March Madness 2010: The 10 Worst Active NCAA Tournament Coaches
March Madness is almost upon us once more, and you can already imagine the "One Shining Moment" montage that we'll be treated to on April 5.
Given the NCAA track history of these 10 coaches, the only "shining moment" they'll have this season is the airport shoe shine they'll get after a sooner-than-expected tourney knockout.
Some of these unfortunate fellows have been to multiple NCAA Tournaments, yet haven't managed to win a single game. Ever.
Luckily, I wasn't alone in compiling this list. Stat geeks were waaay ahead of me on this one, developing a PASE index to determine the best and worst NCAA coaches. [PASE stands for Performance Against Seed Expectations... basically, how well your team performs based on where they're seeded in the tournament.]
For some guys, their tourney record alone locks them into this list of awful NCAA coaches. For some, they've managed to steal a few wins here or there, but they've underperformed. And one of these coaches even has a winning NCAA Tournament record, but his teams manage to choke year after year when the going gets tough.
Before we continue, let's make one thing clear. This is NOT a list of the 10 worst regular season coaches, or the 10 worst coaches in Division I basketball. In fact, we've got a National Coach of the Year, a guy who's won Coach of the Year in three different conferences, and guys who have won conference titles year in and year out. What they haven't won, with any real measure of consistency, are NCAA Tournament games.
So sit back, relax, and pray that your team isn't coached by one of these 10 guys. Otherwise, your March Madness could be a bit shorter than you expected.
Oliver Purnell, Clemson
It may seem strange to include a guy who's won Coach of the Year in three different mid-major conferences (Big South in 1991 with Radford, CAA in 1993 with Old Dominion, A-10 in 1998 with Dayton) on this list.
That is, until you look at his NCAA Tournament resume. Purnell's been a solid regular season coach, and he's built some basketball programs from the ground up...but his house of cards seems to always come crumbling down on him in March.
Purnell, who has brought five teams to the Big Dance, has never managed to coach his way out of the first round. His teams have lost every NCAA Tournament game he's coached.
His 15th-seeded ODU squad got hammered by Rick Pitino's Kentucky Wildcats in 1992. In 2000, his 11th-seeded Dayton Flyers nearly upset sixth-seeded Purdue, before falling 62-61. No one can really fault a guy for losing games he's "supposed" to lose (based on seeds, at least), so I won't.
Instead, I'll fault him for his NCAA Tournament record in the 2000s.
Purnell brought Dayton back to the NCAAs in 2003, his final year before bolting to Clemson. He likely packed his bags for South Carolina a little faster, after his fourth-seeded Flyers were upset by 13th-seeded Tulsa in the first round.
In 2008, Purnell's Clemson Tigers earned a No. 5 seed to the NCAA tournament after upsetting Duke and charging into the ACC Tournament finals. They didn't save the last dance for March Madness; No. 12 seed Villanova knocked Clemson out in the first round. And history managed to repeat itself again: 10th-seeded Michigan ended seventh-seeded Clemson's tournament as early as possible in 2009, with yet another first round KO.
Purnell has the worst PASE of any active coach, at -0.770. Given his dubious ability to turn any NCAA seed into a losing seed, Clemson's an upset special waiting to happen in the NCAAs.
Not just this year. Every year. At least, that is, until Purnell proves that his teams can win a game when it really matters.
Al Skinner, Boston College
How can a former National Coach of the Year be on here? Check the NCAA sniff test. Skinner fails.
In seven NCAA appearances with Boston College, starting in 2001, he's brought the Eagles to one Sweet 16 appearance.
When Skinner won the Coach of the Year award in 2001, his Boston College team won the Big East Tournament and the Big East regular season championship, which earned them a three seed in the Big Dance. B.C. managed to win one game, before losing to sixth-seeded USC, 74-71.
The Eagles won the Big East regular season title again in 2005, becoming the first team in Big East history to open a season 20-0. The Eagles waxed 13th-seeded Penn in the first round...only to get knocked off by 12th-seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Round of 32. [Not exactly what people expected from the once 20-0 team.]
Before coming to B.C., Skinner coached at the University of Rhode Island in the 1990s. He managed two NCAA berths during his time at URI...and only one NCAA victory.
Skinner's teams start with an average NCAA seed of 6.6, yet he's only 7-9 as a coach in the tournament. (That explains his PASE of -0.273.) To drill the point home even further...only 10 active coaches have a worse PASE than Skinner.
