Best All-Time SEC Football Coach

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:

  • Number of games won
  • Number of championships
  • Winning percentage
  • Condition of football program before a coach arrived and after he left; (i.e. did he "turn the program around?")
  • Quality of resources the coach had to work with
  • Number of players drafted by the pros
  • High academic achievement (graduation numbers) and standards
  • High disciplinary standards
  • Popularity with fans/alumni
  • Popularity with players

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.

#5 -- Steve Spurrier

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.

Steve Spurrier at the Sorcerer Hat Stage during ESPN The Weekend, February 26, 2010. Thanks to Jeff Kern from 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.

#4 -- Shug Jordan

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.

#3 -- Johnny Vaught

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:

  • Played football at Brown and at the University of Pennsylvania from 1887 - 1891.
  • Coached at numerous colleges including: Auburn, Georgia Tech, Oberlin, Akron, Clemson, Washington and Jefferson and Rice Institute.
  • Turned Georgia Tech into a powerhouse with a 100-29-6 record over 16 seasons. His 1915 - 1917 teams were undefeated. During that streak, Georgia Tech outscored its opponents 1592 - 62. They beat Cumberland 222-0 in 1916. That remains the highest game score in the history of college football.
  • Football innovator. Football would not be the game we know without John Heisman. He is considered the first to have a center toss the ball back to the quarterback, rather than rolling it. He was the first coach to have both guards pull to lead an end run. This foreshadowed the famous Green Bay Packer's power sweep in the 1960's. He advocated legalizing the forward pass and dividing the game into quarters. And, he invented one of the first shifts - appropriately named the Heisman Shift.
  • A founder and president of the American Football Coaches Association.
  • Athletic Director of the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City. In 1935, the club began awarding a trophy to the most outstanding player in college football. After Heisman died, the award became known as the Heisman Trophy.

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.

#2 -- Robert Neyland

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.

#1 -- Bear Bryant

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

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.

  • 6 National Championships
  • 12 SEC Championships and,
  • 24 consecutive trips to bowl games

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?


Year Coach Team
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


Year Coach Team
1946 Wally Butts Georgia
1947 John Vaught Ole Miss
1948 John Vaught Ole Miss
1949 Gaynell Tinsley LSU
1950 Paul Bryant Kentucky
1951 Bob Neyland Tennessee
1952 Bobby Dodd Georgia Tech
1953 Ralph Jordan Auburn
1954 John Vaught Ole Miss
1955 John Vaught Ole Miss
1956 Bowden Waytt Tennessee
1957 Ralph Jordan Auburn
1958 Paul Dietzel LSU
1959 Paul Bryant Alabama
1960 John Vaught Ole Miss
1961 Paul Bryant Alabama
1962 John Vaught Ole Miss
1963 Paul Davis Miss. State
1964 Paul Bryant Alabama
1965 Paul Bryant Alabama
1966 Vince Dooley Georgia
1967 Doug Dickey Tennessee
1968 Vince Dooley Georgia
1969 Charlie McClendon LSU
1970 Charlie Shira Miss. State
1971 Paul Bryant Alabama
1972 Ralph Jordan Auburn
1973 Paul Bryant Alabama
1974 Steve Sloan Vanderbilt
1975 Ken Cooper Ole Miss
1976 Vince Dooley Georgia
1977 Fran Curci Kentucky
1978 Paul Bryant Alabama
1979 Paul Bryant Alabama
1980 Vince Dooley Georgia
1981 Paul Bryant Alabama
1982 Jerry Stovall LSU
1983 Billy Brewer, Jerry Claiborne Ole Miss, Kentucky
1984 Galen Hall Florida
1985 Johnny Majors Tennessee
1986 Bill Arnsparger LSU
1987 Pat Dye Auburn
1988 Pat Dye Auburn
1989 Bill Curry Alabama
1990 Steve Spurrier Florida
1991 Gerry DiNardo Vanderbilt
1992 Gene Stallings Alabama
1993 Terry Bowden Auburn
1994 Gene Stallings Alabama
1995 Steve Spurrier Florida
1996 Steve Spurrier Florida
1997 Tommy Tuberville Ole Miss
1998 Phillip Fulmer Tennessee
1999 Mike DuBose Alabama
2000 Lou Holtz South Carolina
2001 Houston Nutt Arkansas
2002 Mark Richt Georgia
2003 David Cutcliffe , Nick Saban Ole Miss, LSU
2004 Tommy Tuberville Auburn
2005 Steve Spurrier South Carolina
2006 Houston Nutt Arkansas
2007 Sylvester Croom Mississippi State
2008 Nick Saban Alabama
2009 Nick Saban Alabama
2010 Gene Chizik Auburn

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General Neyland 
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, …

Johnny Vaught 
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 …

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