Ranking the Best Coaching Changes of the 2014 College Basketball Offseason
Every year, college basketball analysts sign on for the unenviable task of tracking the game's coaching changes. We stick to the cliche "coaching carousel" despite the fact that the whole process has sped up to ludicrous levels.
How does "coaching centrifuge" sound? Outside of the elite coaches, everyone else is hanging on by their fingernails anyway, so the term seems rather apropos.
At least 40 to 50 jobs are guaranteed to change hands every season considering that Division I has more than 350 programs in it. This year, 39 teams have hired new bosses and three—Florida A&M, Mississippi Valley State and Montana—are still looking.
These are the 20 schools whose hires look the best in these heady early days before anyone knows how their new coaches will handle those little things like recruiting or in-game adjustments in their new jobs.
20. Tennessee State
New coach Dana Ford's first assistant coaching job was at TSU, where he helped draw Tiger stars Robert Covington and Patrick Miller to Nashville. He then spent a year at Wichita State, where he helped recruit current star point guard Fred VanVleet. His eye for talent will help him as a head coach.
19. North Dakota State
David Richman has been an assistant at NDSU for 11 years, a span that has produced seven of the top 16 scorers in Bison history. He's worked under three coaches who were in the 2014 NCAA tournament: Greg McDermott, Tim Miles and Saul Phillips.
18. Appalachian State
Longtime Davidson assistant Jim Fox heads less than two hours northwest to take over an Appy State program headed for the Sun Belt. Fox lost a solid talent, but may have helped his status with future recruits, when he released point guard Devonte Graham from his letter of intent after a lengthy battle. Graham went on to sign with Kansas.
Before Frank Haith's seat could get too hot at Missouri, he decided to make a run for the border and escape to Tulsa. At his introductory press conference, he butchered the name of his new team's conference and tried to sell the media on his new job being better than his old one. Points for excitement, at least, and his program is equipped to make a splash this season.
The aforementioned Saul Phillips left North Dakota State for Ohio, a program that needed its third coach in three years after John Groce and Jim Christian left for Illinois and Boston College, respectively. Phillips is energetic and an engaging talker, as his introductory press conference proved. Bobcats fans have reason for excitement, but that excitement comes with more than a little worry.
15. Montana State
Veteran assistant Brian Fish gets his first head coaching job after 25 years, 15 of those spent working for Dana Altman. Fish followed Altman from Marshall to Kansas State to Creighton and spent the last four years with him at Oregon.
Cuonzo Martin is the only coach in this year's Sweet 16 to change jobs, bolting Tennessee thanks to a surly fan base that still hasn't gotten over its ex, Bruce Pearl. The Midwest-raised and trained Martin will have to adapt to recruiting the West Coast, and fans addicted to the star system will be underwhelmed by his classes, but he knows how to find guys to fit his style.
13. UNC Wilmington
Kevin Keatts takes over after three seasons on Rick Pitino's staff at Louisville. Before that, he lost only 17 games in 10 seasons over two stints at Hargrave Military Academy, one of the nation's top prep schools. Getting talent to Wilmington is harder than getting it to Louisville, but Keatts has already beaten some major programs for Jacksonville transfer Jarvis Haywood.
Mizzou hired a coach who certainly has a great familiarity with the university. Kim Anderson was a player and assistant coach for the Tigers, but he's also 58 years old with no head coaching experience above Division II. As well as the school knows Anderson, it makes the $42,500 it paid to a search firm feel like a highly questionable investment.
11. Wake Forest
Great players can often make terrible coaches, but Danny Manning got off to a strong start at Tulsa, reaching the NCAA tournament in only his second season. Manning can win at Wake, especially if he can win some toe-to-toe recruiting battles with Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams.
10. Washington State
Many of the opposing schools are the same for Ernie Kent, even if the conference name has changed. A former player at Oregon during the Pac-8 days and coach at his alma mater after the league expanded to 10 teams, he's come back to the now-Pac-12 to lead another Northwest program at Washington State.