Welcome to your new ignominious home, Al.
Fran Dunphy, Temple
Coach Dunphy certainly wouldn't lose an "awesome coaching faces" contest...but the NCAA Tournament doesn't give bonus points for goofy looks.
In fact, the NCAA Tournament has been particularly rough for Dunphy, the first man in NCAA history to coach two of Philadelphia's "Big Five" schools. [Penn until 2006; Temple from then onward.]
No matter where Dunphy's coaching, the NCAA Tournament has punched Dunphy square in the face. In 11 appearances in the Big Dance, Dunphy has managed one total win. (In 1994, 11th-seeded Penn upset sixth-seeded Nebraska.)
For a guy who won 10 Ivy League titles in 17 years at Penn, a guy who's the second most winningest coach in Ivy League history behind Pete Carril of Princeton, a 1-11 NCAA Tournament record is a blemish on his otherwise stellar coaching resume.
After taking over for legendary Temple coach John Chaney in 2006, Dunphy brought his NCAA Tournament legacy with him. The Owls won the A-10 Tournament in both 2008 and 2009, but couldn't carry that success over to the Big Dance. They fell at the hands of Michigan State in the first round of 2008 (in a close game, to be fair), and got waxed by sixth-seeded Arizona State in the first round last season.
To Dunphy's credit, his teams start with an average seed of 12.2 in the Big Dance. It's not like the guy should have an NCAA Tournament record like Coach K or Tom Izzo.
But 1-11? Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. And while Dunphy found his nut in 1994, 16 years of tourney failures could have Temple fans extra tense when the first round rolls around in a few weeks.
Lorenzo Romar, Washington
After the University of Washington hired Lorenzo Romar in 2002, Romar gave the program a breath of life that it hadn't ever experienced before. The school had made two Sweet 16 appearances in the 30 years before Romar was hired; UW made back-to-back Sweet 16s in 2005 and 2006.
But wait...back-to-back Sweet 16s...that sounds like a good coach to me!
Well, back-to-back Sweet 16s lose a little bit of their splendor when one of those Sweet 16 appearances came as a No. 1 seed (2005).
Romar's been an excellent coach in the regular season, much like some of the other guys on this list, but he's never coached his way past the Sweet 16, despite entering the NCAA Tournament with a No. 1, No. 4, and No. 5 seed in his past three tries.
Despite winning the Pac-10 Coach of the Year and the Pac-10 Tournament in 2005, Romar's Huskies top-seeded Huskies ran right into Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals in the Sweet 16, and left with a double-digit loss (93-79).
In five NCAA Tournaments [one with St. Louis, four with Washington], Romar has only won five total games, despite entering the Big Dance with an average seed of 5.4. His PASE, a stellar -0.458, is the sixth-worst PASE out of all the active coaches in Division I basketball.
With the sixth-worst PASE for any active coach, Romar worked tirelessly for years [except in March, apparently] to earn his spot on this list.
Dana Altman, Creighton
Dana Altman's misery with the NCAA Tournament started all the way back in 1993, when he was still coach of the Kansas State Wildcats.
That year, his team was picked to finish dead last in the Big Eight conference. Instead, they ended up 19-11, earning the moniker "Cardiac 'Cats" for their penchant of deciding games in the final minute. They reached the Big Eight conference finals, and they earned K-State's 21st NCAA Tournament appearance.
Their March Madness didn't last too long: 11th-seeded Tulane took out his sixth-seeded Wildcats, and Altman bolted for Creighton after one more season with K-State.
Fast forward to the present, and Altman still hasn't been able to shake his Big Dance demons. In his eight appearances in March Madness over the past 17 years, Altman's finished with a 2-8 career record, and hasn't ever made it past the first weekend.
With an average tournament seed of 9.3, Altman's struggles in the NCAAs appear similar, on the surface, to Oliver Purnell's Clemson teams.
Altman, with his mid-major Creighton crew, hasn't had the ability to garner high seeds in the Big Dance like the big conference teams routinely can; they've only had one single-digit seed (a No. 6 seed in 2003) in their seven NCAA appearances under Altman. [And in 2003, his team managed to be upset by 11th-seeded Central Michigan in the first round.]
With that in mind, Altman and Fran Dunphy have more in common than he does with Purnell. Both coach solid programs in the regular season [Altman is the third-most winningest coach in Missouri Valley Conference history], but their teams fall apart in the Big Dance.
