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What Eats Coaches and Spits Them Out More Viciously Than the ACC?

With Kentucky's loss to Georgia, coming on the heels of increasing anxiety in the Bluegrass State about Billy Gillispie, I'd like to take a moment to discuss whether or not we in the SEC are too tough on our basketball coaches; treating them with the level of scrutiny more suitable for offensive coordinators and athletic directors.

Considering its status relative to the Big East, ACC, Big 12, Big 10, and Pac-10, the Southeastern Conference treats its basketball coaches as if they were executing some athletic endeavor that fans actually cared about.

For all you sergeant majors in A.K.'s Army, refrain from getting hot and bothered - your face paint will run. I do not mean to relegate anyone to second-class fan status. It is, however, a widely-accepted fact that the conference's claim to football superiority (however credible or dubious) is not translatable to its basketball arenas. The SEC will never be anything but a second-fiddle in basketball and, some years, is not even in the band.

This year, we don't even seem to be at the concert.

Of course, if memory serves me correctly - and, by "memory," I mean "Wikipedia, which does - the supposed 2006 down year for the conference turned out okay. Success is not foreign to SEC basketball programs, but neither is it expected at practically every school, as it is in our football programs. Only two SEC basketball programs expect to win a national championship every now and then (Florida being a recent addition to the club). No fewer than seven football programs expect - I mean not to say ought to expect - a national championship (I'm looking at you, Razorbacks).

Despite these lowered expectations, our basketball programs still have a way of turning our head coaches into lunch meat. We certainly hope you enjoyed the ride Dennis Felton and Mark Gottfried. That's a mighty fine national championship you have there, Nolan Richardson, but we think we'll go with Stan Heath John Pelphrey. Thanks for taking that Minnesota job, Tubby; saved Kentucky a consult with the EEOC.

Billy Donovan, at the ripe old age of 43, is the dean of SEC basketball coaches, followed closely by "Slick" Rick Stansbury, who is celebrating his practically geriatric eleventh season in Starkville. Vanderbilt is the only other conference school that hired their current coach in the 1990's. Since Donovan's hiring in Gainesville, eight SEC schools have parted ways with at least two head coaches.

Even the rough and tumble ACC has at least a few head coaches with notable tenures (Gary Williams' 19 seasons at Maryland, Al Skinner's 12 at Boston College, and then there's Coach K). No one doubts that Kentucky keeps their pitchfork handy, but John Brady got fired two years after going to the Final Four. Mark Gottfried got fired because Ronald Steele couldn't keep his legs healthy.

The exception to the rule is Auburn and head coach Jeff Lebo, who couldn't have been absolutely certain of his future job prospects in January, but has held on until this, his sixth season and also his best. Even still, until 1994 only one member of the SEC had won a national title, and the second member of that club - Arkansas - had its most successful seasons while still a young member of the group. And can you guess how many Sweet Sixteens Florida had been to before Billy Donovan. I'll give you a hint - it's less than three and rhymes with "few."

My thesis, in conclusion, is this - our fans expect something that has never been, and the coaches feel the effects thereof. People can complain about the high expectations in football, and I just don't care what they think. However, when it comes to basketball, we - and I mean SEC fans, not just Ole Miss fans - ought to be more forgiving.