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Bama’s Bryant Still The Best, But Carolina’s Spurrier Pulling Away From Other SEC Great Coaches

If a person were to build a Mt. Rushmore-style monument to SEC football coaches somewhere in the Smokies or the Ozarks, the debate over who should fill slots #3 and #4 on the mountain would likely grow pretty heated.  Georgia’s Vince Dooley is the second winningest coach in history (all games included) from an SEC institution.  Tennessee’s Robert Neyland ranks first in winning percentage in all-games and in all-SEC game coached.  Were it not for his military service, there’s no telling what numbers he could have posted.  Ole Miss’ Johnny Vaught and Georgia’s Vince Dooley rank #3 and #4 respectively in terms of all-time wins in conference games.

The debate could rage for days.

But there would be no argument over who’d take up the first two slots on such a shrine — Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier.

Bryant is a legend.  Say his name anywhere in the country and even non-football fans will likely recognize his name today, 30 years after he hung up his houndstooth hat.  The more Spurrier wins at Carolina, the more he closes in on Bryant territory.  And the more the man with the visor distances himself from everyone else in SEC coaching history.

In terms of all-time SEC wins, Bryant ranks first with 159 (22 while at Kentucky and another unimaginable 137 at Alabama).  Spurrier is #2 all-time with 120 counting his 4-0 mark to begin the 2012 season (87 wins came at Florida, 33 have come so far at Carolina).

More impressive than simple win totals, however, is the fact that both coaches — Bryant and Spurrier — were builders.  They didn’t take over programs at their heights, they either returned them to past glories or took them to new pinnacles altogether.

For comparison’s sake, let’s toss out Bryant’s lone season at Maryland back in 1945.  Let’s also ignore Spurrier’s work in the USFL and NFL. Doing that, we’re left with three multi-season collegiate stops for each man.  While Bryant toiled at Kentucky, Texas A&M (then a member of the Southwest Conference) and Alabama, Spurrier has worked at Duke (in the ACC), Florida and now South Carolina.

At each of those stops, Bryant and Spurrier improved the football fortunes of their employers.  Below we’ll look at both coaches’ achievements and we’ll start with Bryant’s:

 

Paul “Bear” Bryant

Kentucky (8 seasons from 1946 to 1953)

In the five seasons prior to his arrival, the Wildcats were 17-27-3.  In 1950 — Bryant’s fifth year in Lexington — the Cats finished 11-1, won their first ever SEC title, and defeated #1 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.  (In those days, the final polls came out prior to the bowl games and that allowed the Sooners to grab the national title.)

Bryant went 60-23-6 while at Kentucky.  He took UK to four bowl games (they’ve only been to 11 other postseason games before or since).  And they didn’t win a share of another SEC title until 1976.  To date, 1950 is the Wildcats only stand-alone SEC championship in football.

 

Texas A&M (4 seasons from 1954 to 1957)

In the five seasons prior to his arrival, A&M had gone 20-26-5.  But by Year Three of Bryant’s tenure in College Station he had the Aggies at 9-0-1 with a Southwest Conference championship under their belts.

Bryant went 25-14-2 in College Station.  His league title in 1956 was the school’s first since 1941 and its last until 1967.

 

Alabama (25 seasons from 1958 to 1982)

In the five years prior to Bryant, the coach’s alma mater had gone 14-32-7.  But by his fourth season in 1961, Bryant had nabbed the school’s first SEC title since 1953, rolled up an 11-0 record, and collected his first national championship.

All told, Bryant would go on to post a staggering 232-46-9 record at Alabama.  He won or shared 13 Southeastern Conference championships and won the school six national titles according to the major polls.  Bryant stepped down after the ’82 season and Alabama wouldn’t win a portion of another conference crown until Bill Curry captured part of the 1989 title.

Alabama has been to a remarkable 58 bowls all-time.  That’s 34 without Bryant… 24 with him.

 

Steve Spurrier

Duke (3 seasons from 1987 to 1989)

In the five seasons prior to Spurrier’s arrival, Duke mustered a 19-36 record.  After a 5-6 season in his first year, Spurrier posted winning records in Durham in his final two years on the job.  His 1989 team finished 8-4, went to a bowl game, and won Duke’s first ACC title since 1962.  The Blue Devils haven’t captured another ACC crown since.

Overall, Spurrier finished 20-13-1 at Duke and his one bowl trip came 29 years after Duke’s last bowl trip.  The school has been to only one postseason game since.

 

Florida (12 seasons from 1990 to 2001)

In the five years before Spurrier returned to his alma mater, the Gators had gone 35-22.1.  They had never in school history won an SEC championship (thanks to NCAA violations in 1985).  But in Spurrier’s first year, his team finished 9-2 and would have won a piece of the crown if not for, yep, NCAA violations committed by UF’s previous regime.

