College Basketball Coaches with the Toughest Jobs in the 2014-15 Season

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2014

College Basketball Coaches with the Toughest Jobs in the 2014-15 Season

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    Former Marquette coach Buzz Williams faces a tough challenge trying to win at Virginia Tech.
    Former Marquette coach Buzz Williams faces a tough challenge trying to win at Virginia Tech.USA TODAY Sports

    It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. And get paid a healthy sum in the process.

    No college basketball job is easy, but there are some amid the 350 or so Division I gigs that just seem downright difficult, especially when it comes to programs in the major conferences. Being in such a high-profile league means there are strong expectations of success, a notion enhanced by the six- or seven-figure salaries that come with the job.

    We've identified eight coaches who, due to various circumstances, head into the 2014-15 season in seemingly a no-win situation. Victories are expected, but because of player departures (either to the NBA draft or the transfer wire), off-the-court issues or a lack of recent success, a big win total just doesn't seem realistic. The clash of those two worlds could mean for a very stressful season.

    Let's hope those big salaries also come with good health plans.

Steve Alford, UCLA

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Steve Alford's first season at UCLA has to be considered a success, as he took pretty much the same group of players that Ben Howland had from the year before and got them to the Sweet 16. There was also the Bruins' Pac-12 tournament title win over Arizona for Alford to hang his hat on.

    But now Alford must show he can win at UCLA with his own players, as he saw sophomores Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson as well as freshman Zach LaVine all leave early to enter the NBA draft. Adams had originally planned to stay, but then just before the declaration deadline he reversed course.

    The Bruins also lose 6'10" twin forwards David and Travis Wear to graduation, meaning they have to replace more than two-thirds of their minutes, points, rebounds and assists.

    Of the players who had a major impact on last year's 28-9 record, only guards Norman Powell and Alford's son, Bryce, will be back.

    UCLA has a highly rated recruiting class coming in, highlighted by 5-star power forward Kevon Looney, but all of the incoming prospects are frontcourt players. Depth issues in the backcourt will get tested early, as UCLA's non-conference slate includes possible games against Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin at the Battle 4 Atlantis as well as a visit from Gonzaga and a meeting with Kentucky in Chicago as part of the new CBS Sports Classic.

Dana Altman, Oregon

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Dana Altman has won at least 21 games in each of his four seasons with Oregon, despite a roster that's dealt with constant turnover because of incoming and outgoing transfers. But nothing could prepare him for the overhaul that's occurred already this offseason.

    The latest departures include sophomore guards Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson as well as former Providence forward Brandon Austin, all of whom were dismissed from the team on May 9 in the wake of all three being named in a rape investigation. No charges were filed against the players, but athletic director Rob Mullens determined their "conduct wasn't befitting of a University of Oregon athlete."

    Oregon, which lost a barnburner to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament's third round to end its season at 24-10, had already seen forward Ben Carter and guard A.J. Lapray announce their transfer, while key contributors Jason Calliste, Johnathan Loyd and Mike Moser had all exhausted their eligibility.

    CBS Sports' Matt Norlander charted all the transfer movement for Oregon under Altman, and the number is astounding: Including Austin (who never played a minute for the Ducks while sitting out because of his previous transfer), Artis and Dotson the number sits at 41 players who have transferred into or out of the program since 2010.

    That figure would have likely been higher, but several transfers who had previously announced they would visit Oregon canceled those plans. As it stands, the Ducks' online roster lists four players who were with the team this past season and six newcomers (two junior college transfers and four freshmen).

Trent Johnson, TCU

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    Charle Riedel/Associated Press

    Trent Johnson may have his best team yet at TCU in 2014-15, but considering how bad the Horned Frogs have been in his first two seasons, that's not hard to accomplish. Unfortunately, it still might not be enough to get TCU out of the Big 12 basement.

    The Frogs went 0-18 in conference play last season, the first team ever to do so in the Big 12 and the first to go winless in a major conference since Fordham went 0-16 in the Atlantic 10 in 2009-10. That comes after TCU went 2-16 the season before, its first since moving from Conference USA.

    TCU only loses one player who played significant minutes, while it returns its leading scorer in point guard Kyan Anderson (17.0 points per game) as well as 6'9" forward Amric Fields and 6'10" center Karviar Shepherd. Fields, who missed nearly all of the 2012-13 season with a knee injury, was limited to 18 games last year because of hand and knee problems.

    The Frogs will also get the services of three transfers who sat out last season: Former Arkansas forward Devonta Freeman, former UTEP forward Chris Washburn and former Pittsburgh guard Trey Ziegler. Junior college forward Kenrich Williams also signed to play in 2014-15.

    Regardless of the roster experience, Johnson faces an uphill battle for success in a league that was rated No. 1 overall last season and sent seven teams to the NCAA tournament.

Ernie Kent, Washington State

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    Lori Shepler/Associated Press

    After four years away from the court—but still involved in basketball, as a color analyst—former Oregon coach Ernie Kent has returned to the Pac-12 with the goal of trying to get woeful Washington State back to relevance. That's easier said than done, based on past history.

    Other than Tony Bennett, no Cougars coach in the last 20 years has managed to get them into the NCAA tournament. And Bennett bolted for Virginia not long after getting WSU into back-to-back tourneys, including a Sweet 16 appearance.