Altman's PASE of -0.520 is the third worst of any active NCAA coach, only trailing Purnell and...
Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Behold, the coach with the second worst PASE (-0.565) in all of college basektball: Leonard Hamilton.
As an assistant coach, Leonard Hamilton helped Austin Peay earn its first NCAA appearance in school history back in the early 1970s. He jumped to Kentucky in 1974 to become an assistant coach and their lead recruiter, which helped lead the Wildcats to the 1978 national championship.
If only Hamilton could have those types of successes as a head coach.
The big Ham-bone, who coached for the University of Miami from 1990-2000, led the 'Canes to three straight NCAA appearances in his final three seasons. Hamilton was named Big East Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1999, but those awards meant nothing come tourney time.
The Hurricanes earned a No. 2 seed in 1999, but only parlayed their regular season success into one NCAA tournament victory before getting knocked off by 10th-seeded Purdue in the Round of 32. [Hamilton's sixth-seeded 'Canes did earn their first ever Sweet 16 berth the next year, in his final season as coach of Miami, to his credit.]
After a year-long stint in the NBA with the Washington Wizards (where Hamilton's team finished 19-63), he jumped back to the college ranks with Florida State, where he's been coaching ever since 2002.
Hamilton recently led the Seminoles to their first NCAA appearance in 11 years in 2009...where they were promptly upset by 12th-seeded Wisconsin in overtime, 61-59.
In four NCAA appearances with Miami and Florida State, Hamilton's managed to win three games total, despite entering the tournament with an average of a No. 6 seed. [And two of those three wins came in 2000.]
Blaine Taylor, Old Dominion
In four cracks at the NCAA tournament—two with Montana in the 1990s, two with Old Dominion in 2005 and 2007—Blaine Taylor's teams have never escaped the first round.
Welcome to the list, Coach.
Taylor's Montana squad finished 27-4 in Big Sky play in 1992, winning both the regular season and conference tournament championships in the process. They earned a No. 14 seed for their hard work, and third-seeded Florida State promptly KO'ed the Grizzlies in the first round, 78-68.
The story repeats itself three more times: in 1997, his 16th-seeded squad was the lamb for No. 1 seeded Kentucky's 92-54 first round slaughter; in 2005 and 2007, his 12th-seeded Old Dominion squads couldn't manage to muster the vaunted 5-12 first round upset, and got sent packing early.
Much like Leonard Hamilton, Taylor has experienced much more success as an assistant coach, opposed to his time as a head coach. Taylor was an assistant coach at Stanford between 1998 and 2001 under coach Mike Montgomery; the Cardinal qualified for the NCAAs each year that Taylor was an assistant, including an Elite Eight berth in 2001.
Now, in his defense, Taylor's teams enter the tournament with an average seed of 13.5; much like Dunphy, it's unfair to expect great tournament successes from low-seeded teams.
However, the donut in Taylor's win column won't make any ODU fans feel confident in their ability to pull off an NCAA upset. Considering that ODU is a mid-major, and that they're highly unlikely to earn a top-eight seed, a first-round upset is exactly what they'd need.
As my dear friend Scooby Doo would say... "Ruh roh."
Steve Alford, New Mexico
It's usually not a great sign for a coach when your "one shining moment" in NCAA Tournament history came over a decade ago. I'm looking at you, Steve Alford.
In 1999, Alford guided his 12th-seeded Southwest Missouri State Bears to the Sweet 16 by virtue of a 43-32 victory over fifth-seeded Wisconsin in the first round and an 81-51 triumph over fourth-seeded Tennessee in the Round of 32. (His Bears couldn't keep the magic going forever: they ran into No. 1 Duke in the Sweet 16 and lost by nearly 20.)
Since then? Alford has recorded exactly one NCAA Tournament victory in the past 11 years.
Alford jumped to the University of Iowa in 1999, and in his first game as head coach, his Hawkeyes upset defending national champion UConn, 70-68. The next year (2000-2001), his Iowa squad finished 23-12 (7-9 in conference), but reeled off four straight victories to take down the Big Ten Tournament, earning them a No. 7 seed for the NCAAs.
