Now that the SEC coaching carousel appears to have come to a halt (unless in the unlikely scenario that Andy Kennedy leaves Ole Miss for Memphis), it's time to rate the coaching hires. As usual, I'll be comparing what teams got for what they lost.
Georgia: Fired Dennis Felton; Hired Mark Fox
The Dawgs, I would argue, had the most to gain with their change. Although some allowance should be given to the fact that he inherited a scandal-rocked program, I would still have to say that the Dawgs' former coach, Dennis Felton, was a failure in Athens. Felton never fielded a good team, was unable to make inroads with the state of Georgia's significant high school talent, and only kept his job long enough to suffer through the first part of 2008-09 with a freak SECT Title run last spring. Even though he started his tenure with very little to work with, he had time to show at least some improvement but was unable to do so. That being the case, anything resembling a good hire would have to be considered a potentially major improvement over Felton.
The Dawgs hoped to nab a big-name coach with success in a power conference, and AD Damon Evans appeared ready to prove his commitment to Georgia hoops when reports came out that UGA was prepared to offer big money for Missouri coach Mike Anderson. Anderson, though, opted to remain at Mizzou, and Georgia soon annouced the hire of former Nevada coach Mark Fox.
While not the home run Evans hoped for, I think this is a good hire. Fox is a proven coach with notable success in recruiting, and if he can start drawing some of the Atlanta talent to Athens, UGA could be a good team in a few years. However, the immediate future looks bleak for Fox, as he'll have to prove he can take baby steps over the first few years that he'll coach with a thin roster. I think Fox is capable of winning in Athens, but he'll have to prove he can sell his program while going through a likely losing season next year and the Georgia fans will have to be patient while he builds.
Alabama: Fired Mark Gottfried, Hired Anthony Grant
Mark Gottfried's tenure at Alabama was an odd one. Gottfried was a successful recruiter that managed to load the Tide with some of the league's best talent. His recruiting prowess led to some success in the early part of the decade, including an Elite Eight run and a brief spot at the top of the polls. Over the past few years, however, his strategic ineptitudes and inability to manage his relationship with some players led to a few seasons of extreme underachievement, perhaps the worst of which occurred in 2006-2007, when the Tide rose to the Top Five during pre-conference play only to finish the season in the second round of the NIT. Gottfried doesn't deserve all the blame for the Tide's woes, as he has had to deal with some crippling injuries over the past few years. However, he has had the rosters to make NCAAs appeances. Instead, he's been unable to win in the usually soft SEC West.
Like UGA, 'Bama was looking to make a splashy hire. Unlike UGA, I somewhat expected 'Bama to actually make such a hire, given that they have an impressive history and the roster is there for immediate success in 2008-2009. However, 'Bama went with Anthony Grant, a former Florida assistant and most recently VCU's head coach. Grant looks to be a strong coaching prospect and is still a somewhat trendy choice because people still remember VCU's stunning upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament a few years back. However, I think that, despite their stronger resources, 'Bama failed to measure up to the quality of UGA's hire. Grant is relatively inexperienced. Moreover, his coaching style is somewhat suspect from what I've seen. He basically has relied on having his conference's top one or two players for the past few years, giving them the ball and telling them to do their thing without actually teaching his team to run effective half-court offenses. That might work in VCU's league, as mid-major conferences are often won by the team that has a player or two that could start for an ACC team. In the SEC, though, it won't be enough. Grant may very well show that he's a good coach, but I think the jury is still out on him. With the money and talent in Tuscaloosa, the Tide should have done better. All of that said, I think Alabama stands to show major improvement next year; Grant should be a step up from Gottfried and the Tide, unlike UGA, have the aforementioned talent in tow for a run at the Western Division Title.
Kentucky: Fired Billy Gillispie, Hired John Calipari
I've already commented at length on this hire, so I'm not going to bore you with too much more. I reiterate, though, that this is a fantastic hire. Calipari is one of the most successful college coaches in the past twenty years, and his success has come at mid-major programs UMass and Memphis. He has proven that he can bring the best players in the country to those programs. One can only imagine that he will do even better at Kentucky. There are some concerns about his recruiting ethics and whether or not his dribble drive motion offense will work in the SEC. In regards to the first concern, no allegations have been proven and I suspect Calipari may be one of those magical recruiters that are always hounded by questions about his ability to do the impossible, namely to bring players like Derrick Rose to Memphis. In regards to the second, I think the offense will work with the loaded rosters Calipari will have at his disposal and that, if it doesn't, Calipari will adapt. This guy has coached in many contexts and isn't a one-trick pony. Verdict? Great hire.
Grade: A (Would be A+ if not for the ethical questions)
There was one other notable coaching transaction this year, Tennessee's extension with Bruce Pearl. The Vols also deserve credit for locking Pearl down after the reports of unreasonable complaints against Pearl following his first down year.