College Basketball Coaches Whose Stock Is Soaring Early in 2013-14
The profession of coaching in any sport is alternately described as a ladder, for those who are moving up to bigger jobs, or a carousel for those who are moving out of their current positions. College basketball is no different.
Early in the season, some programs defy expectations and get out to hot starts. Some are merely a byproduct of a pathetic early schedule (see 7-1 Utah), but others herald the arrival of a new NCAA tournament contender. The coaches who engineer such successes become intriguing prospects for struggling power-conference programs in need of a fix.
These eight coaches—presented alphabetically—are either blazing out of the gate or are continuing a recent trend of success. Either way, their names may come up in conjunction with bigger jobs soon.
All records and stats through games of December 9. Stats courtesy of StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.
Tad Boyle, Colorado
Tad Boyle became the first head coach to take Colorado to consecutive NCAA tournaments since Sox Walseth pulled off a pair in 1962 and '63. No man has ever managed three straight, but Boyle's poised to do just that in 2014.
The Buffaloes' buzzer-beating victory over Kansas—Boyle's alma mater—touched off a court storm that visually confirmed CU's status as a high-level basketball neophyte. Boulder was long dominated by talk of the school's football team, but that program has been mired in mediocrity for close to two decades.
Boyle built a program out of nothing at Northern Colorado before coming to Boulder. One season after his arrival, he was forced into another fresh start when CU bolted the Big 12 for the Pac-12. A staff built to recruit Texas had to abruptly change gears and recruit California instead.
The program succeeded wildly when it landed California guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker in the class of 2011. Santa Ana forward Xavier Johnson followed in 2012.
Boyle is a Colorado native who has repeatedly debunked rumors linking him with other jobs, including Texas A&M, Nebraska and Kansas State. It will take a truly spectacular offer to sway him elsewhere. Others will continue to try, however, as Boyle is fast approaching elite status in his profession.
Jerod Haase, UAB
Jerod Haase's former mentor, Roy Williams, was driven to tears after Haase's UAB Blazers knocked off Williams' North Carolina Tar Heels 63-59 on December 1. The two men share a lengthy past, with Haase playing for Williams at Kansas and then spending 12 years as an assistant, both at KU and UNC.
"It was hard for him, and it was hard for me," Williams said of the postgame handshake and conversation between the two coaches, reported by the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer. "(You’ve) got to feel some pride in what he’s doing."
What Haase is doing is putting UAB back on the map after some boring basketball in Mike Davis' final few seasons. The Blazers are one of the top rebounding and perimeter defense teams in America, and their tempo has increased by eight possessions per game over Davis' final year according to Pomeroy (subscription required).
Aside from the North Carolina win, UAB also came close to springing an upset on New Mexico in the Charleston Classic. The Lobos needed last-second three-pointers to force two overtimes, and only then were they able to put the Blazers away. To its credit, UAB came back with a win over Nebraska the next day.
Haase's pedigree makes him one to watch all season long, especially as UAB wades into an increasingly crowded Conference USA. The Blazers are certainly a contender in that 16-team league, and they have ingredients in place to make them a tough out should they reach the NCAA tournament.
Johnny Jones, LSU
Let's preface this by saying that the odds of another job luring Johnny Jones away from LSU are slim. He's a former player who helped the Tigers to a Final Four under Dale Brown in 1981. He's on the far side of 50. He's already got a power-conference gig, and one that could turn into a consistent winner immediately.
That last point, however, is exactly why true blue-blood programs may want to make a run at Jones should an opening somehow occur.
He's rebuilt the talent level in Baton Rouge practically overnight, landing hyped prospects like Jordan Mickey and McDonald's All-American Jarell Martin. Talented big man Elbert Robinson joins the program next season, and Jones has beautifully mined Australian connections to land a verbal commitment from 2015 forward Ben Simmons of Melbourne.
Jones is working the kind of recruiting mojo not seen at LSU since John Brady landed All-Americans Brandon Bass, Glen Davis and Tasmin Mitchell from 2003-05.
The results so far are promising. The Bayou Bengals sit at 5-2, with the losses coming to top-20 squads from UMass and Memphis. LSU recovered from the defeat by those other Tigers to knock off Butler and salvage third place in the Old Spice Classic.
Jones put together five 20-win seasons at North Texas, which gives an indication that he can thrive even with limited resources. Flush with SEC football cash, LSU's resources can't reasonably be called limited.
If this is the year LSU snaps a four-year tournament drought, Jones' recruits will need to play a big role. Tiger fans shouldn't need to worry about him bolting, but he's putting together classes that will make ambitious ADs want to try.
Derek Kellogg, UMass
It's been almost 15 years since the UMass Minutemen fielded a nationally ranked squad. That 1998-99 squad was only ranked for a minute before plummeting down from the high of the John Calipari era.
A former point guard who helped Calipari lead UMass to the Elite Eight in 1995, Derek Kellogg took some time to rebuild the program, suffering through three losing seasons. The team won 46 games in Years 4 and 5 but still didn't make an NCAA tournament.
Year 6 is starting off hot, as the Minutemen stand 8-0 and boast wins over LSU, New Mexico, Clemson and BYU. A team completely built on players that Kellogg recruited has improved with experience. The eight-man rotation features five upperclassmen, including All-Atlantic 10 point guard Chaz Williams.
