The top 10 SEC coaches of all time
The SEC has a long and storied history, and that extends to the men strolling the sidelines. Many of the greatest coaches of all time have called the conference home.
Who are the best SEC coaches of all time?
For our rankings, we only considered a coach’s time in the SEC. For instance, Bear Bryant’s time at Texas A&M isn’t factored in, nor is Urban Meyer’s success at Utah or Ohio State. For coaches who spent time in multiple conferences, we list just their record in the SEC, meaning we excluded pre-SEC records for coaches who were at their school before 1932, the year the SEC was formed. We’re not trying to take wins away from any coaches; we simply want to boil it down to who are the greatest coaches in the SEC’s 83-year history.
Did not qualify
- Frank Broyles, Arkansas — 149-62-6 record as head coach at Arkansas and Missouri; spent most of career in Southwest Conference; won 1964 national title and national Coach of the Year awards
- Dan McGugin, Vanderbilt — 197–55–19 record as head coach at Vanderbilt in Southern Conference and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association; won 11 conference titles
- Paul Dietzel, LSU — Also head coach at South Carolina (pre-SEC); won 1958 national title, two SEC titles, one SEC Coach of the Year award
- Bobby Dodd, Georgia Tech — 142-56-7 record while coaching in the SEC; won 1951 national title, two SEC titles, two SEC Coach of the Year awards; seventh all-time in SEC wins
- Pat Dye, Auburn — 99-39-4 record while coaching in the SEC; won four SEC titles and three SEC Coach of the Year awards
- Johnny Majors, Tennessee — 116-62-8 while coaching in the SEC; won 1976 national title and three SEC titles
- Les Miles, LSU — 103-29 while coaching in the SEC; has won one national title and two SEC titles
10. Urban Meyer
School: Florida, 2005-2010
Record in SEC: 65-15, 36-12 (SEC games)
Accolades: Two national titles (2006, 2008), two SEC titles (2006, 2008),
Meyer’s run in the SEC was the shortest of any coach on this list, but boy, was it brilliant. In just six seasons in Gainesville, he won two national titles, two conference titles and three divisional crowns while also producing a Heisman winner and one of the greatest college players of all time in Tim Tebow. Meyer’s exit from Gainesville was messy and controversial and he didn’t leave the program in great shape, but there’s no questioning the terror he reigned down on the SEC with his spread offense and nasty defenses.
9. Phillip Fulmer
School: Tennessee, 1992-2008
Record: 152-52, 96-33
Accolades: One national title (1998), two SEC titles (1997-98), national and SEC Coach of the Year (1998), nine 10-win seasons, six seasons ranked in top-10 in final poll, sixth all-time in wins among SEC coaches
After 13 years as an assistant, Fulmer took over for Johnny Majors midway through 1992 and almost immediately turned Tennessee into an annual national powerhouse. He won 10 or more games in five of his first six full seasons, capping that run off with a national title in 1998 (the year after Peyton Manning graduated, no less). After a few mediocre years, Fulmer pulled off another run of three 10-win seasons in four years from 2001-04. Fulmer began to lose control of the program toward the end of his tenure, a dip that the Volunteers have only recently begun to pull out of, but he led the school to the highest points it had reached in more than two decades.
8. Frank Thomas
School: Alabama, 1931-46
Record in SEC: 98-21-7, 56-15-3
Accolades: Two national titles (1934, 1941), four SEC titles (1933-34, 1937, 1945), 1945 SEC Coach of the Year
Thomas was Alabama’s first coach once the SEC was formed, and he helped steward in one of the earliest sterling eras in program history. A quarterback at Notre Dame under Knute Rockne in the 1920s, Thomas won two Rose Bowls while at Alabama and had a penchant for smoking cigars on the sideline. Among the greats Thomas coached is Bear Bryant, who we’ll get to later on this list.
7. Ralph “Shug” Jordan
School: Auburn, 1951-75
Record: 175-83-7, 99-65-4
Accolades: One national title (1957), one SEC title (1957), four SEC Coach of the Year awards (1953, 1957, 1963, 1972), fifth all-time in wins among SEC coaches
Jordan went head-to-head with Bear Bryant for his entire career at Auburn, coming away with a national title and four Coach of the Year honors in an era dominated by the Tigers’ in-state rivals. He coached one Heisman winner at Auburn, Pat Sullivan, and also coached the Tigers basketball team, leading them to a winning record in his tenure (a feat as impressive as any on the football field). Jordan was a three-sport star in football, baseball and basketball as a student at Auburn, and Jordan-Hare Stadium is partly named after him. Prior to his time as a coach, he fought in World War II, storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
6. Vince Dooley
School: Georgia, 1964-88
Record: 201-77-10, 104–42–4
Accolades: One national title (1980), six SEC titles (1966, 1968, 1976, 1980–82), five-time SEC Coach of the Year (1966, 1968, 1976, 1978, 1980), third all-time in wins among SEC coaches
Dooley belongs to Jordan’s coaching tree, having both played and coached under him at Auburn. After his coaching career was finished, Dooley remained at Georgia for another quarter century as an athletics administrator. A former Marine, Dooley’s coaching was influenced by his military background. Among his accomplishments, Dooley began his career 3-0 against Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd and was named the first Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year in 1976.
