When anyone says SEC coaches obviously the name that first comes to mind, as it should is John Calipari and the pseudo-NBA teams he is fielding at Kentucky. However, with the four additions to the conference’s coaching ranks this summer the SEC may boast the strongest group of head coaches of any conference in the country.
Behind Calipari the league still has veterans Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt who has over 300 wins during his 16-year tenure in Nashville, Andy Kennedy who has seven trips to either the NIT or NCAA Tournament in nine seasons at Ole Miss and Mark Fox at Georgia, who is the league’s 4th longest tenured coach.
Over the past three years the league has added Frank Martin at South Carolina, Mike Anderson at Arkansas, Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M and Johnny Jones at LSU. This quartet has amassed just two trips the NCAA Tournament with LSU making the big dance last season.
Speaking of the goings on in Baton Rouge, expectations continue to rise for Jones and his Tigers after the tournament berth last season and the addition of two top 15 recruits in shooting guard Antonio Blakeney and the top overall recruit in power forward Ben Simmons.
Last season Bruce Pearl made a well-publicized return to the conference taking the helm at Auburn. The Tigers didn’t improve on the win total but the enthusiasm about Auburn basketball was palpable and grew to a crescendo as they made a run to the conference semifinals before falling to Kentucky.
Missouri also hired a new coach last season. Former assistant Kim Anderson returned to Columbia as head man. After 12 years as the head coach at division II Central Missouri that saw him have three 30-win seasons, make seven trips to the NCAA Tournament including three to the Final Four and a National Championship in 2014. Anderson has some rebuilding to do at Missouri after winning just nine games last season.
This summer Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State and Tennessee all hired new faces to head their programs.
In Tuscaloosa Anthony Grant was let go after six seasons. In walks Avery Johnson who had previously coached the Brooklyn Nets and led the Dallas Mavericks to their first NBA Finals. Johnson inherits a team that won 19 games but must replace their top three scorers and navigate a roster that has nine freshmen and sophomores and just two seniors.
At Florida the long awaited presumed inevitability happened, Billy Donovan made the jump to the NBA leaving to coach the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Gators lured one of the country’s hottest coaching commodities to Gainesville, Michael White of Louisiana Tech. Gone are Michael Frazier III, Jon Horford, Eli Carter and Chris Walker. White spent four seasons at Louisiana Tech with 83 wins over the final three and three straight trips to the NIT.
Mississippi State was able to bring Ben Howland to town after two years away from the game. Howland most recently spent 10 seasons at UCLA with seven trips to the NCAA Tournament and three consecutive trips to the Final Four from 2006-08. It remains to be seen whether he can have the same effect in Starkville that Pearl has had at Auburn in changing the culture of the basketball perception.
After a tumultuous season on and off the court at Tennessee the Volunteers moved on after one season with Donnie Tyndall when his transgressions while at Southern Mississippi caught up with him. Replacing him will be Rick Barnes who was let go after 17 years at Texas. Barnes made the NCAA Tournament in 16 of those 17 seasons, what did him in was not making it past the second weekend in 12 of those years. Barnes inherits a roster that returns seven of its top eight scorers, but the one that needs to be replaced is 16-point scorer Josh Richardson.
Calipari may get the ink on the page and all the media interviews but a look at the other coaches in the league reveals the storylines on the sidelines are just as intriguing as the ones between the lines.