The WSU job is Kent's third as a head coach, following stints at Saint Mary's and Oregon. He led SMC to the third NCAA tournament in its history, then made five more at Oregon. The Ducks had only made five tournaments in their history before Kent and hadn't reached an Elite Eight—Kent led them to two—since 1960.
Washington State athletic director Bill Moos is the same man who hired Kent at Oregon, and he was already gushing about Kent during the press conference to announce Ken Bone's firing.
"Ernie has proven during our time together at Oregon that he can do all the things I’m talking about," Moos said at the press conference, per Spokane's The Spokesman-Review. "Maybe a little bit different because Oregon was Ernie’s alma mater and he was a hero there as part of the ‘Kamikaze Kids’ but he had to recruit to what I can safely say was a rat hole."
Kent left Saint Mary's second on the all-time wins list and Oregon as its career leader. Don't expect him to accomplish the latter feat at Washington State—Jack Friel won 495 from 1929-58—but he may be able to pull the Cougars out of their recent doldrums. WSU has only been to three NCAA tournaments in the past 30 years.
9. Oregon State
Oregon State did well in its coaching search despite handcuffing itself with odd timing. It took six weeks for the school to decide it was firing Craig Robinson, time that could have been spent with a much more expansive field of candidates.
That said, OSU should be happy with its hire of former Montana coach Wayne Tinkle.
Tinkle's used to having to attract talent to an out-of-the-way location, as Missoula, Montana, isn't exactly a tourist hot spot. Where he'll need to prove himself is in drawing a higher level of talent to the even more obscure locale of Corvallis, Oregon.
A Montana graduate, Tinkle spent five years as an assistant there before replacing current Utah boss Larry Krystkowiak as head coach. Over his eight years in charge, Tinkle won 158 games, reached three NCAA tournaments and won two Big Sky Conference regular-season championships.
Montana has sired a succession of prominent D-I coaches. Famed leaders such as Jud Heathcote, Mike Montgomery and Stew Morrill led the Grizzlies before moving on to bigger jobs.
Tinkle faces a tough rebuilding project at the Pac-12's resident weak sister if he wants to add his name to that distinguished list. The Beavers haven't made an NCAA tournament since 1990 and last season's top five scorers are all gone.
Mike Rhoades (with laptop above) is another hire with no Division I head coaching experience. He spent 10 seasons as the boss at Division III Randolph-Macon before heading 20 minutes up the road to VCU.
Now he's gone from a one-time Final Four program to one that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in 44 years at Rice. The Houston school is more known for its academics than any athletic accomplishments, an imbalance that doesn't appear to dissuade Rhoades one bit.
"I'm not afraid or scared of that," Rhoades told the Houston Chronicle's Joseph Duarte (subscription required). "We're going to build something special here. We came here because we are going to win."
Every new coach at Rice surely thought he had the key to unlocking the school's basketball potential, but one of Rhoades' staff hires could generate some intrigue.
Assistant coach Scott Pera comes to Houston from Penn, where he's become used to recruiting under strict academic standards. Before Penn, Pera was an assistant at Arizona State, where he was instrumental in recruiting current Houston Rockets star James Harden—because he'd coached Harden in high school. A staff that can use every recruiting advantage it can get would be wise to tap local star Harden for help.
VCU head coach Shaka Smart told the Chronicle, "[Rhoades] played a key role in literally every facet of our program. He is a terrific teacher of the game. So it's a big loss for us." Now it's up to Rhoades to prove he can translate VCU's loss into Rice's gain.
Marquette hired longtime Duke basketball fixture Steve Wojciechowski because it's looking for a remake of this picture. Wojo was a part of two national championship teams as an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski, and one school of thought had him hanging around to take over when Coach K retired. Now he gets to go cut his own head coaching teeth at a program with a solid basketball pedigree.
No former Coach K assistant has walked into a gig with such potential. Mike Brey landed at a football school in Notre Dame after a tenure at Delaware. Tommy Amaker likewise bolted for a struggling Michigan program after four seasons at Seton Hall. Chris Collins faces the mother of all building projects at Northwestern.
