Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's the coaches, stupid

Much like football season, we've heard all season long how the SEC is way down in basketball this season. While the football claims were proven a bit incorrect, there is no disputing the fact that the SEC just isn't what it used to be in hoops. This article in the Nashville City Paper lists a few possible reasons why, but it leaves off the most important reason: the quality of coaches just ain't what it used to be.

We're certainly as guilty as any school in the conference as we clung to Rod Barnes two years too long. Once Marc Dukes retired, the program spiraled to the ground at breakneck pace. And while the SEC was never filled with future HOF coaches, it never had as high a percentage of bad coaches as it has had in the last few years.

Here's a breakdown of the current SEC coaches:


Billy Donovan is obviously the most accomplished coach in the SEC, but the Gators haven't been quite the same since Anthony Grant took the head job at VCU (which is 76-25 in his 3 years there.) There's always an influx of good talent in Gainesville, and the man's got two national titles.

Talk about breathing new life into a program. Pearl took over the Vols after a series of non-descript sleepy coaches and has Knoxville talking men's hoops for a change.


Mississippi State
I'll put aside my bias here and say that Rick Stansbury has far exceeded my expectations there. When he was hired, his only real qualification was being Richard Williams' bag man, but he's got the Bulldogs as one of the most consistent programs in the conference.

Kevin Stallings has done some good things as Vanderbilt, certainly better than Jan van Brenda Kolfff. The 'Dores have been fairly consistent winners under his watch. They slipped a bit this year, but bring back a solid nucleus of players for next season.

Headed in right direction:

Aaah, John Brady. Uber-recruiter, but couldn't tell you an X from an O. And he always looked disheveled on the sidelines. Sure the Tigers made a few nice runs in the tourney under Brady's watch, but those were done on talent alone. Trent Johnson is a good coach, but we'll know more next year when he actually has to play underclassmen.

Ole Miss
Again, I'll put my bias aside (as best I can) and say that the hiring of Andy Kennedy was a very good one. He had the team on the bubble his first two seasons in Oxford, and held together a train wreck of a season this past year.

South Carolina
Darrin Horn brought a higher energy level than Dave Odom did, but my grandmom probably would too. It's a bit early to make the call on him, but he won big at WKU, and he's off to a good start in Columbia.

Next to be purged:

Jeff Lebo's job was on death's door in the early part of last season before a late season rally saved him. He's a decent enough coach, but there's no reason to believe he'll be anything more than an average coach in the SEC.

John Pelphrey is a joke. I know the Hogs are enamored with him, I just haven't figured out why. Had he not played at Kentucky, there's no way the Ginger Kid hired by an SEC school. I understand the Hogs firing Stan Heath. It was a questionable hire from the beginning after just one year of success with an inherited Kent State team. But Pelphrey is not the answer. Not one player on that team this year got better as the year wore on. He'll be fired after the 2010-11 season.

The 'Cats - like Arky - made an outright bad choice when they hired Billy Gillispie. He's been the mastermind of some of the most embarrassing losses in UK history and is the architect of the first Wildcat team in nearly two decades to not Dance at the end of the season. It's gotta be tough for the Big Blue to see Pitino and Louisville as the #1 overall seed and Tubby Smith and Minnesota making a (very brief) appearance in the Tourney. As long as Gillispie's there, it's tough to see them doing anything but underachieving. I'd not be surprised to see John Calipari roaming the UK sidelines next year.

In Transition

Mark Gottfried patrolled the sidelines for 10+ years in Tuscaloosa and brought in several highly touted players. While he did take the Tide to the Elite 8 in 2003-04, that's about it. Alabama brass has said they'll pay ~$2M to bring in the right coach this time. Whether it's Mike Anderson or Tim Floyd or Anthony Grant or Oliver Purnell, it'll certainly be a step in the right direction from Gottfried.

As long as the Bulldogs avoid the publicity stunt and not hire Bobby Knight, they can make a real upgrade from Dennis Felton. They made the worst hire in recent SEC history several years back with Jim Harrick, but with Anthony Grant available, it's hard to imagine he's not in Athens next year.


  1. It's not accurate to say not one player on the Arkansas team improved as the season went on. Rotnei Clarke did, undoubtedly. He began SEC shooting almost 0% and finished at 38%, meaning he found a way to get shots pretty fast. Rest of the, not really. Horrible coaching job this season, as though once enough players fell off the roster he just gave up making adjustments. Andy Kennedy actually had an even younger team and managed to win games.

  2. Fair enough. I was right on with my Calipari to Kentucky prediction a couple of weeks before it happened, so here's another one... Mike Anderson will Arkansas' head coach at the beginning of the 2011-12 season.

    I know a lot Hogs and others are convinced Pelphrey is the guy for that job, but I'm telling you unequivocably he's not. I don't foresee another 2-14 season anytime soon, but I also don't see him winning the SEC West either.