Oh, so you want to compete in football AND men’s basketball? Good luck. There’s a reason why Florida is the only program in America with a title in both sports in the 21st century. Even crazier, of course, was the fact that it happened in the same year.

Once upon a time, an athletic director’s dream would’ve been hiring Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan as a packaged deal. Knock those hires out of the park and you’re set. No disrespect to the non-revenue generating sports, but let’s be honest here. Football and men’s basketball hires often define an athletic director in the SEC.

That’s why I like to do this exercise every year.

The exercise is simple — hire the conference’s best packaged deal. For the sake of this argument, both carry equal weight. For example, I can’t put Georgia in the top 5 because that would include Tom Crean. On the flip side, I can’t just put Auburn in the top 5 because that would include Bryan Harsin.

That doesn’t necessarily mean both coaches need to be at Donovan-Meyer levels of dominance. Spoiler alert: nobody is. But there are definitely some SEC programs who have separated themselves from the pack.

These are the top 5 SEC football-basketball coaching duos I’d want to hire if I was an athletic director:

5. Josh Heupel and Rick Barnes, Tennessee

This spot nearly went to Texas A&M. But I’d argue both Jimbo Fisher and Buzz Williams disappointed while Heupel exceeded expectations and Barnes has a team that looks like it’s peaking at the right time with potential Elite 8 upside.

Let’s start with the Heupel end of this. Seven wins isn’t exactly “feels like ’98” stuff, but considering that he took over a team with dozens of transfers in the fallout of the Jeremy Pruitt era, I’d argue that posting a top-10 offense with one of the nation’s better quarterbacks was darn impressive. Heupel might have a limited ceiling if he can’t replace some of the Pruitt era defensive players who stuck around, but the Vols have legitimate momentum and appear to have one of the top offensive minds in the sport — he’s got 4 consecutive top-10 offenses — running the show.

Barnes, on the other hand, has his team rolling. Coming off a disappointing ending to the 2020-21 season in the 5-12 first round matchup, his team has on the brink of a 3-4 seed having only lost 5 games since that dreadful offensive showing in the Jimmy V Classic. Barnes hasn’t been past the Sweet 16 in 14 years, but there’s still a lot to like with a coach who hasn’t had a losing SEC record since 2016-17 and has been to 25 (!) NCAA Tournaments.

Tennessee athletic director Danny White has one of the more favorable situations in the league with Heupel and Barnes both locked in for the long term (probably).

4. Brian Kelly and Will Wade, LSU

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — LSU athletic director Scott Woodward makes bigger splashes than Ham Porter from “The Sandlot.” So there was no doubt that he wasn’t going to hold back when it came to replacing Ed Orgeron. Kelly is, by all accounts, a top-10 coach in the sport. He’s probably more like top 7. And if you claim that a lack of Playoff wins disqualifies him from that distinction, perhaps you missed the part where only 6 programs have actually won a Playoff game.

You’re not supposed to be able to hire a coach in good standing with multiple Playoff berths. LSU (and USC) did that. Long term, that’ll pay dividends for the Bayou Bengals.

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Online sports betting has come or is coming to many southern states. Residents of states where legalized sports betting exists can bet on things like the Heisman race, SEC football games each week and more... all right from their mobile device.

As for the hardwood, look, we can all acknowledge that Wade’s track record has a pretty obvious blemish. But we’re 3 years removed from his good you-know-what offer getting leaked. Given the recent developments with NIL, Wade might’ve had a little less public backlash than he could’ve. That’s not to say he shouldn’t be held accountable. That’s part of this ranking.

Lost in the shuffle of a wild year on LSU’s campus was the fact that Wade somewhat quietly got LSU to a Round of 32 game and went blow-for-blow with No. 1 seed Michigan. If LSU can win an NCAA Tournament game this year, it’ll be the third time in 4 seasons that happened. LSU hasn’t had a 4-year stretch with such an occurrence since the Jimmy Carter administration.

As much of a roller coaster as it’s been at times at LSU in the last 3 years, there should actually be a whole lot of stability in Baton Rouge with Wade and Kelly in charge.

3. Sam Pittman and Eric Musselman, Arkansas

A New Year’s 6 Bowl appearance and/or a Final Four.

