10 Veteran College Basketball Coaches in Low-End Jobs

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2012

10 Veteran College Basketball Coaches in Low-End Jobs

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    Larry Brown is the poster child for journeyman coaches everywhere. He's had success almost everywhere he's been, but the situation is never quite ideal.

    Many coaches don't leave on their own terms the way Brown usually does, though. A coach whose job looks like a dream job one year can wake up two years later and decide that his situation has mutated into a nightmare. Or worse, someone else above him makes that decision for him.

    These 10 coaches have tasted NCAA tournament success, each having made at least one Sweet 16 appearance. For a variety of reasons, those jobs have evaporated, and each coach now finds himself at a lower rung of college basketball's proverbial ladder than where he achieved his greatest success.

    Another Sweet 16 trip in these guys' current positions would qualify as a monumental coaching job.

    (Coaches are presented in alphabetical order.)

John Brady, Arkansas State

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    John Brady's most successful seasons read like anomalies on his overall coaching CV. In his third year at LSU after replacing longtime boss Dale Brown, the Tigers reached the 2000 Sweet 16 behind NBA lottery pick Stromile Swift.

    Six years later, another pair of future pros, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tyrus Thomas, staged an improbable run to the Final Four, which was a place LSU had not reached since 1980. Once Thomas and Davis left, though, the Tigers' descent into irrelevance waspardon the punswift.

    Less than two years after the Final Four trip, Brady was fired from LSU. His unemployment only lasted about six weeks, however, as Sun Belt member Arkansas State was quick to hire him for their vacant position.

    In 20 seasons as a head coach, Brady has amassed four 20-win seasons, but this past year at ASU was his first 20-loss year. His career .549 winning percentage has taken some hits since coming to Jonesboro.

Ben Braun, Rice

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    Ben Braun knows something about the Cinderella story. His Eastern Michigan Eagles made the Sweet 16 in 1991. He then repeated the feat in 1997, his first year at Cal after replacing the disgraced Todd Bozeman.

    Braun seems to have Rice on an upward trajectory, with senior forward Arsalan Kazemi seeking his third All-Conference USA selection and the team reaching the quarterfinals of the 2012 CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Remember, this is still a program only four years removed from a 3-27 sleepwalk.

    Still, the Owls haven't made an NCAA tournament appearance since 1970, and their odds won't markedly improve until next year, when C-USA colossus Memphis bails for the Big East. By then, Braun's ability to replace Kazemi will determine the program's direction.

Larry Brown, SMU

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    Larry Brown's resume is certainly lengthy and varied. The only man to win titles in both the NCAA and NBA was a natural hire for an SMU program looking to create some buzz as it heads for the Big East in 2013-14.

    Brown will, however, need to show that the program is moving into a power conference on its own merits, not just because it happens to be located in one of the nation's top five media markets. This is, after all, a program whose greatest basketball export may be Jon Koncak.

    SMU hired a staff full of noted recruiters and even added a coach-in-waiting because, in the end, this is Larry Brown. He averages two-and-a-half years in a job. The Mustangs have only had one winning season since 2003, and don't be surprised if Brown adds to that total quickly.

    Conversely, don't be surprised to see him walk out the door if he doesn't.

Mike Davis, Texas Southern

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    The SWAC's record book is not easy to access, but it's a safe bet that Mike Davis will be the first coach in that league to have also coached in an NCAA championship game.

    Tagged with the "interim" label at Texas Southern, Davis appears to inherit one of the league's stronger rosters, as he returns last season's top five scorers.

    What remains to be seen is whether Davis can steer a team in a one-bid league into the NCAA tournament after only eking out a First Four spot in six years at UAB. Even his 2002 NCAA runner-up at Indiana came in with a plain 20-11 record, then caught fire in March.

    Davis may be finding his level with TSU, or he could be simply rebounding for another kick at the mid-major can. Either way, he and Texas Southern may both be hedging their bets with an "interim" title, and that's usually no good for anyone.

Cliff Ellis, Coastal Carolina

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    Of the coaches who have slid out of major-conference jobs into a lower-profile league, Cliff Ellis may have landed most solidly on his feet. Given his history with the NCAA, however, he may not get the opportunity to ascend the ladder again.

    At Coastal Carolina, Ellis has won two regular-season Big South titles, recorded a pair of school-record 28-win seasons, and reached postseason play three years in a row.

    Unfortunately for Chanticleers fans, he's also called down NCAA scrutiny, much like his previous stops at Auburn and Clemson. He left both schools under a bit of a cloud after making a pair of Sweet 16 trips at Auburn and one at Clemson.