    The 2013-14 WSU team was the school's worst in more than a decade, finishing next-to-last in the Pac-12 with a 10-21 overall record and a 3-15 mark in conference play. That included five league games in which it failed to reach 50 points, lowlighted by a 25-point effort against Arizona.

    Forward D.J. Shelton is graduating, and guard Royce Woolridge is transferring, leaving guard DaVonte Lacy as the Cougars' only viable scoring option. WSU has only filled two of five roster spots at this point, so unless Kent can land some impact transfers with immediate eligibility, it's going to be another long season in Pullman.

Greg McDermott, Creighton

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    A quick check of Greg McDermott's bio on the Creighton Web site confirms that there will be no more point-machine progeny joining the Blue Jays, so the coach is going to have to look outside the family to keep his run going.

    With son Doug in tow, Greg McDermott won 107 games in four seasons at Creighton, getting into the NCAA tournament the last three years and making a successful switch from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East. But now the fifth-leading scorer in Division I history is off to compete for an NBA career, leaving McDermott in need of some major offensive help.

    It's not just his son that McDermott needs to replace, though. Four of Creighton's top five scorers are gone, with only 6'0" guard Austin Chatman and his 8.1 points per game returning from the starting lineup.

    The Jays did land a pair of solid transfers in 6'8" forward Cole Huff from Nevada and 5'10" point guard Maurice Watson from Boston University, but both must sit out the 2014-15 season. Had they been eligible right away, there might still be a chance for this team to make a fourth straight NCAA appearance; without them the NIT isn't even a lock.

Mark Turgeon, Maryland

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Mark Turgeon's seat on the bench was already going to be on the warm side in 2014-15, with no NCAA tournament appearances in three years at the school and a move to the Big Ten Conference coming up this fall. And that was before he saw four players transfer since last season ended.

    Second-leading scorer Seth Allen (13.4 points per game) was the most significant of the departures, with the 6'1" guard heading to former ACC rival Virginia Tech. Center Shaquille Cleare went to Texas, while guards Nick Faust and Rodney Peters have yet to choose their destinations. 

    Turgeon's hiring at Maryland came with a lot of expectations, as he was replacing the beloved Gary Williams. He won at least 24 games in all four seasons he was at Texas A&M, but since coming to Maryland is 59-37 with an NIT semifinal appearance in 2012-13 as his crowning achievement. He has the support of athletic director Kevin Anderson, but for how long?

    The Terps do return top scorer Dez Wells, but the loss of Allen and the others will cause depth issues and force Turgeon to play his incoming freshmen right away. That group, rated by 247Sports as the 12th-best recruiting class in the country, is highlighted by likely starting point guard Melo Trimble.

    The double dose of stress from roster attrition and a new league will make for a very tense season for Turgeon, who might be wise to stand up a lot during games rather than let the seat get too hot under him.

Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    When Buzz Williams was named as Virginia Tech's new coach, the move shocked the college basketball community. A successful coach who had established himself mightily at Marquette, the move looked like a major gamble to go from a proven winner to a place where winning hasn't come easy.

    So far, all of the moves Williams has made in the offseason show he's committed to turning around the Hokies, according to CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein, but none of that improvement is expected to happen in 2014-15.

    Williams landed Maryland transfer Seth Allen, but the point guard won't be eligible until 2015-16. He also managed to draw two of his Marquette commitments, guard Ahmed Hill and center Satchel Pierce, away from his former employer, while still holding on to guards Justin Bibbs and Jalen Hudson. Both signed with Tech last November, but with the recent trend of recruits jumping ship after a coaching change, for Williams to retain them was big.

    How much those freshmen can help this fall is uncertain, but they'll have to help fill the void left by the graduation of leading scorer Jarell Eddie.

    Then there's the matter of Virginia Tech's schedule, which to call it daunting is putting it lightly. In the unbalanced ACC the Hokies must play Virginia and Syracuse twice, while their only matchups with Louisville and North Carolina come on the road.

    While the future may look brighter at Tech, the immediate future will feature rough seas. And though Williams' contract is for seven years, don't think he gets a pass in the first season. Just ask his predecessor, James Johnson, who was let go after two seasons.

TBD Coach, Oregon State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    If we knew who Oregon State was going to have coach its basketball team this fall, we'd be able to compare this person's past coaching stops to what he faces in Corvallis. But since the Beavers fired Craig Robinson on May 5 after six seasons, all the school has done is manage to name an interim coach.

    And they didn't award that title to associate head coach Doug Stewart until Thursday, 10 days after letting Robinson go and after the rumor mill had already sucked up and spit out names like former UCLA coach Ben Howland as a possible replacement.

    Howland has reportedly withdrawn his name from consideration, according to The Oregonian's Connor Letourneau. Another rumored candidate, Arizona assistant Damon Stoudamire, told Zack Rosenblatt of the Arizona Daily Star that "there hasn't been a whole lot of dialogue" with OSU.

    Whenever the Beavers get around to hiring a permanent coach, that person may want their contract to state that the first season shouldn't be factored into job performance. That's because OSU is losing its top three scorers to graduation, its best rebound early to the NBA draft and promising freshman guard Hallice Cooke to a transfer.

    Guard Langston Morris-Walker, at 4.0 points per game, will be the team's top returning scorer.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.