Before I start, allow me to state that the article written is my own personal opinion, and I have used my own criteria. To qualify, a coach must have coached at least ten years IN the SEC. There are a lot of great coaches who will not make this list because their tenure was either in another conference, or before the formation of the conference. Some of the names who did not make the list include; John Heisman and Mike Donahue (Auburn) because their coaching career predated the SEC, Frank Broyles (Arkansas) because he coached in the SWC, and Wallace Wade (Alabama) whose career also predated the conference.
(10) – Bobby Dodd (Georgia Tech): OK, before you get all up in arms, Georgia Tech was a member of the SEC for a long period of time. During his 19 years coaching in the SEC, Georgia Tech was a major power, winning two SEC Championships and a national championship.
(9) – Pat Dye (Auburn): After Shug Jordan’s retirement, Auburn’s program hit hard times. Auburn lost nine straight games to Alabama during this period. Pat Dye was brought in to resurrect the Auburn football program, and he didn’t disappoint. In only 12 seasons at Auburn, the Tigers won 99 games, four SEC Championships, but just as importantly put the Auburn program back on equal footing with Alabama.
(8) – Johnny Majors (Tennessee): In 16 seasons at Tennessee, Majors teams won three SEC Championships, and one national championship, and appeared in eleven bowl games.
(7) – Ralph “Shug” Jordan (Auburn): Jordan was Auburn’s winningest coach, winning 176 games in his 25 seasons at Auburn. He also coached Auburn to it’s first SEC Championship, and it’s first claimed national championship. He had winning records in 22 of his 25 seasons. Four times he was named SEC Coach of the Year.
(6) – Frank Thomas (Alabama): Thomas was the first Alabama coach after the creation of the SEC. It was during his time at Alabama that they became recognized as a national power. Alabama won four SEC titles during his years at Alabama, and Alabama claims two national championships while he was a coach there. He also coached a player who would later go on to even greater coaching heights, Paul “Bear” Bryant.
(5) – Vince Dooley (Georgia): Dooley Coached Georgia to five SEC Championships and one national championship. In his 25 years at Georgia, the Bulldogs played in 20 bowl games.
(4) – Johnny Vaught (Ole Miss): During Vaught’s time at Ole Miss, he produced six SEC Championship teams, and Ole Miss claims three national championships during his tenure. During his 25 years at Ole Miss, the Rebels were a prominent national power, appearing in 18 bowls.
(3) – Steve Spurrier (Florida/South Carolina): Steve Spurrier took over the reins of a Florida squad that had never been in the national spotlight, and made a national power out of them. He won a national championship as the Florida head coach, and created a team that has been the dominant team in the SEC for a quarter century. He has gone on to take South Carolina to their first SEC Championship game ever.
(2) – Paul W. “Bear” Bryant (Kentucky/Alabama): The numbers are indisputable; Six national championships, 12 conference championships, fifth all-time in wins with 323, and 24 bowl appearances in 25 seasons!!! Bryant has a coaching trophy named after him, and had his likeness on a postage stamp.
(1) – General Robert Neyland (Tennessee): Between two tours of duty in our nation’s military, Neyland amassed 173 wins in only 213 games, giving him the greatest winning percentage in SEC history at .829. In 21 seasons, Neyland had six undefeated seasons, nine undefeated regular seasons, four national championships and seven conference championships. Neyland is recognized as the greatest defensive mind of all time. At one point in his career at Tennessee, the Vols held 17 consecutive opponents scoreless!!! In 1939, Tennessee was the last team in major college football to hold their opponents scoreless for an entire season. There may be some disagreement with my pick of Neyland as the greatest coach in SEC history, but when you look at the careers of all of the SEC coaches, taking into consideration his two disruptions of his career for military action, and Tennessee’s dominance with him on the sidelines, I don’t see anyone better than Neyland.