When 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.
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.
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