The Ol’ Ball Coach would go on to compile a 122-27-1 mark in Gainesville.  He would officially win six SEC championships and the school’s first-ever national title in 1996.  He did so in the age of the SEC Championship Game when shared titles became an impossibility.

Florida has been to 39 bowls in more than a century of football.  Spurrier led them to 11 of those postseason affairs.

 

South Carolina (8 seasons from 2005 to the present)

In five years prior to Spurrier’s arrival, South Carolina had gone 33-26 overall.  They had never won so much as a division title since joining the SEC in 1992 and they hadn’t won a conference title of any kind since their lone ACC championship in 1969.  In Spurrier’s sixth season, the Gamecocks captured their first East Division crown.  Currently they are undefeated halfway through their 2012 conference slate and from the looks of their defense they have a darn good shot of reaching Atlanta again this December.

Overall, Spurrier is 61-35 in Columbia counting his 6-0 mark this season.  Of the school’s 17 bowl trips all-time, Spurrier is responsible for six of them.

 

Spurrier’s career has shadowed that of Bryant’s.  Both had short, multi-year stints outside the SEC (Bryant at Texas A&M for four years and Spurrier at Duke for three seasons).  Both took their alma maters to great heights (Bryant’s six national crowns easily trump Spurrier’s lone championship, of course).  And most impressively, perhaps, both took over programs that were simply horrible in football and turned them into winners… Bryant at Kentucky and Spurrier at South Carolina.

The two men coached in different eras.  Everything from the number of games on the schedule to the size of the SEC to the way a national titlist is chosen to the color of the athletes on the field has changed from Bryant’s one year at Maryland in 1945 to the current environment Spurrier inhabits.  For that reason, it will be hard for Spurrier or anyone else to ever truly equal — much less surpass — Bryant’s success in the Southeastern Conference.  That’s no knock on Bryant, but his numbers came in a different era.  They can’t be compared directly to today’s numbers, but that means they can also never be trumped.

Even so, what Spurrier has done in turning Carolina into an SEC and national championship contender clearly helps to separate him from the many other great coaches not named Bryant who’ve stalked the SEC’s sidelines over the past eight decades.

No disrespect to all those other legendary figures, but when it comes to SEC football coaches there’s Bryant, there’s Spurrier, and there’s everyone else.  What Spurrier is currently doing in Columbia should make that crystal clear.

Posted by on October 9, 2012.

Tags: , , ,

Categories: Homepage

46 comments
10Vol85
10Vol85

The general started with a pretty good team and lost only 2 ( Vandy and Alabama) in his first seven years. How many undefeated teams has Spurrier had?

Mach1973
Mach1973

@jimdunaway how much did the vegas guy tip the ethiopian guy? Radio cut out and I couldn't hear it! #cliffhanger #roundtable #jox

10Vol85
10Vol85

By the way, no offense but Dooley is not near top 4. Total wins isn't the only metric for greatness.

10Vol85
10Vol85

Neyland not only has the best winning percentage, but had a winning record against each of Bryant, Thomas, Wade, Mcgugin, and Vaught who make up the best of the rest in career winning percentage save Meyer. I think you disrespect Neyland a bit. I'll grant that you can at least make the argument for Bryant on longetivity of success - not the others. Also, Bryant's rate of success (winning pct. & champs) at Alabama is similar to that of Wallace and Thomas (81 pct. & 5 champs in 23 years), Stallings (if you don't count the sanctions) and Saban). Who matches Neyland's success at TN?

CWD7
CWD7

@jimdunaway @mrsec. Bryant never beat Neyland.

sjanchus
sjanchus

@jimdunaway @mrsec yes, Saban. No brainier on same page with those two.

phil_woodall
phil_woodall

@jimdunaway @MrSEC Not mentioning Saban = agenda = wanting traffic to his site. That or he simply has no clue.

jamiemedley
jamiemedley

@jimdunaway @mrsec Come on. Bryant yes spurrier is good but how many NC does he have. Man you need to study a little more!

RileyHillTaylor
RileyHillTaylor

@jimdunaway @MrSEC why would you include saban at LSU and not include Miles, Urban, and Chizik (2010)

bradleygator
bradleygator

The only thing Saban needs is longevity.  He's like a guy hitting .400 but without enough ABs to qualify for the batting title.  I'd say he needs another five years at 'Bama before he's considered a true southerner like the guys mentioned above.  No carbetbaggers on SEC Mt. Rushmore.  That's why Meyer can't sniff it despite two national titles.  Spurrier chose SC, in part, so he could play rounds at Augusta.  That is SEC style. 

 

Also, while winning NCs at two SEC schools in the modern era is an incredible achievement, I have to say Saban has not bumped up against teams as good as Miami and FSU were when Spurrier was doing his thing at UF (not to mention Nebraska with Tommie Frazier, Lawrence Phillips, et al.).

