College Basketball: Larry Brown and 10 New Coaches with Toughest Jobs Ahead

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IMay 31, 2012

College Basketball: Larry Brown and 10 New Coaches with Toughest Jobs Ahead

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    It’s never easy for a college basketball coach to take over a new program, but some situations are decidedly tougher than others. While any coach must contend with recruiting his style of players and (usually) learning the vagaries of a new conference, many of this year’s new hires also face the challenge of turning power-conference bottom-feeders into winners.

    An extreme example of that problem is the task ahead of legendary coach Larry Brown as he takes over at SMU. The Mustangs aren't even a successful program in Conference USA, and Brown is charged with leading them into the nation’s toughest conference as SMU joins the Big East in 2013-'14.

    Read on for a closer look at Brown and the rest of the 10 coaches around the country with the most daunting challenges to overcome in their new jobs.

10. Dan Muller, Illinois State

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    When Tim Jankovich left to become Larry Brown’s designated heir apparent at SMU, Illinois State turned to former Redbirds guard Dan Muller to replace him.

    He’s spent the last dozen years as an assistant under Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt, but proving he can attract recruits as the head man at a lackluster program will be a very different challenge.

    Muller’s biggest advantage is the team he inherits: the 2012-'13 Redbirds return all five starters, headlined by rising senior PF Jackie Carmichael.

    Even if Illinois State does make an NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since Muller was in the backcourt, sustaining success in one of the top mid-major conferences in the country will take a recruiting effort the likes of which this school has never seen.

9. Larry Eustachy, Colorado State

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    Colorado State is the only team on this list to make an NCAA tournament appearance in 2012, but the Rams haven’t won a game in the Big Dance since 1989.

    Even with a terrific roster in place (the top four scorers return), history says CSU will be doing well just to make it back to March Madness next season.

    New coach Larry Eustachy also brings some question marks, considering that he managed just one NCAA tournament bid in eight seasons at Southern Miss.

    At his best, he put together some impressive records at Iowa State, but that was a decade ago, and neither his recruiting pull nor his new program looks particularly impressive these days.

8. Frank Martin, South Carolina

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    No coach on this list—indeed, no coach who changed teams this offseason—comes to his new job with as much positive momentum as Frank Martin.

    In five seasons in charge at Kansas State, he won at least 21 games every year and made four NCAA tournaments behind a physical defense and the scoring of multitalented guards such as Jacob Pullen and Rodney McGruder.

    However, Martin’s own cachet is about all he has going for him as he takes over a program that hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since Alex English was a freshman in 1973.

    Martin must convince SEC-caliber recruits to join a team that’s had just one winning conference record since 1998, and even he won’t find that task to be an easy one. 

7. Jim Ferry, Duquesne

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    When the conference realignment dust settles, there won’t be a tougher mid-major league in basketball than the Atlantic 10.

    The arrival of powerhouse teams from Butler and Virginia Commonwealth—even as Temple departs for the Big East—will make for a rough road for the conference’s weaker programs, among which Duquesne (zero NCAA tournament appearances since 1977) must be numbered.

    The man charged with reversing Duquesne’s recent history is Jim Ferry, fresh off a pair of NCAA tournament appearances with LIU-Brooklyn.

    The Northeast Conference isn’t nearly as tough a place to compete as the A-10, though, and Ferry only had one winning record in his first eight Division I seasons before his Blackbirds broke through in 2010-'11.

6. Johnny Jones, LSU

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    Another former player taking over the reins of his alma mater, Johnny Jones would love to bring the Tigers back to the Final Four (where he himself appeared as a player in 1981).

    Of course, in order to do that, he has to convince recruits that his success with North Texas in the lowly Sun Belt Conference (five 20-win seasons, two NCAA tournament trips) will translate to a much bigger stage.

    LSU has its share of tradition—mostly forged by Dale Brown, who coached Jones in his playing days—but recent years haven’t been kind.

    Since making the Final Four in 2006, the Tigers have limped to an aggregate 97-95 record that included two 20-loss seasons, and that level of mediocrity will take some time for Jones to outrun.

5. Rick Ray, Mississippi State

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    For all the ups and downs of Rick Stansbury’s tenure at Mississippi State, he did post 10 20-win seasons and won a school-record 293 games.

    That’s going to be a tough act to follow, especially when the program (for all its impressive talent) has missed five of the last seven NCAA tournaments and hasn’t made a Sweet 16 since 1996.

    Compounding the difficulty is the anonymity of their new coach, first-time head man Rick Ray.

    He arrives after two years as an assistant on a mediocre Clemson team, with only his time as a Purdue assistant under Matt Painter to point to as he tries to convince recruits he can build a consistent contender in Starkville.

4. James Johnson, Virginia Tech

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    Another neophyte stepping into his first head coaching position, James Johnson spent five seasons as an assistant under the man he’s replacing, Seth Greenberg.

    Ironically, one of the knocks on Greenberg was that he’d failed to retain his assistant coaches…including Johnson, who had left for Clemson before returning to take over the top job in Blacksburg.

    Greenberg’s belated departure has already cost Johnson, who lost star freshman Dorian Finney Smith to transfer and saw prized recruit Montrezl Harrell decommit.

    Now Johnson gets to make his debut with an inexperienced team coming off a last-place finish—hardly an auspicious start as he tries to get over the NCAA tournament hump that so often foiled Greenberg.

3. Tim Miles, Nebraska

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    Tim Miles is familiar with Herculean tasks, having guided North Dakota State through its transition to Division I in 2004.

    In the Bison’s first three seasons as a D-I team, Miles coached them to massive road upsets over ranked Wisconsin and Marquette squads, and his 2011-'12 Colorado State team beat all three ranked MWC squads en route to its first NCAA tournament bid in nine seasons.

    Now Miles must take over the perennially moribund Cornhuskers in a season in which they face one of the strongest Big Ten conferences in years.

    Nebraska is 0-6 all-time in the Big Dance and hasn’t even appeared since 1998, so Miles will really need to be a miracle worker to lure high-level hoops recruits to football-happy Lincoln.

2. Larry Brown, SMU

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    On the surface, Larry Brown has a magnificent track record as a college coach, having taken UCLA to one Final Four before making two more such trips with Kansas and earning a Danny Manning-fueled national title.

    On the other hand, Brown hasn’t run a college team in 14 years, and both of his previous jobs resulted in major NCAA penalties for his school after his departure.

    Even with Brown’s famous name and the recruiting advantage that comes with it, he’ll be hard-pressed to build a contender at a Southern Methodist program that hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1988.

    The Mustangs have gone a decade without a winning record in either the WAC or Conference USA, and now Brown gets to take them up against the likes of Georgetown and Louisville as SMU moves into the loaded Big East in 2013-'14.

1. Trent Johnson, TCU

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    After claiming SEC Coach of the Year honors in 2009, Trent Johnson has gone 40-54 over the last three seasons. Now, he won’t even have the tradition of a historically solid program to fall back on.

    Johnson takes over a TCU squad that’s about to debut in the Big 12 after an 18-15 season in its Mountain West swan song.

    The Horned Frogs haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1987, and their last winning conference record came in 2000-'01—in other words, good luck, Mr. Johnson.