One of the biggest developments in the SEC this offseason was the star power added to the league’s coaching ranks, as no fewer than three programs added a head coach with an impressive pedigree. Mississippi State hired Ben Howland, a man who led UCLA to three straight Final Fours from 2006-08 and has won conference titles in the Big Sky, Big East and Pac 10/12. Tennessee quickly ended its tumultuous relationship with Donnie Tyndall and added a coach with a Final Four to his name as well (plus three Sweet Sixteens and two Elite Eights) in Rick Barnes. And after swinging and missing on Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Alabama was nonetheless able to win the press conference by hiring Avery Johnson, a former NBA Coach of the Year who led the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006. Florida didn’t make a splashy hire, but the Gators replaced its legendary coach with Louisiana Tech’s Michael White — no stranger to the SEC after playing and coaching at Ole Miss.
Of the four, Howland and White are poised to have the biggest impacts this season. For Howland, this is in no small part because of the situation former Bulldogs’ head coach Rick Ray left him. It would have been more than understandable had Mississippi State stuck with Ray for at least another year. His three-year results weren’t great, but there had been incremental improvement: The Bulldogs won six SEC games under him last year (his highest total) and were poised to return a strong and experienced core that he had recruited and developed. But as cruel as it was for Ray to lose on the chance to continue building his program, it’s refreshing that Mississippi State strived for more — the type of ambition the league needs if it wants to raise its national profile. Howland arrived in Starkville and delivered right away, signing Jackson native Malik Newman (Rivals’ #8 overall prospect) away from the likes of Kentucky, Ole Miss and LSU.