Five Most Important SEC Football Coaches

Last week on the radio we batted around the question as to who were the five "best" football coaches in SEC history. Interestingly enough, every caller (and yours truly) has the same top two but there was a wide variety of opinion on the other three with eight coaches getting mentioned for those slots.

It got me thinking not about the "best" five as my question has addressed, but the most important and/or influential coaches the league has seen. As with most of my lists this will favor more recent coaches, but to be fair that's as it should be. The SEC didn't really establish itself at the top of college football until recently.

As I tried to consider the application of the word "important" the main factors other than success were innovation, impact and difficulty of their accomplishments.

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Robert Neyland #5 ----- The General coached the Tennessee Vols in three separate stints and was able to win SEC Championships in three different decades. He is still the school's winningest coach, although based on his braggadocio you'd think Lane Kiffin was. Neyland was an innovator with his single wing offense, so in a way he served as a mentor for Urban Meyer.

Johnny Vaught #4 ----- Don't tell this coaching legend you can't compete in Oxford. Vaught coached Ole Miss to six SEC titles between 1947 and 1963. No Ole Miss Coach had won an SEC Title before and none as won one since. He also brought Archie Manning to Ole Miss.

Pat Dye #3 ----- Dye did the impossible at Auburn. He made the Tigers better than Alabama. Dye was an old school coach, much like the legend across the state, and his timing was impeccable, taking over at Auburn just two years before The Bear retired. Dye won 99 games at Auburn and brought home three SEC Titles. I rank him this high because of the difficulty of making Auburn a better program than Alabama for about a decade.

Steve Spurrier #2 ----- They said it was cute that this Gator gunslinger had won the ACC Title at Duke, but throwing the ball more than half the time could never work on the rough and tumble SEC. The SEC was too physical and the only way to win was to run the ball, or so "they" said. Well Spurrier proved that theory wrong in his first year when the Gators scored 48 against Pat Dye's fourth-ranked Auburn squad. Spurrier led Florida to its first "official" SEC Title and ended up winning six "official" titles He tied Vaught and Vince Dooley for the second most conference crowns, but don't tell him he only won six – The Head Ball Coach counts that 1990 team too.

Paul "Bear" Bryant #1 ----- He didn't have to prove you could win at Alabama. Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas had already proven that. But he did have to rebuild the Crimson Tide and in doing so won 13 SEC Titles in Tuscaloosa in a 22 year period (1961-81) which is remarkable. Alabama lost just 46 games in his 25 seasons at the Capstone. Bryant also won an SEC Title in Kentucky in 1950 which is undeniable evidence of his sideline greatness.

When the Sporting News recently ranked the top 50 coaches of all time Bryant finished third, trailing only John Wooden and Vince Lombardi.

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I would be remiss without mentioning the men who would have been the next two on my list. Vince Dooley was a superb coach for the Georgia Bulldogs and won or shared six SEC Titles in his 25 seasons. I didn't put him in the top five for two primary reasons. Three of his six titles were shared. That's one reason, but the biggest was he had Herschel Walker for three years and won/shared three SEC Titles. In his other 22 seasons he only topped the league three times.

The seventh guy would have been Urban Meyer and again there were two main reasons. Meyer has won a pair of BCS National Titles; something no other coach has accomplished in the BCS era. Meyer also, like Spurrier proved critics wrong by winning in the SEC with an offense that was too cute for this league. Four years from now, I suspect he cracks my top 10 and probably the top three.


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