Who’s the best coach/manager in the Atlanta/Athens sports market? Who’s the worst? (Who was the worst ever? Eddie Haas, then Bobby Petrino. But I digress.) And now we rank:
1. Mike Smith, Falcons: His Falcons haven’t had a losing season, have made the playoffs four times in five tries and just put to rest the notion that they couldn’t win in the postseason. That said, Smith hasn’t taken the Falcons to the Super Bowl, and last season he had a few goofy moments: not going for two against New Orleans; not running the clock down before the winning field goal against the Seahawks and, most egregiously, the confusion over the subsequent kickoff. Grade: A-minus.
2. Mark Richt, Georgia football: He has righted a program going wrong, which not many coaches ever do. The knock on Richt is the same as on Smith: He hasn’t won the big one. Until/unless he does, he’ll hear questions — as happened after the SEC Championship game — as to whether he can. Supporters will say his Bulldogs came within a tipped pass of beating mighty Alabama in one of the finest college games ever played; detractors will insist Georgia should have spiked the ball. Grade: A-minus.
3. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves: Bobby Cox’s successor has a better winning percentage (.565) as Braves manager than Cox himself (.557). Like Cox, Gonzalez runs a placid clubhouse. Like Cox, he goes to great lengths to make excuses for his players, which his players like. Fans complain that the Braves don’t bunt enough, and sabermetric types gripe that Craig Kimbrel should be deployed earlier, but the bottom line is that the team has replaced a Hall of Famer without a decline in performance. Grade: B-plus.
4. Ron Hunter, Georgia State basketball: He inherited a moribund program and gave it a pulse. The Panthers were 22-12 his first season, a not-bad-considering 15-16 in Year 2. Better still: They were an aggregate 21-15 in the Colonial Athletic Association, which takes — or at least took — the sport seriously. Georgia State is set to begin play in the Sun Belt and should have a fine backcourt with R.J. Hunter, the coach’s son, and Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow. Grade: B.
5. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech football: The Yellow Jackets were 20-7 his first two seasons; they’re 21-19 since. The easy answer is to say that opponents have cracked the code of his stylized offense; pesky numbers suggest otherwise. Over the past three seasons, Tech has finished second, first and fourth among ACC teams in yards gained. True, Johnson hasn’t found a defense to match — perhaps Ted Roof will change that — and recruiting has been tepid. But here we ask: Given the Jackets’ modest talent, is it a credit to coaching that they win as much as they do? Grade: B.
6. Larry Drew, Hawks (at least for the moment): He has done solid work without quite delivering on the platform that landed him the job. Having served under Mike Woodson, Drew convinced ownership he could take the team higher. He has won one playoff series; Woodson won two. In three seasons under Drew, the Hawks’ winning percentage — .557 — is the same as in their final three seasons under Woodson. Still, credit Drew for holding the Hawks together without Al Horford for most of 2011-12 and with a roster of transients last season. Grade: B.
7. Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech basketball: His two seasons here have been predictable. The first (11-20) was hard to watch. The second was better (16-15) and included a road upset of ACC champ Miami. Year 3 needs to yield 20 victories and at worst a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble. Unclear is whether the young Jackets can handle the rigors of a beefier conference. Grade: C.
8. Fred Williams, Dream: He became head coach (and general manager, too) after Marynell Meadors was fired midway through last season following a dust-up with star Angel McCoughtry. The Dream went 7-3 under Williams, who had been Meadors’ assistant for four years. They were eliminated in Round 1 of the playoffs by champ-to-be Indiana. The Dream reached the WNBA finals the previous two seasons. Grade: C.
9. Mark Fox, Georgia basketball: Held in high regard within the industry, he has managed one winning season and one NCAA appearance in four years. The best players he inherited — Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie — entered the NBA draft as juniors, which didn’t help. Likewise Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the only major signee of Fox’s tenure, just left. Even with KCP, the SEC player of the year and a possible lottery pick, the Bulldogs were 15-17 last season. Grade: D.
10. Lewis Preston, Kennesaw State basketball: Yes, he stepped into a difficult job. But 6-55 difficult? Grade: F.
Trent Miles, Georgia State football: Athletic director Cheryl Levick did well when hiring Hunter, a coach based at a smallish school in Indiana who had never worked in the South. Hiring a football man of a similar background — Miles coached Indiana State, his alma mater, the past five seasons — seems an iffier choice. Grade: Pending.
Brian Bohannon, Kennesaw State football: This made geographic sense. To guide a start-up program, AD Vaughn Williams picked a Griffin native who played at Georgia and who worked under Johnson at Georgia Southern and Tech. With the Jackets, Bohannon’s recruiting base was, conveniently enough, Cobb County. Grade: Pending until 2015.