The NCAA Coaching Carousel

Paul McGuillicuddyAnalyst IApril 15, 2009

BOSTON - MARCH 26:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Xavier Musketeers claps during their game against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regionals at TD Banknorth Garden on March 26, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Dare I say it almost feels like Spring.  I utter those words with some amount of trepidation, considering that I might invoke the dormant spirit of a nor’easter.  Wouldn’t be the first time that western New York endured an April blizzard.

That’s all right. Heck, it even looks like spring.  

Local work crews have started cleaning up the beach. Any day now, they’ll retire the snow fences for the season.  

The picnic benches have made their way outside from their hibernation. Pretty soon, the Ontario Beach Park will hum with the sounds of its famous carousel.

Yes, the century-old Dentzel Menagerie Carousel will open Memorial Day weekend—none too early. Built in 1905, by G.A. Dentzel of Philadelphia, the merry-go-round boasts some 52 riding animals—everything from jumping horses to standing horses, cats, mules, rabbits, ostriches, and a lion to name a few.

Thinking of these species reminds of the coaching carousel that happens every year around this time in NCAA men’s basketball. After all, John Calipari might resemble a lion.  

Now that Coach "Refuse to Lose" has ascended the ladder, it seems just a matter of time before he earns his spot as king of the jungle.  Hopefully, his mid-major stints with Massachusetts and Memphis have prepared Calipari for the expectations of Kentucky.  

At least recruits seem ready to follow Coach Cal to Lexington.  Unsigned high school kids like John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Nolan Dennis, and Xavier Henry all list Rupp Arena as a possible destination—well, for maybe a year, anyway.

That’s just the start.

Calipari’s Kentucky coup was made possible by Billy Gillespie, who turns out to be a goat. After some modest success at Texas A&M, Kentucky handed Billy Bumpkin the keys to the kingdom—granted, the university couldn’t attract their first two choices.

Nonetheless, Gillespie got his chance, but finds himself standing in "the cold Kentucky Rain…yeah yeah yeah yeah." If Gillespie is a goat, then Isaiah Thomas has to be an ostrich.  

How else would one describe Zeke getting his head out of the soil and landing at Florida International?  Guess we’ll find out who was responsible for the MSG mess. Stephon Marbury or Thomas?

Sean Miller is this year’s jumping horse.  After grazing on the fertile pasture at Xavier, the Pennsylvania native has taken off "his rainbow shades" and is headed to Arizona. 

I realize I just dated myself with the Mark Lindsay reference. This move is making more and more sense.  

Miller seemed on the verge of getting the Musketeers into the Final Four.  With Derrick Brown, Jason Love, and Jamel McLean returning, the X-Men looked ready to improve on their Elite Eight appearances of 2008 and 2004.  Miller’s departure originally seemed a head-scratcher.  

His move to Arizona allowed him to hire his brother, Archie, as an assistant.  Xavier’s nepotism policy excluded such a possibility.  

Further, Archie has been an assistant under Herb Sendek at Arizona State.  Hiring his brother should resolve any concerns Sean Miller would have for west-coast recruiting. 

Miller is not the only jumping horse.

While everyone seemed intent on Kentucky’s situation, Tony Bennett made a cross-continent gallop from Washington State to Virginia. Suddenly, the Atlantic Coast Conference just got a little bit more defensive.

Bennett’s move opened the way for Ken Bone to sneak like a cat from Portland State to Cougarville.  After leading the Vikings to consecutive 23-10 campaigns and their first-ever appearances in the NCAA tournament, Bone will tangle with the Pac-10.

Head coaches leaving allowed assistant coaches to prance like a deer into the head spot.

XU grad John Mack takes the reins at Xavier, while Tyler Geving will look to keep things going at Portland. Anthony Grant and Mark Fox bounded like rabbits into new spots.  

Grant leaves behind his successes at Virginia Commonwealth to take on the task at Alabama. Fox moves from Nevada to Georgia.

Here’s hoping the SEC doesn’t make hossenfeffer stew of them.

Still, others have made like mules and dug their heels in for the long run.

Mark Few has taken Gonzaga from a cute little Cinderella story to tournament contender. He decided that is good enough for him.

Mike Anderson proved his accomplishments at UAB were no fluke by taking the Missouri Tigers to the Elite Eight.  Instead of using the Tigers as a stepping stone, Anderson inked a seven-year deal.  Part of the agreement includes an incentive that defers $200,000 per year if Anderson stays beyond four seasons.

Pig is the only way to describe Bill Self. If Cole Aldirch and Sherron Collins stick to their guns and stay in school, Self is going to have a feast at the trough next year.

Amid all of this, Russ Pennell has to be the giraffe sticking his head up and wondering if everyone has forgotten him. All he did was fill in at Arizona and take the Wildcats to the Sweet Sixteen.

Then there are the chariots—those venerable coaches who get it done year after year: Roy Williams leading his Heels, and Tom Izzo coaching while others recruit.  Won’t be long until Jay Wright might grab a chariot ride.

Spring is here.  The carousel is in full swing.