This Is Rank

I like Jimmy Hyams, even if he has abandoned for the most part his honorable job as a sportswriter to be a radio talk show host in Knoxville. Jimmy continues to write an entertaining and mostly thoughtful column on the Southeastern Conference for a few publications. He fell into a trap on a recent one.

There are some things journalists are not qualified to do. Truth be known, there are more things a sportswriter is NOT qualified to do than there are things he or she IS qualified to do. I don't know of more than one I would trust to change a sparkplug. The closest I have ever seen a sportswriter practice medicine is when one sportswriter seemed to have a fever. Another one got a cucumber and cut it into slices, which he placed on his colleague's forehead. "Cool as a cucumber," was the medical theory for the treatment. Fortunately, a real doctor had been called. After asking, "Who's the witch doctor?" he proceeded to cure the fever.

Another thing a journalist is not qualified to do is determine the competency of a coach, particularly in comparison to his peers. Sylvester Croom, the football coach at Mississippi State, doesn't have the same resources as Mark Richt, the football coach at Georgia. And there is no amount of money that could entice Tubby Smith to leave his job as head basketball coach at Kentucky to take the same position at Auburn.

That does not mean that Mark Richt is a better football coach than Sylvester Croom. It does not mean that Tubby Smith would win as many games at Auburn as he will at Kentucky.

And if all things were equal, still the only thing a journalist could judge about the job a coach is doing is whether or not he won a game. Then it would be fair to say he was a better coach than the coach of the losing team. Again, if ALL things were equal, which they never are.

Hyams wasn't content to have his buddies foul up just a simple ranking. At the recent SEC meetings in Destin, Florida, Hyams polled 19 media members (presumably some sportswriters and some radio talk show types and perhaps some television sportsreaders). He asked them to rank the 12 SEC schools based on the combined competency of both the football coach and head basketball coach.

Hyams was able to spot a number of problems with his poll. He pointed out that no SEC school had kept the same head football coach and men's basketball coach for more than three years.

He also wondered how to evaluate guys like Urban Meyer at Florida and Les Miles at LSU, when they have come from out-of-conference. Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss must be an even more difficult evaluation since he wasn't a head coach. The other new football coach in the SEC, Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, does have some bona fides.

The same could be said of new Tennessee Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl. Do you rate him on his victory over Alabama in the NCAA Tournament? Tennessee's last coach was hired because he had beaten Bama in the NIT, but that didn't make Buzz Peterson successful at Tennessee.

Hyams shared a couple of notes, including that the voters were often far apart. One had Mississippi State second, another had the Bulldogs last. Alabama was as high as third and as low as 10th, Auburn as high as first and as low as ninth.

Hyams noted a recent Sports News rating of Auburn Football Coach Tommy Tuberville as ninth best in the SEC. Hyams wondered how that could be, considering that Tuberville went 13-0 last year and finished second in the nation. Maybe the Sporting News fellows were looking at Tuberville's other nine years as a head coach when he lost a minimum of four games and as many as six in each of those seasons. And maybe they thought having four top NFL draft picks who stayed healthy all year had something to do with Tuberville's good coaching in 2004.

During last basketball season, a Birmingham television panel of sports reporters agreed that Auburn's Jeff Lebo was the best coach in the SEC Western Division. Did they see something I don't see?

How do you rate Alabama's Mike Shula? He came in under almost impossible circumstances, then has had the worst injury luck and SEC officiating imaginable. Hyams and his fellow voters judged the tandem of Shula and Mark Gottfried to be eighth in the SEC.

Voters seemed to have a lot higher opinion of the SEC East. The top three, four of the top five, and five of the top seven were from the Eastern Division.

For what it's worth (need I remind you), here is the ranking by the 19 media members:

1. Florida, 2. South Carolina, 3. Tennessee, 4. Auburn, 5. Georgia, 6. LSU, 7. Kentucky, 8. Alabama, 9. Mississippi State, 10. Arkansas, 11. Vanderbilt, and 12. Ole Miss.

Hyams also listed his vote.

How would I have ranked them? Uh uh. I'm not falling into that trap.

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