    The investigation into CCU investigated allegations by a dismissed former player that newcomers to the program were receiving illegal inducements to transfer to Coastal. That inquiry was closed, but that elusive NCAA bid that seemed within reach in 2011 was lost due to leading scorer Desmond Holloway being suspended by the NCAA.

    With the Big South's NCAA representative decided in a few days in March, Ellis remains a threat to get his fourth school into March Madness any year. Don't hold your breath waiting on that fourth Sweet 16 trip, though.

Tim Floyd, UTEP

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    Tim Floyd started his coaching career as an assistant to legendary UTEP coach Don "The Bear" Haskins, then came full circle more than 30 years later, returning to El Paso as the boss.

    In between, he won 20-plus games three years in a row at Iowa State, and remains the only man to do so. He led both Iowa State and USC to the Sweet 16 but, like Cliff Ellis, an investigation into illegal recruiting practices followed him out the door in Los Angeles.

    Floyd will lead a young Miners team in 2012-13, with nine of his 13 players being underclassmen and only one senior. With so many freshmen and sophomores, UTEP could be in a great position to benefit from Memphis leaving Conference USA next year.

Mike Jarvis, Florida Atlantic

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    Mike Jarvis took George Washington to the Sweet 16, then went to the Elite Eight with St. John's. He was the very rare Big East coach to be fired in midseason, getting canned in December 2003 for a string of off-court incidents among his players. It took four years for him to find his way to Boca Raton, where many 60-somethings go to retire.

    Jarvis went to Boca to coach, though, ending up at Sun Belt member Florida Atlantic. He took a team from six wins to a regular-season division title and NIT berth in just three seasons.

    Unfortunately, the team slumped to 11 wins last season and watched two of its best players leave. Point guard Ray Taylor inexplicably went pro and forward Kore White used his graduate transfer option to move to South Florida.

    In an interview with FAU's University Press, Jarvis seemed to pin blame for the difficult 2011-12 season on a "very selfish team." With a large group of incoming players, he'll have only his own eye for talent to blame if the team still can't compete in the Sun Belt.

Trent Johnson, TCU

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    Before the comment thread blows up with things along the lines of "Duh, TCU's in the Big 12 this year, dufus," rest assured that this writer is well aware. This writer is also well aware that TCU has made two NCAA tournament appearances in more than 40 years. TCU's football program is dragging basketball into the Big 12 by its proverbial hair, because the school has no basketball tradition to speak of.

    It is this perfect storm into which Trent Johnson steps. Johnson led Sweet 16 teams at Nevada and Stanford, but both of those teams featured future NBA players. TCU hasn't had any of those since Lee Nailon in 2001.

    A roster that struggled to be consistently competitive in the Mountain West lost its top two scorers as it heads into a league led by schools like Kansas, Texas and Iowa State. Johnson has a solid resume, but the first year or two in Fort Worth will get ugly. If any program will look like it fits the term "low-end," regardless of conference affiliation, it may be TCU.

Jeff Jones, American

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    Jeff Jones led teams to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 at his alma mater, Virginia. Unfortunately, three straight losing seasons in ACC play and some off-court issues led the school to dismiss him in 1998.

    At American, Jones has won 160 games in 12 years, 98 of those in the last five. He's led the Eagles to four regular-season Patriot League titles and two NCAA tournaments.

    His career seems inextricably tied to the Virginia/DC area, as he was a rumored candidate to replace Jim Larranaga at George Mason. He was even being batted around as a potential interview for UVa's archrival, Virginia Tech. He may return to a power conference job one day, but it may take American pulling an upset or two in March to make him a serious candidate.

Dan Monson, Long Beach State

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    Gonzaga wasn't a great program when Dan Monson arrived as an assistant in 1988, but when he left in 1999 after two years as head coach, Spokane was a college hoops hotbed.

    Fresh off the 1999 Elite Eight run, Monson went to Minnesota, but could only manage one NCAA tournament game in seven-plus seasons. He landed at Long Beach State and proceeded to lay a 6-25 egg.

    In the last two seasons, however, Monson's 49ers have rolled the Big West to the tune of a 29-3 conference record. LBSU actually earned a 12 seed to the 2012 tournament, the Big West's best since LBSU carded another 12 in 2007, the year before Monson arrived.

    With four of his top five scorers, including three All-Big West selections, graduating, Monson has to integrate a host of transfers with returnees James Ennis and Michael Caffey. Unless the chemistry absolutely fails, however, the road to the Big West title may still go through the Beach.