By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
How many SEC basketball coaches can you name other than the obvious two? Exclude John Calipari and Billy Donavon you have to be a pretty hard core college basketball fan to rattle off the other 12 names.
I’m ashamed to say I could barely manage half of the other coaches. I knew Tony Barbee at Auburn, but only Barbee at Auburn, but only because he was once a Calipari assistant. I knew Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee because well it’s Tennessee. There is history with Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt and he is the type of coach you remember, the type of coach that fuels rivalries and stirs emotions. There are too few of those today as you look around the landscape of the conference.
Two of my favorites were Dale Brown and Wimp Anderson.
Dale Brown coached at LSU from 1972 to 1997 and brought the best team I ever saw to Rupp Arena. Even with players like Shaquille O’Neal, Stanley Roberts, and Chris Jackson on the floor it was almost as much fun to watch Brown in action.
Wimp Sanderson coached at the University of Alabama from 1981 to 1992 in his trademark plaid jacket. The Lexington Herald named him SEC Coach of the Decade for the 1980s.
There were years it seemed every team you faced had a familiar coach. They also were a threat to beat Kentucky or any ranked team in the country.
Even former Auburn coach Sonny Smith was quoted as saying he had never seen the SEC so down. During the Kentucky-Florida game Saturday, Dick Vitale said he thought those were the only two SEC teams that would make the NCAA Tournament.
Only three SEC teams made the field last year and Kentucky was not one of them. It was the fourth time in five years that less than five SEC teams made the NCAA field. That had not happened since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
You can blame it on the SECs powerhouse football teams, the One-and-Done Rule, or global warming. I blame the coaches and the school’s commitment to those coaches.
The coaches added to the rivalry even in years when the product on the court was subpar. Today we can’t get excited about the teams, players, or the coaches in some cases.
Did you know Andy Kennedy coaches Ole Miss? He’s really never given you a reason to remember his name since his Ole Miss teams have never made the NCAA Tournament.
You have five SEC coaches that are in their first or second season. Some will take their team to another level if they are given a chance. Frank Martin will put something together at South Carolina and will become known for something more than a stare that would make Tubby Smith flinch. Arkansas is already a tough place to play, but Mike Anderson could take them back to the glory days of Nolan Richardson. And that is what I want. Although I want Kentucky to win every game, I want them to beat teams and coaching willing to stand toe-to-toe and look them in the eye.