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

Interesting...

 

Whenever I write that Spurrier has acted childishly, I get bombed by Carolina fans who claim I hate him and never say a good word about him.  But when I write something positive like this piece... stating that what he's done in turning South Carolina from a perennial doormat into a title contender separates him further from all the coaches behind him -- he's already #2 in SEC wins all-time to Bryant -- not a ONE of those Gamecock fans come here to leave a positive comment.  Not one.

 

Instead, I'm somehow viewed by others as a guy who's building up Spurrier, too much -- again, he's already #2 in SEC wins all-time to Bryant -- and who's somehow knocking Saban.

 

Maddening.  No matter what's written, all positives are ignored and some folks work overtime to find anything they can view as a slight.  

 

For the record, my SEC Mt. Rushmore would feature Bryant, followed by Spurrier, Neyland and Dooley.  And when Saban finishes up his career, he'll inch past Dooley.  But as I stated in the piece, the #3 and #4 slots would get big debates with many fans picking their favorite school's best coach -- Neyland, Dooley, Jordan, Vaught, etc, etc.

 

Thanks for reading,

John

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

Bryant and Spurrier have accomplished a great deal.  I agree with the 'Twitterers' though that Saban will have to be in this mix.  He hasn't coached as many years in the SEC as the first 2, but his record speaks for itself.  The only coach in college football to win 3 titles in the BCS era...an era in which it has been tougher to bring home a title than when Spurrier did it in '96.  The only coach in the modern era to win titles at 2 different schools.  He turned around LSU from an Ole Miss-like program into a perennial powerhouse.  I don't know how much longer Saban will be in the game, but his numbers could certainly be tops of his era when he retires.

 

I see Bryant and Spurrier both as transformational figures in the SEC.  Spurrier arguably ushered in the modern era of SEC dominance and his contributions lifted the entire league.  Bryant did much the same in the way of putting the SEC on the national stage.  I'm not sure Saban will really be that type of figure when it's all said and done, but it's genuinely possible that he might be building a dynasty in 2012.  No one even thought that was possible in today's uber competitive climate especially with the scholarship limitations. 

 

I think you have to put Neyland on that Mt. Rushmore as well.

whillxx
whillxx

@MrSEC . Slightly biased toward Spurrier's good season. No mention of Saban with 3 NC and 3 SECs and counting. Bryant, then Saban.

BamabelleinGA
BamabelleinGA

@MrSEC great respect for the ole ball coach....but win a championship at SC before putting him so close to CPB. #justsaying #SEC #

Tusk
Tusk

Probably sacrilege for a Tide fan to post this but I have to vote Neyland ahead of Spurrier. 

BonzaiB
BonzaiB

I'd  put Spurrier up on the most Southern facing peak of the mountain range on the Western boundaries of Ocala, Florida......

TheRoyalePain
TheRoyalePain

@MrSEC If Saban coaches 10 more years, where will he end up do you think?

mikee4bama
mikee4bama

Bryant had 14 SEC titles and 6 national titles during his years as head coach.  His title at Ky is still their one and only.  Spurrier dominated during his years at Fla but nothing compared to what Bryant accomplished.  From 1971 thru 1981 Bryant lost a total of FOUR sec games!  No way Spurrier or anyone else will ever match that!

mdshehorn
mdshehorn

@MrSEC not until he actually wins something. If SC doesn't win the SEC then Spurrier can't be included with that top echelon. IMO

MrSEC
MrSEC

@phil_woodall Bryant/Spurrier was the topic of this post. Read the site on a regular basis before floating your "agenda" nonsense.

MrSEC
MrSEC

@phil_woodall I've written a million times that Saban is the best coach in the country. But he's not close to SS or PB in terms of SEC wins.

MrSEC
MrSEC

@jamiemedley Spurrier is #2 all-time in SEC wins and in SEC titles. That clearly makes him #2 on the list. I think you need to study more!

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

 @bradleygator   It's hard to compare programs from different decades, but I don't think the competition was any stiffer back in the 90s.  Saban shifted the balance of power once he got to LSU and took down Oklahoma for the title in 2003.  And don't forget he had to go through Meyer's Florida(who had won 2 of the previous 3 national titles) and Texas(national champs only 4 years earlier) on his way to winning the title for Bama in 09.  Saban hasn't had to face an in-state rival with the year to year quality of FSU in the 90s and you got to give Spurrier credit on that one, but he was only 5-8-1 against FSU in those years.

Ced Lover
Ced Lover

 @John at MrSEC In our defense (or mine), we are still in the afterglow. But this is the first I've been on the site since this weekend. But kudos and I wholeheartedly agree. I will forever be thankful to our AD, two ADs ago (Mike McGee) and Lou Holtz for somehow getting Spurrier to accept the position. Oh, and thank you for Jeremy Foley for trying to make Spurrier go through an interview process to get the job back at UF. 

