Being a mid-major program coach in college basketball is one of the toughest sports jobs in America, but for the ones who work hard and catch a break, it can lead to NCAA glory and a better job ahead.
Brad Stevens of the Butler Bulldogs went from an unknown entity to one of the most sought-after coaches in the country. He opted to stay in the Horizon League, but could've jumped to the spotlight if he wanted to.
Major-conference coaching positions open up every offseason, and the cream of the mid-major crop get a chance to get hired to their dream job.
Which of today's mid-major coaches will become major-program coaches in the near future? Here's a look at the top candidates.
Milwaukee Panthers coach Rob Jeter has everything a college hoops program could want in a young prospect.
He's 42 years old, has experience coaching in a major conference as an assistant with Wisconsin, and he has brought his mid-major program to the top of its league.
Jeter has the Panthers primed to win the Horizon League, and they are taking care of business against mid-major foes. Milwaukee's only losses were competitive games against tough opponents.
The 2011 Horizon League Coach of the Year will surely draw interest from top-tier schools in the coming offseasons.
Scott Sutton has the mid-major success and the family pedigree worthy of major-level coaching.
The 41-year old son of coaching legend Eddie Sutton has led Oral Roberts to three recent NCAA Tournament spots, but this year could be the year that his Golden Eagles make enough waves for him to get serious job offers.
Oral Roberts is currently tops in the Summit League, and they've already beaten the likes of Xavier and Texas Tech.
A couple more wins like that in March could make Sutton a hot commodity in the coaching ranks.
When the Iona Gaels hired Tim Cluess, they knew they were getting a coach with championship-level experience.
Cluess led Division II C.W. Post to the D-II Elite Eight and then to the ECC championship game. After coming to Iona, Cluess made the Gaels a legitimate force in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
He knows how to make a team an offensive juggernaut; his Iona squad leads the country in assists and can fill up the hoop at an alarming rate.
Cluess dominated as a high school coach, a Division II coach, and now he's cleaning up in the mid-major scene. Major programs seeking a coaching change should be confident he'll be able to do the same for them.
Mark Few has an excellent gig as the head coach of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, but there will always be offers from elite schools.
Few turned Gonzaga from NCAA darlings into consistent contenders and West Coast Conference champions. The school's identity is now tied to basketball thanks to Few's success.
His teams are always disciplined on both ends of the floor, and he's been able to land increasingly prolific recruits.
Few could end up staying in Spokane, but if the right job opens up at a marquee major-conference school, he could make the jump to a premier national program.
He might not get great offers this year, but within the next couple of years, Central Florida Knights head coach Donnie Jones will get looks from top-notch programs.
His signature wins this season are against Charleston, Connecticut and Memphis. The Knights are contending for the Conference USA crown and will be a dangerous team in the big dance.
Jones took the Marshall program from mediocrity to the top-half of the conference, and now he's made Central Florida a team that can compete with anyone.
How the Knights do this postseason will determine how soon Jones becomes a star.
This is Dave Rice's first year at UNLV, but the Rebels' leader is already showing that he can win against major-conference opponents.
He followed up his shocking upset of Roy Williams' UNC Tar Heels with wins against Illinois and California.
Rice has his UNLV squad firing on all cylinders, attacking the glass and knocking down high-percentage outside shots. They will be perennial Mountain West contenders if he stays at the school for an extended period of time.
If not, he could be gone to even greener pastures within the next 2-3 years.
Dan Hurley, brother of Duke legend Bobby Hurley, has gone from the high school sidelines to coaching against top programs such as Pittsburgh.
Sure, the Wagner Seahawks' win over the Panthers is the highlight, but Wagner has consistently taken care of Northeast Conference opponents and other mid-major challengers.
Wagner is second in the Northeast Conference at 14-3, but they're not going to settle for second place. They'll challenge for the league title and a spot in the national tournament.
Hurley is only in his second season at the helm of the Seahawks, but by the time his third or fourth year comes along, NCAA powers will be calling for his services.
Larry Eustachy's inglorious exit from Iowa State made it hard for anyone to believe he would have a chance at coaching major college basketball again.
Now in his eighth year at Southern Mississippi, Eustachy has brought the program back from the dead. They went from Conference USA whipping boys to contenders under his direction, and he could be moving on up soon.
With almost 400 career wins, Eustachy has the skills to lead a premier program. His triumphs over South Florida, Ole Miss and Arizona State this season show that he can still win against major-conference foes.
He knows how to guide a team with a balanced attack, and he'll be getting calls from more than one big program in the near future.
Dan Monson's success at Gonzaga in the late 1990's landed him a shot at a Big Ten job in Minnesota. More than a decade later, the Long Beach State head coach may get a shot at a major program job.
In his fifth year with the 49ers, Monson has brought the program from the cellar of the Big West in 2007 to national prominence this season. Their gradual substantial improvement shows his recruitment and competitive prowess.
Wins over Pittsburgh and Xavier and close losses to Kansas and North Carolina served notice that Monson and company may be a bracket-buster come March.
If Long Beach does make noise in the tournament, expect Monson to get several sweet offers from major programs.
At each of his Division I coaching stops, Tim Miles has significantly improved the basketball program. His latest job as head coach of the Colorado State Rams might be his most impressive one.
When he took over at Fort Collins, his first year was a 7-25 disaster. But he quickly made them a .500 ballclub, and soon after that they were contending for the Mountain West title, as they are this season.
He's 45 years old and has just the right combination of youth and experience you need to take over a major Division I program.
A birth in the NCAA Tournament would lead to plenty of interest in Miles over the next few offseasons.
These mid-major leaders are under long-term contracts and are going nowhere soon:
Brad Stevens, Butler Bulldogs
Greg McDermott, Creighton Blue Jays
Shaka Smart, Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Steve Alford, New Mexico Lobos
Steve Prohm, Murray State Racers
David Carter, Nevada Wolf Pack