Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Single-Wing Coach Among The Best!

The 10 Greatest SEC Coaches of All Time: Part Three
by Michael Shibley (Columnist)
August 26, 2008

This is the final part of a three-part series. Take a look at part one, and part two.

And now without further ado, the top three coaches of all time from the best football conference:

3. Steve Spurrier, Florida (1990-2001): 122-27-1 (.817 pct) & South Carolina (2005-present): 21-16 (.568 pct), six SEC titles, one National Title, named "The Swamp"

Bear Bryant once said that if Florida could ever find the right head man, watch out. And lo, in 1990 Steve Spurrier came back home to Gainesville and it has never been the same.

When Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner, came back to Florida the Gators were in the doghouse. The last two head coaches, Charley Pell and Galen Hall had both left the program in disgrace. So when Spurrier was hired, Florida fans saw it almost as if the prodigal son had returned.

By the eighth game of his 10th season as head coach, Spurrier has won 100 games, a feat accomplished faster than any other major-college coach. In all 12 seasons at Florida, his Gators would win nine games or more.

Spurrier changed the way the SEC played football. He brought his wide open "Fun 'n Gun" offense to the conference and other SEC defenses had to catch up. Spurrier was loved by Florida fans for the same reasons he was hated everywhere else, he was cocky. He was routinely accused of running up the score, something he never denied with much conviction.

In the end, Spurrier helped turn the SEC into the most powerful football conference today. The Gators were the SEC team of the 1990s, culminating in the 1996 National Title. Despite not being able to bring the same magic yet to South Carolina, Spurrier is rightfully deserving of a top three spot on this list.

2. General Robert R. Neyland, Tennessee (1926-1934, 1936-1940, 1946-1952): 173-31-12 (.829 pct), five SEC titles, two National Titles, stadium and street named

When he first got the job in 1926, the man who turned Tennessee into a football power was hired with one directive, even the score with Vanderbilt. At the time Vandy was the power in the region but Neyland put a stop to that.

Neyland, a West Point graduate who served in France in World War I, and his approach to the game reflected his military roots. He preached discipline, organization, and teamwork.

He stressed above all, defense and the kicking game. In his 216 games as head coach, 112 of them were shutouts. His 1939 Volunteers squad shut out all 10 regular season opponents scoreless, the last team to accomplish the feat. Tennessee still holds the record for consecutive scoreless quarters at 71.

The General would've won more games if Tennessee did not have to share him with the Army. Twice, Neyland was called back to Uncle Sam. However, when Neyland was leading the charge on Rocky Top, Tennessee was a national power, running off undefeated streaks of 33 and 28 games.

Neyland was also a master of gamesmanship, before the word was even invented. On October 20, 1928, the Vols played Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Tide was so heavily favored that Neyland asked Tide coach Wallace Wade if they could shorten the quarters if the game got out of hand. Tennessee halfback Gene McEver returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a TD and that led Tennessee to the upset over Alabama 15-13.

Like the General he was, only Neyland knew when he was beat. When he returned to Tennessee after World War II, the Vols were just mediocre. There were murmurings that the game had passed him by, and the single-wing offense was dead. The General never surrendered as the Vols went 11-1 in 1950 and again in 1951, and in the latter year the Volunteers were the consensus National Champions.

Neyland also never lost to the man who is Number One on this list...

1. Paul "Bear" Bryant, Kentucky (1946-1953): 60-23-5 (.710 pct) & Alabama (1958-1982): 232-46-9 (.824 pct), 14 SEC titles, 6 National Titles, stadium, street, museum named

As if there was any doubt who would be number one. After successful tenures as head coach at Kentucky and Texas A&M, Bryant returned to his Alma mater in 1958 because "Mama called."

The Bear was hard nosed, and demanded nothing short of perfection in his players. Many a talented player were left broken in the carnage because they could not take the demands set by Bryant.

Those who made it through practice sure took it out on the opposition. Under Bryant the Crimson Tide went to 24 consecutive bowl games, and this was way before you could get to a bowl with just six wins.

Bryant was able to win with the changing times, both in football and in society. Bryant's first three National Championship teams were all white; his last three integrated.

When he saw the shape of things to come, Bryant recruited and coached black players with the same old fervor and treated them all the same. Once when Ozzie Newsome was a star receiver for the Tide, Bryant was asked by a reporter how many white and colored players he had. The Bear simply said he had only football players.

Bryant was able to adapt his offense to the players he had. When he had a quarterback like Ken Stabler or Joe Namath he won through the air. When he had the material for it, he won on the ground with the wishbone. Bryant put it best in his own words, "I ain't nothing, but a winner."

No one mattered more to the state of Alabama than Paul "Bear" Bryant. When he died in 1983, mourners lined the highway was the funeral procession traveled from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham.

His spirit will live on not only in Alabama, or the SEC, but in all of college football. The late Grambling coach Eddie Robinson said it best, "As long as they kick it off, there will be something of Coach Bryant in the game."

Hope you all enjoyed reading this list, let the debating begin!

Bleacher Report

No comments: