It’s that time of year again.

You know, the time of year when I rank football-basketball coach combos in the SEC and get nothing but support in the comments.

In case you need a reminder of how I go about this, it’s a true 50-50 split. I can’t just say “well, I’d rather have Kirby Smart above any coach, so Georgia is No. 1.” That would defeat the purpose of the exercise. It would also suggest that Mike White is an elite coach and honestly, I’m not willing to put him in that group.

(See you in the comments, Georgia fans.)

This also isn’t merely a ranking of the most accomplished coaches. It’s a factor, but context is needed. How good of standing is the coach in? Did he rebuild a program? Has he set himself up for success?

I try and look at the whole picture and not just part of it. I realize that’s an inexact science. Hence, why this is my ranking and not yours.

So as we live and breathe in this first week of March 2023, here are my top 5 SEC football-basketball coach combos:

5. Hugh Freeze and Bruce Pearl (Auburn)

You can go in a lot of different directions here. I get why some would have Georgia, though I’ll explain why in a minute why that would sort of defeat the purpose of this ranking to disregard the hoops side. LSU would make a lot of sense, but given what Matt McMahon took on in the Will Wade fallout, it’s much too early to praise anything he’s done in what was always going to be a lost season.

I went with Auburn because even though Freeze is in Year 1, he still had pretty significant success at 2 programs during the Playoff era. He’s one of the better offensive minds in the sport, which we saw play out during a 34-15 run in 4 years at Liberty. Of course, Freeze’s time at Auburn will be defined by whether he can get back to the level of success he had at Ole Miss in the mid-2010s before, well, you know. It all went south because of off-field issues.

Pearl’s inclusion on this list doesn’t need a ton of explaining. As disappointing as it was to have a team with Jabari Smith Jr. and Walker Kessler not reach the Sweet 16 last season, let’s also remember that in the past 3 NCAA Tournaments that Auburn was allowed to participate in — it was ineligible in 2021 because of NCAA violations — it won at least 1 game. Pearl has 6 NCAA Tournament wins at a place that previously had 3 in the 21st century and 12 in program history. Also of note? Pearl is 1 of 3 active SEC coaches with a Final Four appearance.

4. Josh Heupel and Rick Barnes (Tennessee)

In basketball or football, did anyone make a bigger jump on the SEC coach power rankings than Heupel? I’d argue no. He beat Alabama and led Tennessee to its best season in 2 decades with the No. 1 offense in America. Disappointing South Carolina loss aside, nobody in their right mind would’ve expected the Vols to jump to 11 wins in Year 2. To do that after the Jeremy Pruitt fallout was darn impressive in every way. Heupel has the Vols in the best spot they’ve been in during the post-Phillip Fulmer era.

We know the good and the bad with Barnes. The good is the fact that once again, he’s got one of the top teams in the SEC and he figures to be favored to reach the Sweet 16. The bad is that despite those impressive regular seasons, it’s hard to ignore the fact that since Barnes led Texas to the Elite Eight in 2008, he only reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament once. That was with Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams for one of the best Tennessee teams ever. In each of the Vols’ 4 NCAA Tournament appearances under Barnes, they lost to a lower-seeded team. That changing this year could help Tennessee’s case to rise into the top 3 among SEC duos.

3. Sam Pittman and Eric Musselman (Arkansas)

I can hear the skeptics loud and clear.

“How can you rank Arkansas on this list but not Georgia?”

Well, I’ll answer that. For my money, Pittman rebuilding Arkansas after Chad Morris left it in ruins deserves immense credit. Yes, it was a disappointing Year 3. It was also still a 7-win season for a program that couldn’t come anywhere near sniffing bowl eligibility in the 2 years before Pittman’s arrival. Perspective is everything. The Hogs are still in such a better place than they were entering the decade, and for that, I give Pittman the benefit of the doubt over someone like Mike White, who inherited one the country’s better programs at Florida but basically had 1 impressive season in 7 years on the job.

Musselman would be No. 1 in my SEC basketball coach rankings even amidst a disappointing, injury-plagued season in Fayetteville. The guy still took down top-seed Gonzaga and led Arkansas to its second consecutive Elite Eight. It wasn’t long ago that the Hogs were a total afterthought in the 21st century. Now, they have a national reputation with Musselman at the helm. Even as a bubble team, they’d be one that everyone would want to avoid because of Musselman’s proven track record.

2. Mark Stoops and John Calipari (Kentucky)

In the 5 years that I’ve been doing this, Stoops and Calipari have always been No. 1 or No. 2. Yes, they got dropped 1 spot. Even though Kentucky hoops looks like it turned a new leaf down the stretch (well, until losing to Vandy on Wednesday), we’re still going to have questions about the Cats heading into March Madness, where they have yet to win a game in the 2020s decade. That has to change. Calipari might have a historic class coming in, but given their status as a preseason national title favorite entering the year, anything less than a Sweet 16 run would be considered a missed opportunity with Oscar Tshiebwe.

Stoops got knocked slightly here because while no one questions how impressive of a job it was to rebuild Kentucky, the knock on him is that stringing Top 25 seasons has always eluded him. The 2022 team was supposed to change that. But a horrendous offensive line coupled with a disappointing year from a banged up Will Levis brought UK back to earth. Having said that, Stoops is still one of the top 15 coaches in the sport and is a big reason that as long as he and Calipari are in Lexington, UK’s floor on this list is No. 2.

1. Nick Saban and Nate Oats (Alabama)

I know. It’s weird timing to praise Oats, but his Tide just clinched the SEC regular season title and and are battling for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. His rebuilding job at Tuscaloosa has been everything Tide fans could’ve hoped for and more, which was why he got an extension to become 1 of the 10 highest-paid coaches in the sport. That’s something I never thought we’d see at Alabama. A pair of regular-season conference titles in his first 4 years on the job is nothing short of remarkable. A Final Four run would only add to the notion that Oats, while under scrutiny for his handling of Brandon Miller, is one of the top coaches in the sport.

And yes, Saban just had his most disappointing regular season since 2010. It was still a top-5 finish for an 11-win team. Saban also just signed yet another No. 1 recruiting class at age 71. Maybe this is the tail end of his peak, but there’s still plenty of evidence that suggests that Alabama will be competing for national championships as long as Saban is on the sideline. How many other programs outside of Georgia can claim that? Alabama’s duo, like them or not, is worthy of being No. 1 on this list.