Oh. I assumed you asked the question “what would it take for Pittman and Musselman to move into a top-2 spot on this list?” That’s it right there. It’s not such a wild possibility like it was a short 2 years ago. What a year 2021 was for the Hogs. Musselman led Arkansas to its first Elite 8 of the 21st century while Pittman led Arkansas to its best season in a decade.

Here’s a thought. This is the list of Elite 8 programs who also had top-25 finishes in football in 2021:

  • Arkansas
  • Baylor
  • Michigan
  • Houston

That’s some pretty elite 2-sport company.

(Arkansas fans would be quick to point out that if you bump it out to all sports, you’d be hard pressed to find a more successful athletic program running right now.)

Think about how quickly Hunter Yurachek’s hires worked out. In Year 2, Pittman got Arkansas back to a Florida bowl game and tripled the Hogs’ win total from Year 1 (with 3 more games, but still). The guy coached in his first game as an FBS head coach just 17 months ago, back when the goal was simply trying to give Arkansas its first SEC win in over 1,000 days.

And Musselman might not have had the deck stacked against him as much as Pittman, but let’s not forget that he inherited a program who hadn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 1996. With the way he built the roster through the transfer portal, Musselman now feels like his team should reach that point on an annual basis. Arkansas hasn’t even won an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive years during the 21st century. Now? Those expectations have skyrocketed, and understandably so.

I’ll continue to believe this is what Yurachek’s Saturday nights consist of:

2. Nick Saban and Nate Oats, Alabama

Don’t be upset, Alabama fans. I think Alabama and Kentucky are pretty interchangeable for those top 2 spots. This is really more about what Kentucky did this school year as opposed to anything Alabama did.

But yeah, I don’t need to sell you on Saban’s G.O.A.T. status. Getting his team to its 6th national championship berth in the Playoff era is truly an absurd accomplishment. His 2021 team, I’d argue, had more holes than those previous 5 who reached a Playoff era title. Nobody outside of Tuscaloosa will give Saban credit for that, but it’s worth mentioning. Of course, it doesn’t change his standing as the No. 1 choice for any college coaching vacancy ever.

Oats will never be the big man on campus as long as Saban is around, but the impressive thing about his 2020-21 season was that a Sweet 16 felt like a disappointment. Never mind the fact that it was the program’s first Sweet 16 in 17 years. Oats swept the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament. That hadn’t happened in Tuscaloosa since 1987 … when Oats was in middle school.

It’s been a bit of a letdown season for Oats’ encore, but at the same time, would anybody be surprised if the Tide pulled off a massive upset in the Round of 32? I wouldn’t think so. The Tide certainly have that upside, even if it has been completely unpredictable.

Are there 5 coaching situations that are better than Alabama’s in the 2 big revenue sports? I certainly don’t think so. Shoot, there might even be 3 that are better.

But there is 1 better in the SEC …

1. Mark Stoops and John Calipari, Kentucky

For the second time in 3 years, Kentucky is No. 1 on this list. Why did the Cats’ duo get the edge over Alabama this time around? Well, this school year really pushed it over the top.

On the gridiron, Stoops led Kentucky to a 10-win season. For the second time since the aforementioned Jimmy Carter administration, the Cats had a winning record in SEC play. Both of those seasons, of course, were under Stoops’ leadership. We watched Stoops totally overhaul his offense with an out-of-the-box offensive coordinator hire in Liam Coen, who led Kentucky to its best offensive season in 14 years. Stoops moved closer to “statue” status with another banner year in Lexington.

Speaking of total overhauls, remember when Calipari was the one-and-done guy? Like Stoops, he also adapted with the times and got away from a previous model. Now it’s about veteran transfers and non-lottery picks running the show. As a result, Kentucky is in position for a 1-seed. Sure, we’re projecting here, there’s legitimate hope that Cal is knocking on the door of title No. 2.

There’s a reason why this is the conference’s longest tenured duo (2013), and it’s really not even close. The second-longest tenured SEC duo? Crean and Kirby Smart (2018), and we all know that’s not for long because of Georgia’s dreadful hoops season.

There’s a legitimate chance that Stoops and Calipari will both retire as the best coach in their respective program’s history at Kentucky. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart nailed his 2 biggest hires and never let them get away.

Now, he’s as blessed as they come.