Picking the best all-time SEC football coach is not easy. As documented at SEC Football, the Southeastern Conference is the best football conference in America. And, it has been for some time.
Over the years, SEC football teams have been fortunate to have many, many great football coaches. Any "best all-time SEC football coach" list is sure to leave out some great ones. At the bottom of the page we have a list of every SEC Coach who has ever been named National Coach of the Year and also each SEC Coach of the year (through 2010).
Of course, the first issue is the matter of criteria. What criteria do you use to select the "best" coach? Some factors to think about include:
And, I'm sure you can think of other criteria.
Of course we all have biases towards certain programs. As a Tennessee Alumnus, I naturally am biased towards them. But, I'll try to put that aside and give as objective an opinion as I can.
Update -- With Alabama's latest NC, certainly Nick Saban needs to be added to this list. Also, thanks to a submission by Scott (from Georgia) (see submission below) -- I need to find a way to include Vince Dooley in this list. Scott points out that Dooley coached the same number of seasons as his mentor (Shug Jordan) but had 5 more SEC titles and only one losing season; whereas Shug had three. So, clearly Dooley should make this list. But, I don't want to drop any of the five I have listed. Maybe, I'll drop Heisman as he didn't really coach in the SEC.... For now, I guess Vince Dooley is #5.5.
Anyway, here's my current list of the top five best all time SEC football coaches. I'll start with #5.
You know I'm trying to be fair when I name, perhaps, the most despised
coach in Tennessee football history, to my all-time top five. Steve
Spurrier (April 20, 1945 - ) played quarterback for Florida and later
became its head coach. The Gators had never had much of a football
program until Spurrier's arrival. During his 12 years at Florida,
Spurrier had a 122-27-1 record and took the Gators to 11 bowl games. He
won 6 SEC Championships and one National Championship in 1996. Spurrier
turned Florida into the powerhouse it remains today.
After a forgettable stint as head coach of the Washington Redskins, Spurrier returned to the SEC as head "Ball Coach" of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. He has already turned that program around from the bottom of the conference, to a real contender. Spurrier was named SEC Coach of the Year with South Carolina his first year there. That was in addition to the five prior times he was named SEC Coach of the Year at Florida.
Steve Spurrier at the Sorcerer Hat Stage during ESPN The Weekend,
February 26, 2010. Thanks to Jeff Kern from Flickr.com for this great
picture of Steve Spurrier.
I note that, under Steve Spurrier, the Gamecocks beat Tennessee in Knoxville in 2005 for their first win against Tennessee in 13 years. Of course, Spurrier also beat the Vols plenty of times while at Florida and even beat them once in Knoxville when he coached Duke! Overall, Spurrier's record against Tennessee is 10-6. I'm confident no living football coach one has beaten Tennessee more than Steve Spurrier. Oh, by the way, Spurrier is a Tennessean. He grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Finally, unlike the other four coaches on my list of the best all-time SEC Football Coaches, Steve Spurrier is still alive and well. His legend continues to grow in Columbia, South Carolina.
Certainly the greatest football coach in Auburn Tigers Football history was James Ralph "Shug" Jordan (September 25, 1910 - July 17, 1980). Coach Jordan got the name "Shug" because he loved sugar cane as a child. Shug coached Auburn football longer than anyone (25 years; 1951 to 1975). He is the all-time winningest coach in Auburn Tigers football history (175-83) and had winning seasons 22 of his 25 years. Auburn's football stadium was (and still is) named after him in 1973, making him the first active coach given the honor. Under his leadership, Auburn went undefeated and won a National Championship in 1957. Jordan also played football at Auburn where he graduated in 1932. A sign of how different things were back then is that he started out as a basketball coach. Shug coached Auburn basketball from 1935-1942 before joining the Army. After the Army, he coached basketball again at Auburn and Georgia. Only in 1951 did Auburn hire him to be their football coach. The rest is history.
OK, due to the outpouring of support for Johnny Vaught -- I have to move him here and kick Heisman off the list. And, it's the right thing to do. Vaught was a much more significant SEC Football Coach than Heisman. You can read more about Vaught at Johnny Vaught.
Now, for those interested in why we had John Heisman here in the first place -- here's what we said:
Everyone has heard of the Heisman Trophy which is awarded to the best football player in college football each year. The Heisman Trophy is probably the premier individual award in college sports.
But, not everyone knows much about the man the award is named for: John Heisman (October 23, 1869 - October 3, 1936). Even fewer know that Coach Heisman coached in the SEC.
