This is the time of the year when it gets rather uncomfortable for basketball coaches in the Southeastern Conference. Of the 14 coaches in the league, only three can wear the label “untouchable.” If Billy Donovan, John Calipari and Kevin Stallings go somewhere else, it will be on their own terms. As for the other 11 coaches in the league, some are safe for the immediate future while others should be sweating.
Here is a rundown of the SEC’s 14 coaches and where they stand with five games left in the regular season.
1. BILLY DONOVAN, Florida: He’s a first ballot Hall of Fame coach with 439 wins in 18 seasons at Florida. Only Adolph Rup (876) and Dale Brown (448) have more wins at an SEC school than Donovan. With a maximum of 14 games remaining this season, Donovan could move past Brown into second place. With two national championships under his belt, Donovan trails only John Wooden (10), Adolph Rupp (4), Mike Kryzyzewski (4), Bobby Knight (3) and Jim Calhoun (3) on the all-time list of championship coaches.
2. JOHN CALIPARI, Kentucky: Calipari is learning that until you win four national championships at Kentucky you’re just another coach. Rupp won four and Cal only has one. As long as he’s at Kentucky, the Wildcats will recruit well and will be relevant but until he’s got continuity in his program with players who stick around for years at a time, it’s going to be a constant struggle to match performance with expectations. At some point, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him give the NBA one more try.
3. KEVIN STALLINGS, Vanderbilt: Stallings might not win championships but he wins (winningest coach in Vandy history) even when he Vandy’s steep academic requirements gut his team (see Kedren Johnson, Eric McClellan) and he graduates his players without getting into the NCAA jailhouse. The way they view things at Vandy, two out of three ain’t bad.
IN REALLY GOOD SHAPE
1. JOHNNY JONES, LSU: If Jones can find some guards who can play, he will have the foundation set for long term success. If Johnny O’Bryant elects to come back for his senior season, then LSU will have one of the most formidable front lines in all of college basketball. Jones has no problems recruiting outstanding big men – he’s got Ben Simmons (6-9, 225, Canberra, Australia/Montverde, FL Montverde Academy) already committed for 2015 – but he’s got to come up with some SEC caliber guards to make the program championship caliber.
2. FRANK HAITH, Missouri: Two under-achieving years in the SEC have Missouri fans wanting more but Haith is 71-23 since arriving in Columbia and wanting more won’t get rid of him. At least yet. If Jabari Brown bolts for the NBA after this year, those restless fans will be voicing their opinions. Loudly. But as long as he’s winning 20 games a year and making the NCAA Tournament, his job is safe.
3. ANDY KENNEDY, Ole Miss: Kennedy has become the winningest coach in school history – 168-96) – in relative obscurity. He’s gotten the Rebels to the NIT six times and the NCAA (last year) once in eight years, the most successful stretch in school history. They’re about to build a new basketball arena to replace the antiquated Tad Pad and that should help with recruiting. They’d love to win more games and become a championship contender every year, but realistically, Kennedy has the program performing close to its maximum level.
OKAY FOR A YEAR OR TWO
1. CUONZO MARTIN, Tennessee: Tennessee has gone from one of the most exciting teams in the SEC to boring under Martin, who is 54-38 in his third year. There is a petition circulating in Knoxville to fire Martin and bring back Bruce Pearl. That’s not going to happen. Martin is on solid ground for the moment, but if he doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year – the Vols are 16-10, 6-6 in the SEC – then his job will be on the line next season. If Jarnell Stokes leaves for the NBA after this season, Martin will start to feel the heat.
2. MARK FOX, Georgia: After a shaky start that included losses to Georgia Tech, Davidson and Temple, Georgia has played very, very well. This is a team that would be in the NCAA Tournament picture if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hadn’t bolted to the NBA. Nearly everyone will be back next year and Georgia should be better. Fox will be back next year, but he’s one average to bad season away from looking for work somewhere else. It would help if he could start landing some of that Atlanta talent.
3. TONY BARBEE, Auburn: This is Barbee’s fourth year and while the record isn’t exactly what they were hoping for when they hired him – 47-70 – progress is being made. The Tigers are 12-12 this season and they’re playing everybody tough. Just ask Florida. Next year will be his make or break year. If he isn’t winning some of those games that go down to the wire next year, he will be gone. If he gets the Tigers into some kind of tournament, they will be patient.
4. MIKE ANDERSON, Arkansas: Twenty years ago the Hogs won the NCAA title and a year later they finished runner-up to UCLA. Fans expect the basketball team to compete for championships but the last time they made the NCAA field was 2008 when John Pelphrey was the coach. Anderson is 53-36 in his third year, which doesn’t cut it with Razorback fans. They really would love to get rid of him, but it would cost $4 million to cut him loose and they’re still paying off John Pelphrey. He’ll be there next year but the heat is definitely on.
IN NEED OF BENEVOLENCE
1. BILLY KENNEDY, Texas A&M: The Aggies had won at least 20 games seven straight years and made the NCAA Tournament field six straight years. The Aggies are 47-44 since Kennedy took over. They are 15-11 this year and probably need four wins just to make an obscure postseason tournament. The only way they make the NIT is with a deep run at the SEC Tournament. They’ve got to win the SEC Tournament to make the NCAA field. The odds are not good that Kennedy returns.
2. ANTHONY GRANT, Alabama: Alabama is 10-16 this year and 96-68 in Grant’s tenure. He’s made the NIT twice and the NCAA once since he’s been there so the natives are getting restless. It would be a different story if Grant had those two McDonald’s All-Americans, but Trevor Lacey transferred out at the end of last season and Devonta Pollard’s mother allegedly convinced him to participate in the kidnapping of a child. Lacey is sitting out at North Carolina State and Pollard is currently playing juco ball but he’s still facing give years in prison if convicted on conspiracy to commit kidnapping charges. Next season promises to be better with two transfers who can score and three really good recruits, but will they give him a chance?
TOO SOON TO TELL
1. FRANK MARTIN, South Carolina: In his two years in the program, Martin has cleaned house and is starting to build from the ground up. The Gamecocks are improved this year even if the record is 10-15. Martin has at least one more year before he starts to feel the heat.
2. RICK RAY, Mississippi State: Mississippi State can play at home but is road kill away from The Hump (0-7). The Bulldogs are 13-12 this season and 23-34 in Ray’s two seasons. If Ray doesn’t have the Bulldogs in a tournament by next season he will feel the heat. Rick Stansbury gave Mississippi State 293 wins in 14 seasons so the fans are accustomed to winning. They have about one more year of patience.