Winning isn't everything.
Eight years ago, South Carolina's Dave Odom was voted SEC basketball coach of the year by his peers. His Gamecocks finished 8-8 in the league, tied with three other teams for the third-best record.
In 1992, Lon Kruger's peers voted him coach of the year. Florida went 9-7. Four other teams did better.
Two years earlier, Auburn's Tommy Joe Eagles shared the honor with Georgia's Hugh Durham. Durham's Dogs won the league. Eagles' War Eagles finished 8-10.
In 1980, Kentucky's Joe B. Hall hoisted the team championship trophy. Bob Weltlich of 9-9 Ole Miss hoisted the coach of the year trophy.
All of which suggests there is precedence for Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin to be recognized for the outstanding job he's done with the Vols in his first season.
Picked to drag home anywhere from eighth to 12th, Tennessee, with a win today over Vanderbilt, would finish 10-6 and likely claim the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament next week in New Orleans.
Even if the Commodores prevail, the Vols will check out at 9-7, far surpassing anyone's expectations.
Especially if the Vols celebrate a win today before a packed house at Thompson-Boling Arena, Martin has a strong case for coach of the year.
It would take a special circumstance, something out of the ordinary, to deny him.
And that's the problem.
John Calipari has done something special.
It's one thing to be picked to win the SEC and then win it. If that's all Kentucky had accomplished this season, it would be easier to make a case that some other coach might have done more with less.
The Wildcats, however, have gone beyond SEC criteria. They're one Indiana buzzer-beater from being
undefeated on the last weekend of the regular season.
I hear you: Kentucky was supposed to be good and Tennessee wasn't. I hear you: If Martin had Calipari's players he'd win the SEC title, too.
But Calipari should get credit for assembling those players. Coaches aren't evaluated merely on their ability to attack a 2-3 zone. Recruiting is a big piece of the equation, maybe even the biggest.
And like him or not, Cal has coached up this team. Starting three freshmen, Kentucky leads the nation in field-goal defense and ranks in the top 15 in rebounding margin, field-goal percentage and scoring offense.
Still, anyone who knows basketball must applaud Martin's work. If the coach of the year vote should go his way, he could accept it with head held high.
From where the Vols have come since December — or even January — to now is a tribute to a clear vision and a steady hand.
"We weren't very good at the beginning of the year,'' said point guard Trae Golden, "and now ... it shows our resilience as a team. It shows how great Coach Martin is.''
He has indeed done a great job. It was an award-winning job, barring an extraordinary accomplishment by one of his peers.
This year, there was.