Mike Brey and the 10 Most Underrated Coaches in College Basketball
Last weekend’s Final Four featured a parade of big-name coaches, but not every college hoops coach has the name-recognition factor of a John Calipari or a Rick Pitino. Some of the nation’s best behind-the-bench minds aren’t getting as much credit as they deserve for the achievements they’ve piled up in their careers.
One particularly overlooked success story has been playing out in South Bend, where Mike Brey has turned the Fighting Irish from an afterthought into a consistent Big East contender in his dozen seasons. Competing in the same conference as Pitino, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun makes it tough to garner much attention, but Brey has earned more acclaim than he’s received for the job he’s done at Notre Dame.
Herein, a closer look at Brey and nine more outstanding coaches whose performances have outstripped their notoriety.
10. Mike Anderson, Arkansas
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Mike Anderson would almost certainly have made more of a name for himself by now if he would just stay in one place.
Instead, he’s jumped to his third head-coaching job in 10 seasons, leaving just as he got the right players in place to run his high-pressure, high-speed system (as Missouri just showed in winning 30 games with players Anderson recruited).
Even with his peripatetic tendencies, Anderson—a disciple of Nolan Richardson and his “40 Minutes of Hell"—has six NCAA tournament appearances (including a Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight) to his credit.
He’s a safe bet to build Arkansas’ program back to the kind of national prominence it enjoyed under his mentor.
9. Buzz Williams, Marquette
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In four seasons since becoming head coach at Marquette, Buzz Williams has made sure that the Golden Eagles wouldn’t fall off the map after losing Tom Crean to Indiana. He’s averaged 24 wins a year, no mean feat in the grueling Big East.
Williams’ success hasn’t ended with the regular season, as he’s reached the Sweet 16 in each of the last two NCAA tournaments (a feat that included last year’s upset of conference-rival Syracuse).
He’s heading into his toughest challenge yet in 2012-13, as the Golden Eagles will have to replace nearly 36 points per game from seniors Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder.
8. Blaine Taylor, Old Dominion
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Although former Montana point guard Blaine Taylor put in some fine coaching performances at his alma mater, it’s his success in his current job that earns him a place on this list.
Against the perennially tough competition of the CAA, Taylor has won a minimum of 22 games in seven of the last eight seasons.
Taylor’s Monarchs haven’t enjoyed much NCAA tournament success, though as a No. 11 seed in 2010 they did manage an upset over Notre Dame.
Even so, if Taylor catches a break or two, he’s more than capable of pulling off the kind of magical season that catapulted CAA coaches Jim Larranaga and Shaka Smart to national prominence.
7. Chris Mack, Xavier
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As the 2011-12 season began, Chris Mack looked like he might be the first coach to take Xavier to a Final Four, and since December 10 he’s been the coach who mishandled the Musketeers’ brawl with Cincinnati.
The reality for the soon-to-be fourth-year coach lies somewhere in between.
The December fight may have scuttled the high hopes for Mack's team this season, but he’s still averaged 24 wins a year with the Musketeers, making three NCAA tournaments and a pair of Sweet 16 appearances.
Whether Mack can continue to climb towards the ranks of the coaching elite will depend heavily on how Xavier weathers the loss of senior star Tu Holloway next season.
6. Sean Miller, Arizona
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An up-and-down performance in three seasons with the Wildcats has obscured the outstanding effort Sean Miller put in at Xavier.
He finished his Musketeers tenure with four straight seasons of 21 wins or better, making a Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight in that stretch.
Although his Arizona squad crumbled this season in Derrick Williams’ absence, Miller deserves his share of credit for getting an underdog team (even one with Williams) to the Elite Eight in just his second season in Tucson.
The Pac-12 as a conference is a good bet to bounce back in 2012-13, and Miller’s Wildcats—particularly sophomores-to-be and Miller recruits Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner—should be right in the thick of that effort.
5. Stew Morrill, Utah State
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There’s no doubt Stew Morrill is coming off a poor season at Utah State. This year’s 18-15 campaign, though, broke a streak of 12 consecutive seasons with a minimum of 23 victories.
Morrill has only won one game in NCAA tournament play, but he still deserves more credit for his 560-256 career record. It will be a surprise if he doesn’t bounce back and have Utah State in contention for the WAC title again in 2012-13.
4. Rick Byrd, Belmont
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Being the first coach to lead a program as it enters Division I is never an easy task.
Even tougher is holding onto that job long enough to make the same program a recurring NCAA tournament team, but that’s just what Rick Byrd has done at Belmont.
Byrd has now won 285 Division I games since 1996-97, all with the Bruins, and taken the erstwhile NAIA school to March Madness in five of the last seven seasons.
Byrd is still looking for his first win in the Big Dance, but with a program that’s still on its way up, he’s already reached more than his share of milestones.
3. Randy Bennett, St. Mary’s
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Prior to Randy Bennett’s arrival at St. Mary’s, the Gaels had played in three NCAA tournaments and won four regular-season conference titles in their entire history.
In Bennett’s 11 years, he’s added four more trips to March Madness and a pair of regular-season WCC crowns to those totals.
Bennett’s postseason numbers haven’t been quite as impressive, but he does have a Sweet 16 appearance to his credit.
As long as he can maintain the Australian pipeline whose latest product is star PG Matthew Dellavedova, Bennett will have the Gaels contending in the West Coast Conference for the foreseeable future.
2. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
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Although Mike Brey hasn’t had the NCAA tournament success of many top-tier coaches, that shouldn’t altogether overshadow what he’s done in the regular season.
Taking over a team that hadn’t made a single appearance in the Big Dance in the 10 years prior to his arrival, Brey has guided the Fighting Irish to eight NCAA tournament berths in his dozen seasons at the helm.
In that span, he’s also piled up an enviable total of nine 20-win campaigns (without a single losing record) in what’s become the toughest conference in the country.
The downside is that Brey’s Irish have just one Sweet 16 appearance in that time, but considering where the program was before he arrived from Delaware, Brey’s success has been a remarkable achievement.
1. Dave Rose, BYU
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The Mountain West and West Coast conferences may not quite be the Big East, but they’re two of the toughest mid-majors in the country on a year-in, year-out basis. That’s what makes Dave Rose’s anonymity so unfair.
Rose, who inherited a 9-21 team at BYU, has won a minimum of 20 games overall (and 12 in conference play) in each of his seven seasons with the Cougars.
His team’s fortunes rose with those of Jimmer Fredette—peaking in 2010-11 with a 32-5 mark and a Sweet 16 berth—but even with Jimmer gone, Rose’s squad posted a 26-9 record this season and won its First Four showdown with Iona in March Madness.