Donovan voted SEC's best

Billy Donovan might have trouble deciding whether he wants to coach in college or the pros, but he can coach. That wasn't always a given. Billy the Kid got criticized for not winning enough based on the talent he recruited. But that perception has changed.

Florida has won two consecutive national championships. The Gators have won three straight SEC Tournament titles.

And Donovan is now the highest paid coach in college basketball. He isn't making the $5.5 million a year offered by the Orlando Magic. But he is making an average of $3.5 million a year for seven years.

Three years ago, Donovan might not have been rated among the top three coaches in the SEC.

Now, he's a clearcut No. 1.

That's the way 13 members of the media covering the recent SEC Spring Meetings saw it. Donovan was a unanimous pick as the league's top coach.

No. 2 was Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who was listed second on 12 of 13 ballots. On the other, he got an eighth-place vote from an Alabama sportswriter. Is that another example that Alabama is a football state?

Pearl has guided Tennessee to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, won the East Division title and defeated Florida three times in four tries while the Gators were national championship bound.

The voting after that got interesting.

Kentucky's Billy Gillispie was third. He got seven third-place votes but he was ninth on one ballot and seventh on another. Gillespie is unproven in the SEC, but he did a terrific job rebuilding two Texas programs – UTEP and Texas A&M. He's also a dynamic recruiter who will upgrade the Wildcats' talent level.

Kevin Stallings of Vanderbilt is fourth. He has taken the Commodores to two Sweet 16 appearances in the past three years but he's made only two NCAA Tournaments in nine seasons. He was second on one ballot, seventh on two.

Andy Kennedy of Ole Miss, voted SEC Coach of the Year after leading the Rebels to a tie for first in the West Division, is fifth. That's too high. Kennedy might prove over time to be a top-notch SEC coach, but he hasn't accomplished nearly as much as Mississippi State's Rick Stansbury, Alabama's Mark Gottfried or LSU's John Brady.

Stansbury won the West last year after being picked fourth. He usually makes the NCAA Tournament and his teams always rank high in the league in field-goal defense and rebounding – two hustle stats. Stansbury is also an excellent recruiter. But he came in only sixth in the poll. He was voted as high as three, as low as 10 – which is absurd.

Gottfried is No. 7. He was third on one ballot, last on two. He has won the SEC and had a couple of teams make runs in the NCAA Tournament. He is also one of the SEC's top recruiters among head coaches.

Brady is one of two SEC coaches to take his team to a Final Four. He has won the SEC twice. His teams are often feast or famine. He has done a sound job of recruiting, but he's also benefited from having extraordinary home-grown talent.

Dave Odom of South Carolina and Jeff Lebo of Auburn tied for ninth. Odom did a solid job at Wake Forest but his claim to fame at South Carolina is winning back-to-back NIT titles. If he doesn't make the NCAA Tournament this year, he might get fired.

Lebo's rebuilding job at Auburn has been extensive. He's had tremendous turnover in the roster, losing about 10 players for a variety of reasons. But Auburn should be an NCAA Tournament bubble team this year. Lebo got a third-place vote.

Dennis Felton of Georgia is 11th. He was voted fifth and 12th. He's had the Bulldogs on the NCAA bubble a couple of times as he's been faced with a huge rebuilding job. Felton has recruited good guards. He's got to get more inside production.

The new kid on the block, Arkansas' John Pelphrey, is last. He did get two fifth-place votes for his work at South Alabama. Pelphrey inherits as much talent as anyone in the West, so look for the Hogs to fight for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Coach, school (first-place votes) Point total

1. Billy Donovan, Florida (13) 13

2. Bruce Pearl, Tennessee 32

3. Billy Gillispie, Kentucky 56

4. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt 60

5. Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss 82

6. Rick Stansbury, Miss. State 87

7. Mark Gottfried, Alabama 93

8. John Brady, LSU 95

9. (tie) Dave Odom, South Carolina 120

Jeff Lebo, Auburn 120

11. Dennis Felton, Georgia 126

12.John Pelphrey, Arkansas 131


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