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Time To Add Saban’s Face To The SEC’s Mt. Rushmore

sec-mt-rushmore-bryant-spurrier-neyland-sabanWhen you talk about The Greatest anything in sports, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.  Everyone has an opinion on who or what The Greatest is.  That’s because everyone uses different criteria to determine what The Greatest even means.

Example: Who’s the NFL’s best quarterback?  The guy with the most Super Bowl trophies?  The guy with the most MVP awards?  The guy with the most passing yards on the back of his trading card?

As for college football, we can use the Heisman Trophy as another example.  Some people believe “most outstanding player” means the best offensive player on the best team.  Some people believe it means the most valuable player on a team, regardless of highlights and hype.  Still others cast their votes based on hard and fast stats.

So when we ask who should go on an imaginary Mt. Rushmore of SEC football coaches, we know we’re opening the door and inviting debate to come on in and sit a spell.

Fair enough.

As usual, we wanted to inject a little data, a bit of math into our study of the SEC’s greatest all-time coaches.  We also wanted to weed the competition for those four slots — we said Mt. Rushmore after all — down to a manageable number.

Our first step was to figure out who should be left out.  We set our start date at 1935.  The SEC was founded in 1932 and ’35 made for a nice round number.  If a man didn’t coach the majority of his career after that year he was excluded from our exercise.  So if you’re wondering why someone like Vanderbilt’s Dan McGugin isn’t on the list, now you know.

Next, we decided to include only coaches who have toiled in the Southeastern Conference for at least a decade.  Regardless of a coach’s success, if he hasn’t spent at least 10 years in the SEC how much historical impact could he really have?  Florida’s Urban Meyer — despite two BCS titles in six years — failed to pass this portion of our test.

One-year wonders were out, too.  Only coaches with multiple SEC championships were considered deserving of placement on our monument.  That eliminated coaches like Auburn’s Shug Jordan.

We decided that a coach also had to have won at least one consensus — that’s consensus — national championship during his tenure as an SEC head coach.  That eliminated Tennessee’s Johnny Majors, for example.  Majors won a national title at Pittsburgh, but he didn’t win one in the SEC.  So he’s out.

Finally, we eliminated any coaches who had their success at a program no longer in the SEC.  There are three ex-SEC schools out there: Sewanee, Tulane, and Georgia Tech.  One of them had a coach who fit all of the above criteria.  But it felt a little silly to consider Bobby Dodd for a spot on the SEC’s Mt. Rushmore when it was Dodd who famously yanked Tech from the Southeastern Conference.  So coaches like Dodd are out.

Those criteria — post-1935 career, 10 seasons in the SEC, multiple SEC titles, one consensus national title, and employment at a current SEC institution — helped narrow our choices down to just seven men.

 

*  Paul “Bear” Bryant

14 SEC titles (13 at Alabama, 1 at Kentucky)

6 National titles (all at Alabama)

8 SEC Coach of the Year awards (coaches’ vote)

10 SEC Coach of the Year awards (AP vote)

292 overall wins while coaching in the SEC

.797 overall winning percentage while coaching in the SEC

159 SEC wins

.764 SEC winning percentage

 

*  Vince Dooley

6 SEC titles (all at Georgia)

1 National title (at Georgia)

6 SEC Coach of the Year awards (coaches’ vote)

4 SEC Coach of the Year awards (AP vote)

201 overall wins while coaching in the SEC

.715 overall winning percentage while coaching in the SEC

105 SEC wins

.714 SEC winning percentage

 

*  Steve Spurrier

6 SEC titles (all at Florida)

1 National title (at Florida)

5 SEC Coach of the Year awards (coaches’ vote)

4 SEC Coach of the Year awards (AP vote)

188 overall wins while coaching in the SEC

.743 overall winning percentage while coaching in the SEC

122 SEC wins

.748 SEC winning percentage

 

