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Ranking SEC coaches by name recognition

ByKirk McNair Apr 2, 4:30 PM

Many years ago I was making the rounds of the Waldorf Astoria in New York with Alf Van Hoose, the late sports editor of the Birmingham News. We were there for the annual National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame induction banquet, at that time a black tie, stag affair attracting virtually all of the head coaches and athletics directors in the nation.

Prior to the banquet we were visiting various rooms hosted by the likes of ABC and Sports Illustrated. We had been to a reception in the elegant apartment of W.W. “Foots” Clements, a Tuscaloosa County native who had been a back-up end to Don Hutson and Paul Bryant at Alabama and had risen to CEO of Dr Pepper. (There are apartments in the Waldorf and Clements’ was across the hall from the widow of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.)

We planned to make one last stop before the banquet and joined a group boarding an elevator. A well-dressed woman was already on the elevator. Noting that the hotel was full of men in tuxedos, she asked if it was “some sort of football thing.”

A small man in our group replied, “Yes ma’am, it is.”

“Are you coaches?” she asked.

“I am,” the little man continued, “the coach at the school you think of when you think of college football.”

She thought for a moment and then guessed, “Wisconsin?”

That was hilarious to all on the elevator except the nice woman and Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz, well known for his vanity.

Names are dropping almost daily from those intending to make a run for President of the United States. For all but a few there is a pressing need: Name Recognition.

All major college football coaches have name recognition to some extent, at least within their own fan bases. Some extend further.

This is more than a popularity contest. The best known coaches are almost always, also, the most successful coaches, and success breeds success in terms of recruiting and fan support.

This suggestion at a ranking of the football coaches in the Southeastern Conference based on name recognition will not have a surprise ending. Nor would that be the case if this was a like ranking of college football coaches across the nation.

There is more to the name recognition derby than just winning. Dabo Swinney of Clemson gets in near the top with his two national championships, as does relative newcomer Lincoln Riley with two Heisman Trophy winners in the last two years and the addition of former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts for this season.

People are talking about former national championshiup coaches Les Miles and Mack Brown getting back in the game. Miles won his title at LSU and is now at Kansas. Brown was the championship coach at Texas and is now at North Carolina.

Jim Harbaugh, the self-promoter at Michigan, and Mike Leach, the innovative thinker on a variety of football and non-football subjects at Washington State, are well known even with relatively modest achievements.

Brian Kelly has status as the coach at Notre Dame. Location also counts for Tom Hermann at Texas.

Clay Helton at Southern Cal and Willie Taggert at Florida State are well-known, in part because of unsatisfactory results at football factories.

Lane Kiffin is evidence that you don’t have to be at football central to be well known as his interesting career has made him a point of interest, even now at Florida Atlantic.

Though not unheard of, it is perhaps unusual for there to have been no turnover in head football coaching positions in the SEC following last season. (There were five teams with new coaches last year.) Thus, it seems timely to make a ranking of SEC head football coaches based on name recognition – which somewhat parallels success. We would not presume as others do to rank coaches based on competency.

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