Picking John Heisman as the 3rd best football coach in SEC football history is a controversial pick. The reason is that he never actually coached in the SEC. He did coach current SEC member, Auburn; but that was before the SEC existed. Additionally, Heisman really earned his coaching marks while coaching at Georgia Tech.
But, I think John Heisman is perhaps the biggest name in the history of college football. What he accomplished as a founding father of the sport is unprecedented. Here's a brief summary of Heisman's career:
Most importantly for purposes of this page, John Heisman became the fifth Auburn University football coach in 1895. In five years at Auburn, Heisman had a 12-4-2 record.
So, you see, there is an (admittedly tenuous) connection between John Heisman and the SEC. But, I'm picking him as the #3 all-time SEC football coach. I'm proud to have him associated with the SEC in some way. If you have a major heartburn about it, write me a rebuttal e-mail and I'll likely publish it on the site. Tell me who you'd put in his place and maybe I'll do it.
In the hearts and minds of Tennessee Volunteer football fans, "General" Robert Neyland (February 17, 1892 - March 28, 1962) is well known. Neyland actually served in the United States Army to earn the rank that would eventually carry him onto the battlefield of the gridiron.
Before taking a position in Military Science at the University of Tennessee and becoming head coach in 1926, Neyland served as Superintendent at West Point and assistant football coach. For nine years the Tennessee football program flourished before he answered the call of duty in Panama for one year. After retiring from the military, Neyland returned to Tennessee to lead the Volunteers to an unbeaten season in 1938 and 1939.
Another tour of military service followed in 1941, where he retired for a second time in 1946. Tennessee received their beloved coach once more, claiming a National Championship in 1951. To this day, Neyland is the all-time winningest coach in Volunteer history with a career that produced 173 wins in 213 games, six SEC Championships, and four National Titles. His .829 winning percentage is tops in SEC football history and #7 all-time in college football.
Not only did the University of Tennessee name a stadium in his honor, but he also helped design the structure. And, not just any stadium, Neyland Stadium is the Best NCAA College Football Stadium. As a coach, the General was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956.
This one was easy. If I asked 100 football fans to name off the top of their head who is the top football coach in SEC history - 99 would quickly say Bear Bryant. After blurting out the Bear's name, they might then hesitate and say, "well, let me think about it." But, their first reaction would be the right one. Bear Bryant is the Best All-Time SEC Football Coach.
Paul William "Bear" Bryant (September 11, 1913 - January 26, 1983) first coached the University of Kentucky Wildcats for eight seasons. During that time, Kentucky made its first bowl appearance in 1947 and won their first (and only) SEC title in 1950. In fact, the Bear still has the best all-time record in the history of Kentucky football.
In 1958, Bryant came to Alabama and turned their football world upside down forever. It started in 1959, when Bama beat Auburn -- for the first time -- and appeared in a bowl game. Also, for the first time.
Pat Trammel talking to Bear Bryant on the sidelines in during the great 1961 National Championship season. Bama went 11-0 that year.
In 1961, Bryant coached Alabama to an 11-0 record and claimed the national championship after winning the Sugar Bowl. He would go on to bring home.
Various organizations named Bear Bryant as either National Coach of the Year and/or SEC Coach of the Year several times.
Bryant's 323-85-17 is the most wins in SEC football history and puts him #5 in all of college football history.
To top it off, Bryant earned his own postage stamp in 1996.
By the way, have you ever wondered how Bryant received the nickname, "Bear"? The answer is that as a 13-year-old, he agreed to wrestle a captive bear as part of a theater promotion.
You can read more about Bear Bryant at Bear Bryant Biography; Best All-Time NCAA College Football Coach and Bear Bryant Story.
Check out this great statistical comparison (submitted by a visitor to this site) of Bear Bryant vs. Robert Neyland at Bear Bryant vs. General Neyland.
Here's a bunch of terrific new and exclusive "Top All-Time" Southeastern Conference Coaching Statistics articles from one of our visitors, David Jones. Thanks David!!
The Florida Gators' (now former) coach, Urban Meyer, will surely be on this list of all-time SEC great coaches one day. Check out Urban Meyer: All-Time Great to find out why.
Here's an interesting story about coaching connections in the SEC. Father/Son; Coaching vs Former Coach, etc, etc. The SEC is one big family. Check out SEC Coaching Connections.