*  Johnny Vaught

6 SEC titles (all at Ole Miss)

1 National title (at Ole Miss)

2 SEC Coach of the Year awards (coaches’ vote)

6 SEC Coach of the Year awards (AP vote)

190 overall wins while coaching in the SEC

.748 overall winning percentage while coaching in the SEC

106 SEC wins

.707 SEC winning percentage

 

*  Bob Neyland

5 SEC titles (all at Tennessee)

1 National title (at Tennessee)

3 SEC Coach of the Year awards (coaches’ vote)

1 SEC Coach of the Year awards (AP vote)

173 overall wins while coaching in the SEC

.829 overall winning percentage while coaching in the SEC

62 SEC wins

.787 SEC winning percentage

 

*  Nick Saban

4 SEC titles (2 at LSU, 2 at Alabama)

4 National titles (1 at LSU, 3 at Alabama)

2 SEC Coach of the Year awards (coaches’ vote)

2 SEC Coach of the Year awards (AP vote)

111 overall wins while coaching in the SEC

.782 overall winning percentage while coaching in the SEC

64 SEC wins

.752 SEC winning percentage

 

*  Phillip Fulmer

2 SEC titles (both at Tennessee)

1 National title (at Tennessee)

1 SEC Coach of the Year awards (coaches’ vote)

1 SEC Coach of the Year awards (AP vote)

152 overall wins while coaching in the SEC

.745 overall winning percentage while coaching in the SEC

98 SEC wins

.731 SEC winning percentage

 

Those are the numbers for each coach, but numbers don’t always make for a perfect comparison.  While a modern era coach plays eight conference games per season — and therefore can pile up victories quicker — coaches in earlier days didn’t have to deal with pesky matters such as scholarship limitations.

The advent of the SEC Championship Game in 1992 also impacts the way the league hands out its top prize.  Pre-’92, a coach could win a share of the league title.  Post-’92, there could be only one.  (A little something for the “Highlander” fans out there.)

This is where opinion comes into play.  Yours might differ from ours at MrSEC.com, but we’ll try to explain how/why we arrived at our own final four.

 

* Bryant goes on the SEC’s Mt. Rushmore and there wasn’t even a split-second’s worth of doubt regarding our decision to include him.  The Bear won twice as many league titles as anyone else on our list of candidates.  He also nabbed more national crowns than any other SEC coach in history.  In addition, he coached eight seasons at Kentucky and never once had a losing record.  Bryant is also the SEC’s win leader.  His pop culture status alone should earn him a spot on our mountainside.  People who aren’t football fans know the name “Bear Bryant.”  Why this one’s so obvious that we’ll just keep this explainer short and sweet — Bryant and his houndstooth hat get the George Washington spot on our monument.

* Spurrier grabs a position with his Florida/South Carolina resume.  No, he’s not won a league or national title in Columbia yet, but the Ol’ Ball Coach has taken a traditional also-ran program and led it to back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time ever.  He’s also led Carolina to the SEC Championship Game for the first time in school history.  The SEC was basically a two-team race between Florida and Tennessee in the 1990s, but that doesn’t change the fact that Spurrier owned that decade.  His pass-happy Fun ‘N Gun offense changed the way the SEC played football.  He’s on our Mt. Rushmore.  (Not that it counts toward coaching, but Spurrier would also provide our shrine a former Heisman Trophy winner.)

* Neyland earns a spot on the list despite the fact that his career ended in 1952.  He did coach before 1935, but the majority of his tenure came after that date.  Neyland was a Renaissance Man.  The stadium in Knoxville that now bears his name was actually designed by the man himself.  His coaching career at Tennessee was twice interrupted when “The General” was called into active military service in Panama and then during World War II.  He lost six seasons at the apex of his career, leaving a Ted Williams-like question mark over his accomplishments.  Any man who coached the last major college football squad to go through an entire season unscored upon (in 1939) and was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his military service deserves a spot on our rock.  Neyland also never lost a head-to-head matchup against Bryant in seven contests.

