaching Vandy in the mid-to-late '80s and taking the UK Athletic Director job after the near death penalty of the late-80's.


UK has gone to the Elite Eight about every other year.  That spans the history of the NCAA Tournament, the time period since Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC, and fairly recently.  With other programs having caught up with and surpassed Calipari on the one-and-done system, this may be their new ceiling for awhile. Cal has apparently signed a lifetime contract.  Barring getting caught or other disaster, the UK's record is good as a benchmark.

With a second most eight NCAA titles, UK is good for about one a decade.  They have finished runner-up four more times yielding a championship game appearance about every six or seven years. 

UK has appeared in 17 Final Fours but not on any kind of regular cycle. The majority of big seasons have fallen within groups of four disruptive (pardon the pun) periods in the program history. 13 of the 17 Final Fours were obtained within the 19 seasons represented by these four periods.

Kentucky won three NCAA titles between '48 and '51 with a fast break style featuring legit all-time stars, in-state multi-sport All-SEC talent, and a grown man who had survived a German POW camp. The stars shaved points leading to UK's early 50's death penalty and the loss of more potential titles.

The Jack Givens and Twin Towers group from '75 to '78 went to the Final game twice with one NCAA Title after adding Purdue transfer Kyle Macy.  They also won an NIT title after losing Rick Robey for ten games to an injury. The disruption was a physical brand of basketball that Marquette coach Al McGuire claimed led to his retirement in '77.

Rick Pitino's pressing and three-point shooting style led UK to a '93 Final Four, and the title game in '96, '97,  and '98 with Tubby Smith coaching the title team in the latter season.  UK was at least in the Elite Eight every eligible season from '92 to '99 except one.  This period was the pinnacle of SEC basketball with the Arkansas rivalry. The greatest SEC Tournament draws and standing appointment in the NCAA Tournament Title game from '94 to '98 was the SEC's basketball pinnacle (Super Bowl lead in) though they are getting better top to bottom with the current influx of coaching talent.

Tubby Smith had a good three year run from '03 to '05 with an overall number one seed upset by Mike Anderson's UAB squad in '04. Yet there was a Final Four drought from '99 through 2010.

Calipari's one-and-done show brought Final Four participation in '11, '12, '14, and '15 with a title in 2012.  No Final Four since the platoon system 38-1 2015 team.

Up Next: Florida (Billy the Kid with an assist from Lon Kruger)

cool beans bro. looking forward to the next installment.


Florida had only finished as high as fourth in the SEC twice between becoming a charter member in 1932 and moving to the O-Dome in 1980. Norm Sloan who coached the Gators in the early '60's and late '80's got UF in NCAA trouble and himself a 5-year show cause penalty. Florida's first ever NCAA Tournament appearances in '87, '88, and '89 were all later vacated. Their prior gym, Alligator Alley, was worst in the SEC at the time of replacement. It was a tough visiting venue but equally tough when recruits came to visit.

Lon Kruger, who was coach when Arkansas joined the SEC, led Florida to their first Final Four in 1994 behind Andrew DeClerq and Demetri Hill. These four wins were the Gator program's first offical wins in an NCAA Tournament, the year Arkansas won. In 1996, UF hired Billy Donovan from Marshall when Kruger left for Illinois. Donovan, then 30, carried reputation as a Pitino assistant and he delivered the goods.

After two losing seasons, Donovan led Florida to the Sweet Sixteen in 1999 and the NCAA Finals game in 2000.  At this point, the Gators had replaced Arkansas as Kentucky's chief rival and Tennessee as UK's then SEC-East rival and the team they played in the final SEC game of the season, alternating Senior Nights.  Donovan and Tubby Smith, former Pitino assistants who squared off in his infamous 6AM coach's three-on-three, went head-to-head.  Though Tubby got the upper hand from '03 to '05, Donovan's back-to-back NCAA Tournament wins helped UK and Tubby come to an understanding following the 2007 season. Billy had to deal with some characters until he brought in a new crop of recruits for '04-'05.

Donovan's teams went to the NCAA Tournament each year from 1999 through 2007. His formula for success in '06 and '07 was the use of sons of former pro athletes. French tennis player Yannick Noah, NBA big Tito Horford, and Donovan's ex-Knicks teammate Sidney Green, provided sons with talent and with pre-existing relationships which made staying for another season to play college ball not so bad at all. The destitute Corey Brewer could stay in the house with the guys and not feel pressured to make early entry to the NBA. Florida is the last team to win back-to-back NCAA Tournament titles. Before this group, Jeff Sheppard was the last SEC player to know what it was like to win an NCAA Tournament his last two seasons as an active player.