BonzaiB
BonzaiB

 @John at MrSEC Its sports. Not much rationale that is consistent, statistics dominate the discussion, and as the old saw goes "stats lie and those who use stats....." I think Spurrier is fun to watch just because he is an anomalie. He is self centered, he can be childish, has a bit of a prankster in him, but he can be viscious. Great coach, brilliant play caller, and all of that. But he does not come across as stately. Bryant, Neyland and others come across as level headed and, well, normal. Spurrier is different. And different in sports evokes emotion.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @AllTideUp 

 

I've written on many occasions that Saban is the best coach in college football today.  He built and won titles at two programs in the toughest league in America.  He's the first coach since World War II to win titles at two different schools.

 

We're not ignoring those facts as we've written about them many times.  But this piece was about the job Spurrier has done at South Carolina and how he continues to inch closer to Bryant in terms of all-time SEC wins (though he'll never pass him).  Also, it shows how similar their careers were in many ways.

 

Spurrier has some age on Saban.  When Saban gets to be 65+ I'm sure someone with some website will write something like this piece about him.

 

Thanks for reading,

John

MrSEC
MrSEC

@whillxx No knock on Saban. Biased toward the fact that Spurrier is 2nd all-time in SEC wins to Bryant and he's turned USC into a winner.

MrSEC
MrSEC

@BamabelleinGA Read the piece. Spurrier's #2 in SEC wins and we say he can't match Bryant. But he's separating himself from the others.

BonzaiB
BonzaiB

 @Tusk Not sacrilege. The Bear will always be THE BEAR, great coach, great Southern Gentleman and legend, but Neyland was (and remains) the finest example of a citizen / warrior / coach and gentleman we as a nation are ever likely to produce. 

MrSEC
MrSEC

@TheRoyalePain I don't think he'll coach 10 more years, but winning national crowns at 2 SEC schools will put him up on an SEC Mt. Rushmore.

MrSEC
MrSEC

@mdshehorn Spurrier's already #2 in all-time SEC wins. He's made USC a winner. He doesn't have to win BCS at USC to pull away from others.

phil_woodall
phil_woodall

@MrSEC a Mt Rushmore of the SEC that doesn't even mention Saban is a bit silly. And you telling me to visit your site more makes my point.

phil_woodall
phil_woodall

@MrSEC Your title says that Spurrier is pulling away from other SEC coaches. Saban has won 2 of the last 3 and currently sets at #1.

jamiemedley
jamiemedley

@MrSEC That is not the point. My point is what has he done to get his teams to the big game. He did it at FL with only 1 NC to show for it.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @BonzaiB 

 

I agree with every word you've written.

 

I just find it amusing -- and it's true of every fanbase -- that "positive" stories are ignored and any criticism is taken as a sign of bias and hatred against a player, coach, school, etc.

 

Part of the job, but I don't think there's anything wrong with calling attention to it and letting folks see for themselves how things work.

 

Thanks, as always, for reading,

John

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

 @John at MrSEC I never said you were ignoring those facts.  I just added my 2 cents...that I thought Saban was worthy of a spot on the SEC's version of Mt Rushmore.  Or at least that he will be worthy once he hangs it up.

 

Comparing Spurrier to Saban though, i don't think Saban will ever have as many SEC wins as Spurrier.  Saban is almost 60 himself and I don't see him pulling a Bobby Bowden and sticking around as long as possible.

Tusk
Tusk

 @BonzaiB

 The General had 6 undefeated seasons, 9 undefeated regular seasons, 4 national championships and 7 conference championships. Maybe the best defensive coach ever, 112 of his 173 wins were shutouts.   

mdshehorn
mdshehorn

@MrSEC he does if ppl are going to mention him alongside saban, Bryant, etc

MrSEC
MrSEC

@phil_woodall Personally, I like having intelligent folks who aren't always claiming "you hate my team" visit us. So feel free not to.

BonzaiB
BonzaiB

 @Tusk As a Gator, it does not pain me a bit to recognize greatness in other institutions. Neyland was brilliant. 

mdshehorn
mdshehorn

@MrSEC never said he wasn't a great coach. Win a championship at USC and u can put him in the top 5. They always have a letdown game tho

MrSEC
MrSEC

@mdshehorn I think the folks in Columbia would tell ya he's won a whole lot more the last 3 years than any coach in that school's history.

mdshehorn
mdshehorn

@MrSEC nope, spurrier is top 10-20 but ur talking upper echelon, elite status. He hasn't won at USC yet. Maybe after this year.

MrSEC
MrSEC

@mdshehorn So if it's all about titles then Chizik is equal to Spurrier? Then why no mention of Meyer? You wouldn't be a Bama fan would ya?

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