* That leaves one spot open and if you paid attention to our headline you already know who’s going to get it.  Alabama’s Saban is the best coach in college football today and the challenges of today’s game are greater than ever.  Scholarship limitations, conference title games, an expanded SEC, a winner-take-all national title game rather than a multitude of polls, and so on and so on.  All that and Saban has still won four national titles in his last eight seasons as a college head coach.  That’s an absolutely astounding feat.  When he won his first national title at Alabama in 2009 — to go along with his previous championship at LSU in 2003 — Saban became the first coach since World War II to win national crowns with two different schools.  He just happened to do so in the toughest conference in America to boot… all with a pair of programs that he rebuilt.  With this year’s crown, Saban’s now won three of the last four national titles including the last two back-to-back.  When all’s said and done, expect him to be near, at, or beyond Bryant’s SEC record of six national championships.

 

We mean no insult to any other coach out there who failed to make our list.  We also salute the three coaches who made it through wave after wave of eliminations to join our final candidates list.  Dooley, Fulmer and Vaught are in some darn exclusive company.

But if we were to carve out an SEC football version of Mt. Rushmore somewhere in the Smokies or the Ozarks, likenesses of Bryant, Spurrier, Neyland and Saban would grace it.

 


9 comments
10Vol85
10Vol85

One last? point:  Perhaps, Wade and Thomas could share one spot (half a face to each).  The collective back-to-back run of Wade and Thomas was on par with the Bryant era: 5 NCs, 81% (v. 82% for Bryant) wins in 23? (v. 25) years.

10Vol85
10Vol85

I'm a fan of history but unfortunately most fans aren't (as you can see by your number of responses).  I appreciate your respect for Neyland.  He is underappreciated even at Tennessee (but then most people just count total wins).  Neylands record matches or exceeds Bryant's in everything except longetivity and density of championships.  As you pointed out, he could've coached many more games but for his service to our country.  As to the density of championships, he was coaching against the likes of McGugin, Wade, Thomas, Bryant, and Vaught.  Still, in addition to having not been beaten by Bryant, he had winning records against every one of those great coaches.

10Vol85
10Vol85

Unless I misundersand your criteria, Frank Thomas should also make the first cut.

I4Bama
I4Bama

I know I am violating the rules, so roll your eyes if you will, and I know it is difficult to include a coach on an SEC Mount Rushmore who never coached in the SEC, but the SEC would very likely not exist as is without Wallace Wade.  He at least deserves a nod.

gumborue
gumborue

add les miles to the list in two years when he meets the 10 year requirement.

 

.800 win pct. (better than bryant or saban)

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @10Vol85 

 

Frank Thomas did meet most of the criteria, but his national championship came in 1934 -- before our 1935 date and before the AP poll even began in 1936.  That's why he wasn't included on our list of seven candidates.  There were many, many good coaches who folks could make an argument for and Thomas was thisclose to being #8 on our list.  But in the end, we didn't want to go too far back into another era of football.  Bob Neyland coached before 1935, but his national championship came in 1951... a full 17 years after Thomas' title.  That's why he was in and Thomas was out.

 

Of course, we stated early on in this post that everyone would have their own criteria and their own lists.  This is ours.

 

Thanks for reading the site,

John

10Vol85
10Vol85

 @I4Bama

 I would go all the way back.  I consider the SIAA as SEC v.1 and the Southern as SEC v.2.  The core SEC teams dominated those conferences.  The better teams SECeded from the SIAA to form the Southern and then SECeded again from the Southern to form the SEC.  McGugin and Wade (if you remove the year limit) and Thomas are the other 3 that deserve mention IMO.

10Vol85
10Vol85

 @gumborue

 You'll have to hope Oklahoma St. isn't sucked into the SEC by then, lest his OSU record brings his conference percentage down ;)

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