You can also read about other great college coaches at
Interested in how current SEC football coaches compare to all-time greats? Here's the answer: How Current SEC Coaches Compare to All-Time Greats?
|1942||Bill Alexander||Georgia Tech (AFCA)|
|1956||Bowden Wyatt||Tennessee (AFCA)|
|1958||Paul Dietzel||LSU (AFCA,FWA)|
|1961||Paul "Bear" Bryant||Alabama (AFCA)|
|1970||Charlie McClendon||LSU (AFCA)|
|1971||Paul "Bear" Bryant||Alabama (AFCA)|
|1973||Paul "Bear" Bryant||Alabama (AFCA)|
|1980||Vince Dooley||Georgia (AFCA,FWA,WC)|
|1982||Jerry Stovall||LSU (WC)|
|1992||Gene Stallings||Alabama (AFCA,FWA,WC)|
|1993||Terry Bowden||Auburn (AFCA,FWA,WC)|
|1998||Philip Fulmer||Tennessee (FWA)|
|2003||Nick Saban||LSU (FWA,AP)|
|2004||Tommy Tuberville||Auburn (CWC,AP)|
**AFCA - American Football Coaches Association
**FWA - Football Writers of America
**WC - Walter Camp
|1947||John Vaught||Ole Miss|
|1948||John Vaught||Ole Miss|
|1952||Bobby Dodd||Georgia Tech|
|1954||John Vaught||Ole Miss|
|1955||John Vaught||Ole Miss|
|1960||John Vaught||Ole Miss|
|1962||John Vaught||Ole Miss|
|1963||Paul Davis||Miss. State|
|1970||Charlie Shira||Miss. State|
|1975||Ken Cooper||Ole Miss|
|1983||Billy Brewer, Jerry Claiborne||Ole Miss, Kentucky|
|1997||Tommy Tuberville||Ole Miss|
|2000||Lou Holtz||South Carolina|
|2003||David Cutcliffe , Nick Saban||Ole Miss, LSU|
|2005||Steve Spurrier||South Carolina|
|2007||Sylvester Croom||Mississippi State|
We'd love to hear your comments and/or opinions. If you submit them here, other visitors can read them, rate them and comment on them. An e-mail address is not required.
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
First of all, take the quotation marks away from General Neyland, because it was his formal title. It's the same as calling him Coach or Mr. It's offensive, …
My Top 12 All-Time SEC Football Coaches
Shug Jordan shouldn't be on the list. Johnny Vaught, Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Vince Dooley, and Phil Fulmer were better. Why is John Heisman on the …
Best SEC Football Coach in History: General Robert "Bob" Neyland vs. Paul "Bear" Bryant
Lengthy but if you want to compare the 2 greatest SEC coaches, read on ... Background Robert Neyland coached at Tennessee for a total of 21 years, …
I have one question how could you leave Johnny Vaught of OLE MISS out. He won more games than Shug Jordan won!!!!!!!!! Editor's Note Johnny Vaught …
Spurrier Not a Top-5 SEC Coach
I know you'll think as a Dawg I am biased but you should ditch Spurrier in your top 5. He's only coached 15 SEC football seasons and he has about the same …
Bobby Dodd Not rated yet
ROBERT (BOBBY) LEE DODD--coach GT 1945-1966. Overall record 165-64-8,13 bowl teams-record 9-4. Only 1 of 3 men to be named to the Nat. College Hall of …
Nick Saban Not rated yet
I know he's only been in the SEC for 9 years, but he has 2 national championships (one at LSU, one at Alabama), 3 SEC championships (two at LSU, one at …
Jury's Out on UMeyer Not rated yet
It's way too early to declare Meyer a wunderkind. He coached only 1 year without Tebow and went 9-4. Reality will catch up with the kid pretty soon. …
13 sec titles for bear Not rated yet
bear won 13 sec titles, not 12. he won 12 at alabama and 1 with kentucky in 1950 (he was 10-1 that year and beat bud wilkinson's #1 oklahoma sooners in …
Don't Forget Bobby Dodd Not rated yet
Bobby Dodd 165-64-8 National title in 1952
Shug Jordan Doesn't Belong on Top 10 List Not rated yet
I still think having Jordan on this list is a joke. By the stats, I don't think he even deserves to be in the TOP 10. Good grief, Dye was better than …
John Vaught Should Make the List of All-Time Best SEC Football Coaches Not rated yet
How in the world could this list not include John Vaught. He had a 190-61-12 record, won 6 SEC titles and only had losing records to 2 coaches Paul Bryant …
Alabama vs Auburn: 1000 % incorrect information Not rated yet
"In 1958, Bryant came to Alabama and turned their football world upside down forever. It started in 1959, when Bama beat Auburn -- for the first time …