That No. 7 seed translated into exactly one NCAA win for Alford; he hasn't managed to win a game in the Big Dance ever since. The biggest blemish on Alford's NCAA resume came in 2006, when his Iowa squad earned a No. 3 seed after winning the Big Ten Tournament, as they promptly lost to 14th-seeded Northwestern State in the first round.
His teams average an No. 8 seed in the NCAAs, which makes his 3-4 all-time tournament record stand out like RuPaul. He's got a career PASE of -0.218, which should be giving New Mexico fans night terrors for the next 10 days, as they prepare for their first NCAA Tournament berth in five seasons.
Tom Crean, Indiana
Without a huge assist from Dwyane Wade in 2003, "Creepy Crean" could have been the worst coach on this list when it came to the NCAA Tournament.
Crean, who took Marquette to five NCAA Tournaments between 2002-2008, posted a 4-1 record in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, as Dwyane Wade led the third-seeded Golden Eagles to the Final Four. [Wade posted a triple-double in their Elite Eight win over Kentucky.]
If you count out Crean's magical run in 2003, he's posted a 1-4 NCAA Tournament record in his career. While you'd expect that record from a mid-major coach, Crean managed to be upset as a No. 5 seed in 2002, a No. 7 seed in 2006 and a No. 8 seed in 2007. [His sixth-seeded 2008 Marquette team won one game before a second-round KO at the hands of third-seeded Stanford in OT.]
Crean's teams entered the NCAA Tournament with an average seed of 5.8, yet his Marquette squads consistently underperformed when Dwyane Wade wasn't dropping triple-doubles.
Crean bolted for Indiana after 2008, looking to resurrect one of college basketball's most storied programs. Two years later, Indiana's chilling in the basement of the Big Ten alongside Penn State. [What did you expect, with Jeremiah Rivers as one of your team's best scoring options?]
Luckily for Indiana, they won't be sniffing an NCAA Tournament this year that Crean can choke away.
Crean's PASE of -0.144 is the "best" (relatively speaking) of any of the coaches' PASE on this list. But take out that Final Four, and using the values for expected win total found here, Crean's PASE drops to a miserable -0.7425, which would be second worst in Division I [right behind Purnell].
Well, misery loves company, right? Luckily, Crean isn't the only coach on this list with a Final Four berth...
Bob Huggins, West Virginia
While it's easy to rip Huggins for his DUI from 2004, or that "lack of institutional control" probation that the NCAA slapped Cincy with back in 1998...I'll take the high road, and bash him for his NCAA Tournament failures.
Huggy Bear is the most accomplished coach on this list, with 650+ Division 1 wins total. Huggins has the fourth-most wins out of all the active Division I coaches, has appeared in 17 total NCAA Tournaments [including 14 of the past 16], and his Mountaineers are a lock for yet another high seed in the Big Dance this year.
So why is he here? Well, in those 17 NCAA Tournaments, Huggins has mustered only 22 wins.
For a mid-major coach (which Huggins was, during his Cincinnati tenure), a record like that sounds pretty solid, right? Well, unlike most mid-majors, who get slapped with double-digit seeds and have to upset their way through March Madness, Huggins' Cincinnati teams were never seeded lower than eighth.
Huggins got his NCAA Tournament career started off on the right foot with Cincinnati—in his first tourney berth with Cincy (1992), he brought the fourth-seeded Bearcats to the Final Four before losing to Michigan in the national semifinals. And Huggy Bear worked his way back to the Elite Eight in 1993 and 1996; neither could be considered a huge surprise, as both Cincy teams ended the season ranked No. 7 in the final AP poll.
Since 1996, Huggins' NCAA experience has gone straight down the drain. He's only managed two Sweet 16 berths in the past 13 years, and his post-’96 Cincy teams have consistently underperformed ever since, based on their tourney seeding and final AP rankings.
From 1997-2002, Huggins' Bearcats ended the season in the AP's top 11 every year but 2001. Ironically, his 2001 squad was the only team to get past the second round. His 2002 team, which finished fifth in the final AP poll, earned a top seed for March Madness, and lost 105-101 to eighth-seeded UCLA in the second round.
The stats back Huggins' tournament mediocrity up: Huggins has a PASE of -0.241, which gives him one of top 15 worst PASEs out of Division 1 coaches.
Will WVU break Huggins' awful NCAA Tournament trend this season? Given Huggy Bear's recent tournament history, I sure as hell won't be putting any money on them past the first weekend. If you're a believer in "history repeats itself again," you probably shouldn't either.