'08 and '09 were expected and tough rebuilding seasons during a down period in the SEC overall with Gillispie running UK into the ground and Arkansas hitting bottom in '09. Donovan accepted an offer to become the Magic coach but reneged and returned to give Florida a consistently excellent run in the first half of the 2010's but mainly in the shadow of the first half of the Calipari one-n-done era.

Florida acheived the Elite Eight, four consecutive seasons from '11 through '14 with the '14 team becoming the first SEC team to go 18-0 and win the SEC basketball tournament. UF'14 went to the Final Four before losing to 8-seed UConn who beat UK in the final game. After having a losing season in the rebuild of '15 and UK going 38-1, Donovan left for OKC.

Billy Donovan is the SEC coach with the most NCAA Tournament wins (Rupp would start his tournament runs essentially in the Sweet 16 so he had fewer games and more appearances) and the most wins since Arkansas joined the SEC. He has the best SEC regular season winning percentage (65%) for any coach not at UK nor named Nolan Richardson. His run is an anomaly as much as Florida's first 60 years is an anomaly.

Former Ole Miss lead guard Mike White, the son of Duke's AD, is Florida's current basketball reality. He led UF to an Elite Eight in his second season, going 14-4 in league.  He has won nearly 60% of his SEC regular season games with two 9-9 seasons mixed into his four season run. Florida has been eliminated in the Second Round the last two seasons.  There is no indication that Mike White is on the hot seat.


Volunteers have reached the NCAA tournament 22 times (including this year), advancing to the Sweet 16 now eight times (most recent prior second weekend was in 2014). Bruce Pearl's 2010 team made it to the Elite Eight, the head, the summit. In that tourney, Sixth-seeded Tennessee beat No. 11 San Diego State, No. 14 Ohio and No. 2 Ohio State before falling to No. 5 Michigan State 70-69. Vols have advanced to the Sweet 16 five times in the last 13 seasons. They have advanced to the round of 32 nine times in the last 21 seasons. Vols have made the NCAA 13 times in the last 22 seasons. Vols made the tourney seven times in eight seasons, stretching from '76 to '83 missing only '78 (Ray Mears had to sit out the season due to depression) but making the Sweet 16 only in '81 during this run when the NCAA first allowed non-conference winners to get bids.

Ray Mears was hired in '63. He brought a literal circus atmosphere to Stokely Athletic and he got in Adolph Rupp and Joe B. Hall's head.  The '67 team won the SEC and was the Vols' first NCAA Tournament appearance.  This Ernie and Bernie Show in the late '70's was a favorite time for Vol ball.

Don DeVoe took over the Vols in 1979 and won the revived SEC Tournament, the Vols' only Tournament win in the modern incarnation.  DeVoe also dismissed Kevin Nash. DeVoe left after '89 and did a season at Florida.

Wade Houston, Denny Crum's right hand man at Louisville, brought his 4-time All-SEC son to Knoxville and became the SEC's first African-American head coach. There was no NCAA achievement under Houston and he was let go after a 5-22 season.  Kevin O'Neill, who knocked '94 UK out of the NCAA Tournament while at Marquette, led the Vols from '95 to '97 without postseason success.

Oregon's Jerry Green came on and brought the Vols back to SEC success and NCAA appearances. In March of 2000, Green led the Vols to their greatest success ever at the time.  In January of 2001, he looked poised to do the same again.  And in March of 2001, he was unemployed...and never worked as a head coach again.

After Michael Jordan's UNC roommate Buzz Peterson took a turn, Bruce Pearl came onboard and led the Vols to six NCAA appearances in six seasons including that program lone Elite Eight appearance, a 30-win season, the program's first number one ranking, and a chance to move up in the SEC with UK and Florida going through a down period.  That guard that went to Ohio State told about the BBQ at the Pearl home and it was show cause and an ESPN analyst job for Bruce Pearl until he landed at Auburn.

Current Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin did not catch on in Knoxville despite getting to the Sweet 16 in 2014 and he departed for the Cal Bears.  Donnie Tyndall almost got the Vols in trouble.

Rick Barnes came over from Texas and built the program up to a Sweet 16, 20-game win streak, and #2 seed with the program's longest in-season #1 ranking.  He did it with no player in the Top-100 recruiting rankings.

Hat tip to Smithian


With the Pavillion, Ole Miss does not rank above State.

Newcomers are overrated, living off of history built prior to SEC. Look who played on Wednesday in the ‘19;SEC Tourney.

Interesting anonymous coaching takes.

Florida built their entire resume’ in the last 20 years while the Hogs built theirs prior to the last 20 years.


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