SEC one to seek out head coaches

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes motions to one of his players in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Crystal LoGiudice)

ST. LOUIS — Here in the home of the Gateway Arch, toasted ravioli and the Clydesdales, the SEC has taken up residence for a week for its annual tournament and clambake.

Because the league has a real shot at getting eight teams into the NCAA Tournament — a record number — you would think this week would also serve as a jumping off point for assistant coaches looking to move up into the big time.

Not so fast, my friend.

This is a league that isn’t prone to rewarding the guys who know rental counter attendants better than their own kids and the best hot chicken places on Highway 231.

There were 14 head coaches in the conference when this season started, one less when Andy Kennedy was let go in the middle of the season. Of those 14 coaches, how many of them graduated from assistant coach directly to SEC head coach?

Zero point zero.

They all came from a head coaching job somewhere else, although — in the cases of some of them — they had to cool their heels a bit.

Ben Howland had to wait two years after being let go at UCLA before Scott Stricklin hired him at Mississippi State. Bruce Pearl had to serve a three-year sentence from the NCAA before he was welcomed back to coaching at Auburn. And Avery Johnson had two years of limbo after being an NBA coach before Alabama came calling.

But the point is that they were head coaches in their last non-TV jobs before being hired into the SEC.

That doesn’t make the conference different. It makes basketball different.

There are 65 Power Five teams in college basketball. Of those 65, all but six have head coaches who were hired directly from other head coaching jobs.

Two of them are Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo, two Hall-of Famers who were hired in a different (re: old school) era.

David Padgett is the interim head coach at Louisville. The others — Wyking Jones at Cal (was an assistant at Cal), Chris Collins at Northwestern (Duke assistant) and Mike Boynton at Oklahoma State (Okie State assistant).

That’s it. That’s the list.

“There are a lot more choices,” said Stricklin, the Florida athletic director. “There are 130 Div. 1 football coaches and more than 300 in basketball. So the pool is a lot deeper.”

That it is.

But it’s more than that.

Quickly, how many SEC assistant coaches can you name? If you don’t count John Pelphrey at Alabama.

Not many. If any.

I tried that question on a high-ranking SEC official at the tournament Thursday. He couldn’t name two.

That’s why Ole Miss was/is toying with the idea of bringing Thad Matta back into coaching instead of plucking fruit from a successful head coach’s tree.

Which takes us back to how basketball is different.

In the SEC in football, there are — of course — 14 head coaches. How many got their jobs directly from being coordinators? Nine. Count ’em with me.

Will Muschamp (Auburn). Barry Odom, Matt Luke and Ed Orgeron (who were coordinators at the schools who hired them to be head coaches). Joe Moorhead (Penn State). Mark Stoops (FSU). Derek Mason (Stanford). Jeremy Pruitt (Alabama). Kirby Smart (Alabama).

So there are six basketball Power Five head coaches who were assistants leading into their current jobs and nine in football in the SEC alone.

Basketball is a head coach’s world.

“The thing about SEC basketball assistants is their main job usually is to recruit,” said Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports.

And their profiles aren’t very high until they get a job at a mid-major and have success and THEN are considered at the Power Five schools. Pelphrey (South Alabama) and Anthony Grant (VCU) went that route after leaving Florida and eventually made their ways back into this conference.

“I think with a smaller group of guys, you want to have one voice,” said Pat Bradley, who played for Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and is now an analyst for the SEC Network. “I played for a head coach where, he was the voice. For two hours at practice every day, he was that one voice. Assistants, a couple of them are usually out on the road recruiting anyway.”

And when was the last time you were watching a game and they flashed to an assistant and talked about his great defense or his scheme on offense?

That’s where football coordinators have the advantage.

“They have a better platform, if you will, so you can see how they are doing and how they handle their group,” Stricklin said.

And with a more visible platform, the league keeps running after those coordinators, especially those who coached under Nick Saban.

That lapdog mentality doesn’t carry over to the hoops game. You might think John Calipari assistants are at a premium with his success at Kentucky, but nope. South Florida tried it with Orlando Antigua, an epic fail who was fired after going 23-55.

So we can all agree that football and basketball are different animals when it comes to hiring head coaches. You didn’t realize how different.

Or did you?

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. Go up the ”Gateway to the West Arch”, Pat. And also check out Billy the kid’s guns. THE REAL BILLY THE KID, too! Sorry Coach Donovan. But they were in the museum below the Arch (back in the 70’s, at least).
    Safe travels and GO GATORS, and BEAT THE RAZORBACKS! As we’re eating pork tonight, late tonight too!

  2. Boy-oh-boy-oh-boy, you and Robbie are really on a tear, Pat. I had no idea head coach openings in SEC basketball were filled with other already head coaches. I had no idea. Honest, I didn’t have an inkling. I called up Lefty, and asked him whether he knew that already, and he said, “Goodness gracious, no! I had no idea.” Just like that he said, “Goodness gracious, no! I had no idea.”

    • leland, given the fact that so many Gator basketball fans are football fans first and look at basketball through a football “lens”, it’s interesting to see the contrast between the strategies in the two sports. You may have known that all the current SEC basketball coaches came from other head coaching jobs, but I doubt it. If you did, it’s because the SEC has gotten some really high profile coaches in the last few years with the addition of Pearl, Howland, Barnes, Johnson, and even Drew at Vandy. Not sure what your deal is with Pat, other than the one sentence paragraphs.