Wojciechowski inherits an inexperienced Marquette team, one that will need last season's recruits—Duane Wilson, JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton specifically—to step up. Leading returning scorer Todd Mayo should provide a good building block after finishing the season with a late flurry.
Wojo managed to keep four-star shooting guard Sandy Cohen from Buzz Williams' recruiting class, plus a pair of transfers will join up next season—BYU point guard Matt Carlino and Indiana forward Luke Fischer.
Landing talent shouldn't be a problem for a guy who was the face of Duke's program, at least for those who watched halftime interviews. The 2014-15 prognosis may be shaky as Wojo refills the cupboard, but that shouldn't take long.
6. Loyola Marymount
Loyola Marymount hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since the emotional 1990 Elite Eight run dedicated to the late Hank Gathers. The leader of that team, Bo Kimble, is the last Lion to play in the NBA.
We don't bring this up to claim that Mike Dunlap can take the Lions to the regional finals any time soon. Far from it. He is, however, a Loyola alumnus with much more recent NBA ties, being pictured above as the head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2011-12 season.
Dunlap's hire in Charlotte was a head-scratcher, as he had never even been a Division I head coach save an interim term at St. John's. The Red Storm went 11-17 under Dunlap while head coach Steve Lavin underwent cancer treatments.
Still, Dunlap's been around the game for a long time. He's a former assistant for some solid college programs, such as Iowa, Arizona and St. John's, as well as an NBA assistant with the Denver Nuggets. He'll be more motivated than any outsider to make his alma mater one of the West Coast Conference's elite.
Considering the WCC doesn't have much of an "elite" outside of Gonzaga, Loyola could make its way up the standings quickly, especially if recruits from the always talent-rich Golden State think to themselves, "If this guy was good enough for Michael Jordan…"
5. South Florida
If you're a Kentucky hater who's sick of all the hype over John Calipari's one-and-done classes, you probably won't be a South Florida fan, either. New USF coach Orlando Antigua has been Calipari's right-hand man since his final season at Memphis, and he's been a key to UK's relentless stacking of McDonald's All-Americans.
Several Bulls have already left the program, whether through loyalty to the departed Stan Heath or fear that Antigua will quickly recruit over top of them. Early on, those fears won't be very well-founded, but Antigua's already made a splash on the transfer market.
Ex-Marshall guard Kareem Canty has already committed to play for the Bulls, as has former Maryland point guard Roddy Peters. Canty's comments—quoted by SB Nation's USF blog Voodoo Five—speak to how Antigua can draw additional talent to Tampa:
“It was love [...] The coaching staff made me feel like I was home and the weather was beautiful. I felt real comfortable. The athletic director was a major plus, too.”
Antigua's already assembled an experienced staff including his brother, former Seton Hall assistant Oliver, longtime NBA point guard Rod Strickland and former FIU head coach Sergio Rouco.
Florida can be a major draw for athletes tired of colder climates, and a guy who's wooed as many elite players as Antigua will be able to knock on doors nationwide.
Kelvin Sampson has finally served the five-year show-cause penalty the NCAA gave him for impermissible phone calls that are no longer impermissible. Now, the former NBA assistant—pictured above as a member of the Houston Rockets staff—can get back to winning games in college like he did at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana.
Sampson took WSU to the 1994 NCAA tournament, then made 13 of the next 14 at Oklahoma and Indiana. That includes the 2002 Final Four, where the Sooners lost to Indiana of all schools.
Like some of the other new coaches this offseason, Sampson now has NBA connections and experience to draw upon. During his pro tenures, he worked with Scott Skiles in Milwaukee, Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and Kevin McHale in Houston.
The latter town's college program can certainly use a coach with the breadth of Sampson's experience, especially one who's been to the Final Four more recently than the once-proud Cougar program. UH doesn't have newly renovated facilities like conference and state rival SMU, but it does now have a coach with both college and NBA stops on his resume.
Now, it's up to Sampson to start pulling the kinds of recruits Larry Brown has drawn to Dallas.