5. John Vaught
School: Ole Miss, 1947-70, 1973
Record: 190–61–12, 106–39–10
Accolades: Three national titles (1959-60, 1962), six SEC titles (1947, 1954–1955, 1960, 1962–1963), six-time SEC Coach of the Year (1947–1948, 1954–1955, 1960, 1962), fourth all-time in wins among SEC coaches
Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979, Vaught led the Rebels to the greatest era in school history. Ole Miss’ stadium was renamed in his honor in 1982, and for good reason. Vaught led the Rebels to an SEC championship in his first season, then led the team to five consecutive top-five finishes in the polls in the late-1950s and early-1960s. He coached legends like Charlie Connerly and Archie Manning. In the penultimate season of his initial run with the team, Vaught and Manning led the Rebels to a Sugar Bowl win.
4. Steve Spurrier
Schools: Florida, 1990-2001; South Carolina, 2005-present
Record in SEC: 206-72-1, 131-48
Accolades: One national title at Florida (1996), six SEC titles at Florida (1991, 1993-96, 2000) seven-time SEC Coach of the Year (1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2005, 2010), second all-time in wins among SEC coaches
One of the greatest players in Florida history, Spurrier won a Heisman as quarterback for the Gators, then returned to lead his alma mater on the greatest run in school history, bringing the “Fun ‘n Gun” offense to the SEC and regularly hanging 50-plus points on opponents in The Swamp, a nickname he coined. After a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, Spurrier returned the SEC with South Carolina. He led the Gamecocks to three 11-win seasons earlier this decade, as well as an SEC East title in 2010. The offensive innovator is the all-time wins leader at both Florida and South Carolina.
3. Nick Saban
Schools: LSU, 2000-04; Alabama, 2007-present
Record in SEC: 139-33, 78-23
Accolades: Four national titles (LSU in 2003, Alabama in 2009, 2011-12), five SEC titles (LSU in 2001 and 2003, Alabama in 2009, 2012, 2014), two-time AP Coach of the Year (2003, 2008), three-time SEC Coach of the Year (2003, 2008-09)
There’s little question that Saban in the best SEC coach of the BCS era. He’s won national and SEC titles at both LSU and Alabama, and if he keeps winning games at this rate he’ll easily reach the top 5 in wins for SEC coaches by the end of this decade. A masterful recruiter and motivator, Saban helped lay the foundation for LSU’s current run as one of the best programs in the nation, and he restored Alabama to national powerhouse status. With the recruiting dynasty he’s established at Alabama, there’s little reason to think his run of coaching dominance will end any time soon.
2. Robert Neyland
School: Tennessee, 1926-34, 1936-40, 1946-52
Record: 112-29-7, 62-15-5
Accolades: Four national titles (1938, 1940, 1950–51), five SEC titles (1938–40, 1946, 1951), four-time SEC Coach of the Year (1936, 1938, 1950–51)
A United States Army veteran, General Neyland is the greatest figure in Tennessee athletics history, with the Volunteers’ football stadium named in his honor. There’s a strong argument for Neyland as the greatest SEC coach ever, including the fact that finished his career with a 5-0-2 record against Bear Bryant (although all of those games came while Bryant was at Kentucky). Neyland’s Tennessee teams posted six undefeated seasons, at one point held 17 straight opponents scoreless and, in 1939, pitched a shutout for the entire regular season (although they suffered a shutout in that season’s Rose Bowl loss to Southern California), the last team to achieve that feat. Seven of Neyland’s football maxims are still recited every game in the Tennessee locker room, proving that his influence extends far beyond his passing in 1962.
1. Paul “Bear” Bryant
Schools: Kentucky, 1946-53; Alabama, 1958-82
Record in SEC: 292-69-14, 150-46-9
Accolades: Six national titles at Alabama (1961, 1964–65, 1973, 1978–79), 14 SEC titles (1950 with Kentucky, 1961, 1964–66, 1971–1975, 1977–79, 1981 at Alabama), 12-time SEC Coach of the Year (1950, 1959, 1961, 1964–65, 1971, 1973–74, 1977–79, 1981)
You’ll be hard-pressed to come up with many names more synonymous with SEC football than that of Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. A national champion as a player at Alabama, Bryant returned to the SEC as a coach at Kentucky after beginning his head coaching career at Maryland. He led the Wildcats to a host of firsts, including their first bowl appearance and first SEC title. After a stint at Texas A&M, where he coached future coaching legend Gene Stallings, Bear went home to his alma mater and established himself as arguably the greatest college coach of all time. The Crimson Tide had three undefeated seasons under Bryant, 11 unblemished SEC seasons and made a bowl game in his final 24 seasons. On top of his remarkable record, Bryant spawned one of the largest coaching trees in sports history, with more than 40 former assistants and players going on to head coaching careers.