Every SEC football coach as a member of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls
Now that we have seen 4 episodes of “The Last Dance,” it’s safe to say this is the best sports documentary in a long time. I’m not just saying that because I grew up in Illinois and fondly remember the Chicago Bulls’ second three-peat from 1996 to 1998 (though that certainly plays a part in my love for the ESPN documentary).
As I was watching Episodes 3 and 4 Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think of SEC football coaches and how they compare to members of the Bulls. Maybe that’s because I’ve been doing some “Weird Rankings” on Twitter to pass time in quarantine, but it also makes a lot of sense.
When I actually mapped out who each SEC coach would be on the 97-98 Bulls, I knew I had to write this article. So, without further ado, here are my comparisons:
Nick Saban, Alabama — Michael Jordan
This one’s a no-brainer. Saban is the GOAT of college football coaches (along with Bear Bryant) just like MJ is the GOAT of NBA players (along with LeBron James). The parallels are pretty interesting, like the fact that both have 6 championship rings.
Kirby Smart, Georgia — Scottie Pippen
Smart is definitely the Robin to Saban’s Batman, the Pippen to his Jordan. Smart is a heck of a coach and a recruiter, but he’s not quite on Saban’s level. And, much like Pippen needed Jordan to bring out the best in him, Smart’s time working under Saban at Alabama molded him into the coach he is today.
Ed Orgeron, LSU — Dennis Rodman
A grinder who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work? That can describe Coach O and Rodman. They both also have outsized, unique personalities. And, despite their eccentricities, they are both as reliable as they come and excellent people to work with.
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M — Toni Kukoc
Kukoc was the Bulls’ 3rd-leading scorer during the 97-98 season. He could carry the Bulls for stretches on offense. Much like Coach O, Saban and Smart are the current top 3 coaches in the SEC, Fisher deserves to be mentioned alongside those guys for what he’s accomplished during his career.
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee — Luc Longley
Longley was a huge part of the Bulls’ success during the second three-peat. However, he didn’t get as much attention as he deserved, in large part because he was overshadowed by the bigger personalities on the team. Like Longley, Pruitt doesn’t say much either. They both just quietly go about their business, and that’s just fine for them.
Dan Mullen, Florida — Steve Kerr
Stever Kerr’s best days in the NBA definitely came as the coach of the Golden State Warriors. As a player, he was mainly a sidekick to greatness. That reminds me of Mullen, who was an important part of the Gators’ 2 titles under Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow. But, like Kerr in 97-98, Mullen’s best days as a coach are probably ahead of him.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina — Ron Harper
Harper went viral Sunday for his comments about being switched off of MJ just before he hit the shot that sunk the Cavaliers in the 1989 playoffs. If any SEC coach was going to deliver a soundbite like this, it would be Muschamp (Warning: NSFW language):
Ron Harper was savage for this 😂 pic.twitter.com/6nUz4Qi9tx
— Jonathan Peterlin (@JPeterlin) April 27, 2020
Mike Leach, Mississippi State — Phil Jackson
Jackson was a bit of an oddball in the NBA coaching ranks with his zen teachings and hippie lifestyle. Leach clearly doesn’t have Jackson’s titles, but his personality fits the bill, as he often waxes poetic about any number of topics that happen to catch his attention on any particular day.
Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss — Scott Burrell
This clip from Sunday’s episodes says all you need to know about why Kiffin earns the comparison to Burrell. Couldn’t you just see Saban calling out Kiffin like this?
Scott Burrell never stood a chance 😂 #TheLastDance
— #RingerNBA (@ringernba) April 27, 2020
Gus Malzahn, Auburn — Jerry Krause
Malzahn is a thorn in the side of the “Big 3” — Saban, Coach O and Smart — just like Krause was the thorn to Jordan, Pippen and Rodman. Though Krause rubbed people the wrong way, he deserves credit for the work he did getting the Bulls to a championship level. Plus, much like Krause took his fair share of abuse from Bulls fans, Auburn fans often go back and forth on whether they want Malzahn around.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky — Jud Buechler
Buechler hit some big shots for the Bulls during his career, but he flew mostly under the radar. Stoops and the Wildcats are the same way, quietly doing excellent work while not getting much national attention.
Sam Pittman, Arkansas — Joe Kleine
There was an Arkansas connection with the 97-98 Bulls and that came in the form of Joe Kleine, who was at the tail end of his NBA career after starring at Arkansas during the 1980s. Kleine didn’t play in the SEC, as Arkansas didn’t join the conference until after Kleine was in the NBA. Still, since Kleine was a Hog, it’s only right to put Pittman in this spot. (Note: There was 1 SEC connection with the 97-98 Bulls. Jason Caffey was a former Alabama player. He won titles with the Bulls in 1996 and 1997, but he was traded after appearing in 51 games for the 1998 Bulls.)
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt — Bill Wennington
Wennington was the Bulls’ main backup for Longley. Since I have Pruitt as Longley above, the Mason-Wennington comparison works nicely with the Tennessee connection, as Vanderbilt is often seen as a second fiddle to the Vols in the state of Tennessee. Wennington was also a tough, hard-nosed player and that’s the kind of energy Mason brings to coaching the Commodores.
Eliah Drinkwitz, Mizzou — Randy Brown
Brown had his best moments with the Sacramento Kings before arriving in Chicago, where he got his fair share of playing time but was obviously overshadowed by the team’s superstars. He then played for the Bulls after those stars left and took on a bigger role. We’ll see if Drinkwitz can avoid being overshadowed in similar fashion now that he’s in the big-time world of SEC coaching.