3. Virginia Tech
If there is a true home run hire in the college coaching ranks this offseason, it's the basketball-poor Virginia Tech program landing a true star in ex-Marquette boss Buzz Williams.
Williams left a conference and school solely devoted to basketball for a football school that spent about half what his prior institution did on basketball—$5.4 million in 2012 compared to Marquette's $10.7 million, according to the US Department of Education. Williams' contract alone averages out to $2.6 million per year, representing an enormous outlay for VT basketball—albeit less than what he walked away from at Marquette.
So why isn't the Williams hire atop this list?
In a conference where North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse and incoming powerhouse Louisville could form a very legitimate Final Four in any given season—never mind others like Pitt and Virginia—Williams will have to do a Wooden-esque coaching job to put the Hokies on that level. He won in the Big East, but once again, that was a school devoted to basketball in a conference that was built on basketball traditions.
Williams has already made waves with players coming in and out of Blacksburg. His first team meeting resulted in rising sophomore big man Trevor Thompson requesting a transfer, eventually landing at Ohio State. Prior Marquette signees Ahmed Hill and Satchel Pierce followed Williams to Tech, and he's also landed an impact ACC transfer in former Maryland guard Seth Allen.
If Williams can steer VT up the ACC standings and into the NCAA tournament, he'll become a Virginia folk hero. If not, the school has merely spent a ton of money for a guy much more similar to former coach Seth Greenberg than most would be willing to admit.
In his early days at Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall has struck all the right notes.
First, he released all of Cuonzo Martin's prior recruits from their letters of intent, reasoning that he wanted guys who were intent on playing for UT. That kind of respect for players' wishes gets around among future recruits and their inner circles.
Then, he set about rebuilding the Vols' roster in much the same way he did at previous stop Southern Miss. Tyndall has drawn one of his recruits from Southern Miss, along with junior college All-American guard Kevin Punter, former Pitt and Oklahoma State commit Detrick Mostella and a pair of Division I transfers.
Both Eric McKnight (ex-Florida Gulf Coast) and former IUPUI guard Ian Chiles will be immediately eligible. Chiles averaged 15.8 points per game last season, while the 6'9" McKnight put up 6.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Tyndall isn't Bruce Pearl (of course, no one is), but he's got more than enough personality to entertain the demanding Tennessee fanbase in a way Martin never could.
Add that to a proven record of building a program at Morehead State and sustaining one at Southern Miss (170 wins in eight seasons between the two), and there's not much to complain about for the fans who weren't delusional enough to think Gregg Marshall was leaving Wichita for Knoxville.
Tyndall is similar to Martin in that he's not opposed to recruiting off-the-radar prospects who fit his system. Fans who can't look past the star system may find themselves vexed by Tyndall's recruiting, at least until his players start to win games and make NCAA tournaments.
Whenever a coach takes a job outside his usual recruiting footprint, questions are raised about how well he can draw talent from his new region. New Auburn coach Bruce Pearl has had no such issues as he's bounced around the country.
Once an ace recruiter for Iowa, Pearl's career was primarily Midwestern-based before he landed at Tennessee. He proved he could recruit less-heralded Midwest talent while he worked at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, then he adapted smoothly to the Southeast when he took the UT job.
That proven record of recruiting the Southeast—and his perfect six-for-six record of reaching NCAA tournaments as coach of the Volunteers—make Pearl the best hire Auburn could have possibly made as a replacement for Tony Barbee.
Few coaches can sell a program as hard as Pearl, and his staff—while there isn't a true star recruiter like he had with Steve Forbes at Tennessee—has performed admirably while Pearl serves the last few months of the recruiting ban associated with his NCAA show-cause penalty. Pearl is not allowed to contact recruits until August.
Auburn has already secured commitments from power forward Cinmeon Bowers, the nation's top junior college prospect according to 247Sports, and ex-New Mexico State point guard K.C. Ross-Miller.
It's unlikely that Pearl puts Auburn in the tournament in year one the way he did with the Vols, but the SEC's preponderance of shaky programs suggests that it's not inconceivable. Give him two or three seasons, however, and the Tigers may be serious competition for the conference's dueling bell cows.