Ranking the 5 Best College Basketball Coaching Hires from the Last 5 Years
In the college basketball landscape, players come and go every season.
Sure, there are program-altering superstars that bring home a national title a la Carmelo Anthony for Syracuse or Anthony Davis for Kentucky, but it is the coaches that are the constants.
The only way to remain among the nation’s elite is to have a solid leader at the helm. Every coaching decision is critical, and the right one can elevate a program while the wrong one can set it back years.
With that in mind, read on to see the five best college basketball coaching hires from the past five seasons.
No. 5: Buzz Williams, Marquette
Tom Crean built a successful program at Marquette, and it was going to take an impressive hire to keep it going after he left for Indiana.
The Golden Eagles came through when they gave Buzz Williams a call.
They have been in the NCAA tournament all five seasons that Williams has been at the helm and are a regular among the Top 25 polls every season. Crean made it to the NCAA tourney five out of nine years with the Golden Eagles, although a Final Four was mixed in.
Marquette also earned a split of the Big East regular season title in 2012-13, which was a notable feat considering one of the teams it shared the crown with was eventual national champion Louisville. It ended the season in the Elite Eight, which was a step up from the two Sweet 16s in the previous tournaments.
The Golden Eagles are a lock to win more than 20 games every year under Williams. As long as he continues to win at the clip he has, this hire will look better with each passing season.
No. 4: Sean Miller, Arizona
The turnaround job that Sean Miller has done at Arizona isn’t quite on the same level as that of Tom Crean at Indiana, but it is still impressive nonetheless.
In Miller’s first season, the Wildcats finished a disappointing 16-15, missed the tournament entirely and clearly had plenty of growth ahead of them. However, in the three years since, Miller has led his squad to an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16 while keeping Arizona among the game’s elite in the Top 25 polls.
With the way Miller recruits, he has established the Wildcats as the best team on the West Coast. Despite massive roster turnover this offseason, they will once again be favored in the Pac-12. Miller only counts one Pac-12 conference crown to his resume, so he would certainly like to take advantage of his status as the favorite this year.
Look for him to do just that.
No. 3: Tom Crean, Indiana
Frankly, Tom Crean inherited a mess at Indiana after Kelvin Sampson texted away one of the best jobs in the country.
It was very apparent to anyone that watched the Hoosiers in Crean’s first season that there was serious work to be done. They finished an abysmal 6-25, but in every subsequent campaign, there has been improvement in the Hoosiers' record to the point where Crean’s squad finished 29-7 and won the Big Ten title last season.
Crean may rub some people the wrong way with his sideline antics and general pettiness after a loss (see his altercation with Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer last year or the amount of time he takes to get to the media room for his press conference following losses), but the turnaround job he has orchestrated in Bloomington is truly incredible.
Despite the lack of a national title, the Big Ten has been one of the best leagues in the country the past five years, so it’s not as if Crean has led this revival against easy competition. Look for Indiana to continue its resurgence.
No. 2: Shaka Smart, VCU
It’s not every day when an athletic department hits a home run with a coaching hire, but that is exactly what VCU did when it brought in the energetic Shaka Smart to lead its basketball program.
In four short years as the head man at VCU, Smart has won 27, 28, 29 and 27 games, with the Rams taking home the Colonial Athletic Association tournament in 2012. He also led VCU to a second-place finish in the new-look Atlantic 10 last season.
Perhaps you may remember that time that he happened to captain one of the most exciting and impressive Cinderella runs in NCAA tournament history in 2011, when VCU went all the way from the four “play-in games” to the Final Four. Many national pundits didn’t even believe the Rams belonged in that tournament in the first place.
Despite offers from more prestigious programs, Smart has decided to continue building a winning tradition of his own at VCU. Whether or not that will always be the case remains to be seen, but the Rams will continue to be March regulars as long as Smart is still in charge.
No. 1: John Calipari, Kentucky
For as much as Kentucky-haters like to sneer at the Wildcats' NIT loss to Robert Morris last season, there is very little debate as to who is the best college basketball hire in the last five years.
John Calipari is in the midst of an incredible run at Kentucky. He already has a national title, Elite Eight and Final Four under his belt and is bringing in one of (if not the) best recruiting classes in the history of the sport.
The fact that he seems to do it every year with a new cast of characters only reinforces his ability to adapt and maximize the talent on his squad.
The Wildcats could very well be ranked No. 1 in the country again to start the 2013-14 season, which would put Calipari in a position to reach the Final Four for the third time in five years at Kentucky. For context, Rick Pitino led Kentucky to the Final Four in three of his last five seasons in Lexington.
As long as Calipari continues to recruit at the level he has, the Wildcats will be fixtures atop the college basketball world.
Follow college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.