That’s a statement no reasonable person would argue. Fans of most SEC schools are more interested in the battle at outside linebacker than they are the basketball team’s upcoming home game.
Still, SEC basketball has received plenty of national attention in recent weeks.
The conference sent five teams to the NCAA tournament with three of them advancing to the Elite Eight. South Carolina’s run to the Final Four has become one of the tournament’s biggest stories.
While basketball has a long way to go to catch football in terms of fan interest, the gap appears to be closing in the category of performance. Why? Coaching.
The SEC has seen several proven football coaches leave their respective schools in the last several years. Meanwhile, the league has recently welcomed a collection of basketball coaches with successful pasts.
Compare the two sides and the record will show SEC basketball has more accomplished coaches than the football side. The proof is below.
Football – Nick Saban
Saban is the best football coach in the SEC and probably the country. His accomplishments speak for themselves as it relates to this article.
Basketball – Avery Johnson
Johnson is a well-respected coach thanks to his success in the NBA, which includes a Coach of the Year award in 2006 and NBA Finals appearance that same year. Alabama has an 18-18 record in SEC play in the two seasons since Johnson took over.
Most accomplished: Saban
Football – Bret Bielema
Bielema’s most impressive accomplishments occurred at Wisconsin, which won two Big Ten championships and one co-championship under Bielema. The Badgers played in three straight Rose Bowls with Bielema, who has helped Arkansas reach a bowl game in three consecutive seasons.
Basketball Mike Anderson
Anderson’s record includes a Big 12 tournament championship in 2009 at Missouri as well as two Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight appearance. He’s helped Arkansas reach the NCAA tournament twice in six seasons.
Most accomplished: Bielema
Football – Gus Malzahn
Malzahn’s first season as Auburn’s head coach has been his best season so far. He won the SEC championship in 2013 and took Florida State down to the wire in the national title game before coming up short. The Tigers reached the Sugar Bowl last season after finishing the regular season with an 8-4 record.
Basketball – Bruce Pearl
Pearl’s record prior to arriving at Auburn was tremendous. At Tennessee, Pearl reach the NCAA tournament all six seasons he was in Knoxville. The Vols made the school’s only Elite Eight appearance in 2010. Pearl’s SEC record at Auburn is 16-38.
Most accomplished: Malzahn
Football – Jim McElwain
Florida has won the Eastern Division each of the two seasons McElwain has served as head coach. The Gators are 19-8 overall under McElwain with a 1-1 bowl record.
Basketball – Mike White
The Gators just finished a run to the Elite Eight before coming up short against SEC foe South Carolina. White has widely been considered one of the top young coaches in college basketball for several years.
Most accomplished: White
Football – Kirby Smart
The Bulldogs finished last season with a 7-5 record in the regular season in their first year under Smart, who helped Georgia sign one of the nation’s top recruiting classes in February. Smart’s recruiting is unquestioned; his on-field coaching is unproven.
Basketball – Mark Fox
Georgia has experienced moderate success under Fox, who has helped Georgia win 20 or more games in four of his eight season in Athens. Georgia has two NCAA tournament appearances under Fox, who also reached the NCAA tournament three times in five seasons at Nevada.
Most accomplished: Fox
Football – Mark Stoops
Stoops had a bit of a breakthrough season at Kentucky last year, finishing the regular season 7-5 before losing to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl. A win against rival Louisville was probably worth a few extra dollars in Stoops’ recent contract extension.
Basketball – John Calipari
He’s the best basketball coach in the SEC without any question. Calipari’s record at Kentucky includes a national title, four Final Four appearances and six times in the Elite Eight. He easily wins this contest.
Most accomplished: Calipari
Football – Ed Orgeron
LSU gave Orgeron a shot to remain the head coach after finishing the 2016 season with a 6-2 record as the Tigers’ interim coach. Orgeron had a disastrous run as the head coach at Ole Miss from 2005-2007; the Rebels won three SEC games during that time.