While Williams (Hofstra) and shooting guard Derrick Gordon (Western Kentucky) are transfers, the rest of the roster has been assembled from the high school ranks. It takes continuity for a program to begin attracting the kind of players its coach wants, and that's a lesson often lost in the win-now culture of today's sports industry.
Competing at the upper levels of the A-10 will offer plenty of chances to reach March Madness, so prying Kellogg free from his alma mater might take a once-in-a-lifetime offer. Plus, the loyalty that UMass showed in standing by its man is very likely to be repaid by the coach. Still, it's worth a phone call if Kellogg keeps this fast start going and sends UMass roaring into the tournament.
Steve Masiello, Manhattan
Earlier, we alluded to former Rick Pitino assistant Kevin Willard parlaying one decent season at Iona into a Big East coaching gig. Steve Masiello should get an opportunity to travel a similar path if his season goes as expected at Manhattan.
The Jaspers struggled last season after losing star guard George Beamon to an ankle injury in November. Expected to contend for the MAAC title, Manhattan had to reinvent itself as a lockdown defensive team. To their credit, Masiello and the Jaspers fought to the MAAC Championship Game, where they held go-go Iona to one point per possession in a three-point loss.
With Beamon back, this year's Manhattan club is balancing Beamon's offense and a ferocious interior defense led by senior forward Rhamel Brown, one of the nation's best shot-blockers. The Jaspers own road wins over La Salle, Illinois State and Columbia.
A pair of home losses raise only slight concern, since the opponents were Atlantic 10 members George Washington and Fordham. The latter needed a 30-point night from talented freshman Jon Severe to salt away the victory.
Masiello played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky and worked as an assistant at Louisville, giving him a similar career path as Roy Williams disciple Jerod Haase of UAB. Now, Masiello needs only a defining upset like Haase got over North Carolina or a tournament run a la Andy Enfield at Florida Gulf Coast. The first isn't happening on this season's schedule, but the second shouldn't be ruled out.
Archie Miller, Dayton
Dayton hasn't been out of the national spotlight for as long as UMass has, but a brief cameo in the AP Top 25 was the Flyers' first in about four years. For coach Archie Miller's next trick, he's out to end the school's five-year NCAA tournament drought.
Miller bounced through four assistant coaching jobs (Western Kentucky, NC State, Arizona State, Ohio State) before landing at big brother Sean's side in Arizona. Two years there, and Dayton came calling with a big chair all Archie's own.
In Miller's third year, the Flyers have started fast, picking up a win at Georgia Tech (coached by Miller's Dayton predecessor Brian Gregory) and defeating Gonzaga and Cal at the Maui Invitational. The Flyers led their semifinal game against Baylor for all but 16 seconds, but they were unfortunately the final 16.
Dayton has played only one postseason game in two years under Miller, completely missing all the tournaments last season. That's unlikely to happen again, unless the Flyers completely collapse from here. A strong performance in the Atlantic 10 can always lead to a tournament berth and from there, anything can happen.
Leon Rice, Boise State
Boise State has been to only six NCAA tournaments in its history and has never won a game. It's a school more known for football, complete with blue turf, anti-BCS rabble-rousing and running backs proposing to their cheerleader girlfriends after epic bowl wins.
With football coach Chris Petersen bolting for Washington, it's now basketball coach Leon Rice's campus. In his fourth year, Rice is seeking only the second pair of back-to-back tournaments in BSU's history, and it would be surprising if his veteran team didn't get it done in this season's slightly depleted Mountain West.
The Broncos haven't played a brutal schedule yet this season, but the difficulty is about to ratchet up with a trip to Kentucky, a visit from St. Mary's and the always-taxing journey out to Hawaii. Winning two of those three will put Boise firmly on the national map, especially if Rice's crew of shooters can get the job done against Kentucky's freakishly athletic group of freshmen.
Rice just signed an extension that takes him through 2018, but there are solid programs in locations much more scenic and more attractive to top high school talent than Boise, Idaho.
Michael White, Louisiana Tech
Michael White won 45 games in his first two seasons as a head coach, giving Louisiana Tech its first back-to-back winning seasons since the turn of the 21st century. The last time the program reached an NCAA tournament? That was 1991, before nearly all of the current Bulldog players were born.
White was a successful point guard at Ole Miss in the late 1990s, helping the program to its first-ever NCAA tournament win. His father, Kevin, has been an athletic director at various schools including Arizona State, Notre Dame and his current post at Duke. College basketball is in White's blood.
Last season's Tech team was a WAC co-champion but missed the big dance after a stunning first-round conference tourney loss to Texas-San Antonio. Tech did regroup well enough to knock off Florida State in the NIT before falling to Southern Miss in Round 2.
The chance for redemption must come in Conference USA. The newly expanded 16-team league lacks a marquee program with Memphis gone to the American, but there is no shortage of willing applicants.
If White can prevail in battles with notable C-USA coaches like UTEP's Tim Floyd, Southern Miss' Donnie Tyndall or Middle Tennessee's Kermit Davis, he'll draw interest from programs looking for his blend of energy and ambition.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron. Now playing: Poll Dancing, TBI's official Top 25 rankings.
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