Basketball – Will Wade
Wade’s resume comes from the mid-major level as he was recently hired by LSU to replace Johnny Jones. Wade compiled a 40-25 record at Chattanooga before helping take VCU to the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons. His Rams reached the Round of 32 in 2016.
Most accomplished: Wade
Football – Hugh Freeze
Freeze has experienced some highs (two New Year’s Six bowls) and some lows (5-7 record in 2016 to accompany accusations of NCAA violations under his watch). Freeze has recruited at a high level and beaten Alabama twice. His future is very much in doubt.
Basketball – Andy Kennedy
Kennedy has proven to be a model of consistency at Ole Miss. The longest-tenured coach in the SEC, Kennedy has never had a losing record in his 11 seasons with the Rebels. He’s made two NCAA tournament appearances, most notably in 2013 when his team reached the Sweet 16.
Most accomplished: Freeze
Football – Dan Mullen
Mullen has led Mississippi State to seven consecutive bowl games, including the Orange Bowl in 2014. The Bulldogs reached a No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press and Coaches polls that year for the first time in school history.
Basketball – Ben Howland
Howland took UCLA to the Final Four three consecutive seasons from 2006-08. He won four regular season conference championships at UCLA and two regular season conference titles while coaching at Pittsburgh.
Most accomplished: Howland
Football – Barry Odom
Odom just completed his first season as Missouri’s head coach. The Tigers went 4-8 while winning two SEC games.
Basketball – Cuonzo Martin
The Tigers hired Martin earlier this month to replace Kim Anderson. Martin helped Tennessee reach the Sweet 16 in 2014 before leaving for California. The Golden Bears earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016 – the highest seed in school history – before losing to No. 13 seed Hawaii in the first round of the tournament.
Most accomplished: Martin
Football – Will Muschamp
Muschamp helped South Carolina earn a bowl bid in his first season as the Gamecocks’ coach in 2016. He coached at Florida from 2011-14, compiling a 28-21 record with the Gators before being fired.
Basketball – Frank Martin
Martin and the Gamecocks are in the middle of a run to the Final Four, the furthest the program has advanced in the NCAA tournament in school history. Martin also helped lead Kansas State to the Elite Eight in 2010. He’s reached the NCAA tournament five times as a head coach.
Most accomplished: Martin
Football – Butch Jones
Jones has helped Tennessee finish the last two seasons ranked in the Top 25. The Vols have won three consecutive bowl games after failing to reach the postseason from 2011-13. Jones won two MAC titles at Central Michigan and tied for the top record in the Big East twice while coaching Cincinnati.
Basketball – Rick Barnes
Barnes has failed to take Tennessee beyond the SEC tournament in his two seasons in Knoxville, but he helped Texas reach the NCAA tournament in 16 of his 17 seasons while coaching the Longhorns. Barnes coached in the Final Four in 2003 and has reached the NCAA tournament 22 times in his career.
Most accomplished: Barnes
Football – Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M has played in a bowl game in all five seasons Sumlin has coached the Aggies. His first season was his best in College Station as Texas A&M finished with an 11-2 record, which included a win at Alabama. Quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy that season as a redshirt freshman.
Basketball – Billy Kennedy
Texas A&M has reached the NCAA tournament once in five seasons under Kennedy. The Aggies reached the Sweet 16 in 2016. Kennedy has coached in the NCAA tournament three times in his career.
Most accomplished: Sumlin
Football – Derek Mason
Vanderbilt reached a bowl game under Mason for the first time last season – Mason’s third season with the Commodores. A win against Tennessee to finish the regular season was big for Mason and Vanderbilt.
Basketball – Bryce Drew
Vanderbilt reached the NCAA tournament this year under Drew, who replaced Kevin Stallings last spring. Drew helped Valparaiso reach the NCAA tournament twice in the five seasons he coached his alma mater.
Most accomplished: Drew
Final tally: Basketball 9, Football 5.
The SEC is still a football conference, which will continue to be the case as long as the league exists. But the SEC’s basketball programs appear to be on the rise, and coaching is the No. 1 reason.
Several SEC football programs would struggle to make that same claim.