Coaching Carousel: Up-and-Coming College Basketball Coaches

adam bradleyAnalyst IApril 4, 2008

As the college basketball season comes to a close, the coaching carousel begins to turn. Coaches getting fired, getting hired.  

Already this off-season we have seen several high profile positions open up such as Cal, Indiana, and Oklahoma State. While Tom Crean has already taken the Hoosiers head position, there are several other jobs still available.  

Here is a list of some of the top “up-and-coming” coaches in college basketball. Note: The names on this list are of people who are already head coaches at other programs and have put themselves in a position to move up to bigger name jobs.   

1.            Anthony Grant, VCU—Grant is one of the top names up for the LSU job. He was a Florida assistant for 10 years and after leading VCU past Duke in last years NCAA tournament, he was all but announced as the next head man at Florida after Billy Donovan temporarily defected to the NBA. Initially LSU contacted USC head man Tim Floyd before he said he wasn’t interested. As soon as the speculation began, USC insiders pegged Grant as the likely top choice at the school.

 2. Darrin Horn, South Carolina—The latest coach to skyrocket up the charts at the surprising coach factory that is Western Kentucky. Led the Hilltoppers to a 111-48 record in five seasons including a sweet 16 birth in this years tourney. The cat’s out of the bag on this guy. Just this week he was named Dave Odom’s successor at South Carolina.

3. Travis Ford, UMASS – Really hot name right now after leading UMASS to the NIT final, which doesn’t seem that impressive. Actually, his overall record as a Division 1 coach is 98-104, but he does have a track record for improving teams. His first job with NAIA Campbellsville University he led his team to a 28-3 record and was Mid-South Conference Coach of the Year.

 He moved on to Eastern Kentucky and turned the team around in one year, as they were 7-19 the year before he got there and 22-9 when he took over. He led them to the NCAA tourney and pushed his alma mater Kentucky to the brink before falling short. He is either the first or second candidate along with VCU’s Anthony Grant for the open position at LSU, which would get him back to his SEC roots.

4. Sean Miller, Xavier—Has turned Xavier into a legitimate power in his first head coaching position. Last season they should have beaten eventual national runners-up Ohio State in the second round, and this year they made it all the way to the Elite 8. His name was thrown out there for the Indiana job as well as the South Carolina job already, but many people see him staying at Xavier until his dream job becomes available, which would be the job at Pitt (his alma mater). But that will only happen when and if Jamie Dixon feels the need to return to his roots on the west coast as others have speculated he will eventually do.

5. Jim Christian, TCU—An impressive career record at 138-58, Christian recently left Kent State to take over at TCU. He won an MAC tourney twice, and was also a two time conference coach of the year

6. Brian Gregory, Dayton—A member of the Tom Izzo coaching tree along with other notable names like Tom Crean and Stan Heath, Gregory has a great basketball education. He led Dayton to a top 15 ranking this season, and if his top player wasn’t hobbled by injuries late in the season, he would have had a good chance at making the tournament.

7. Chris Lowery, Southern Illinois—One of the youngest on this list at 35, his name is being thrown around at big time schools even though SIU had it’s worst record this season since Lowery has taken over at 18-15. But Lowery did take the Salukis to the NCAAs in his first three seasons, including a Sweet 16 birth in ’06-’07. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel listed Lowery as a potential candidate to take over for Tom Crean at Marquette, and now he seems to be on the radar at Oklahoma State as well.

8. Brad Brownell, Wright State—Another promising young name, he led UNC Wilmington to two NCAA appearances in four years, and led Wright State to a tourney appearance. Has a career record of 127-60. His name was mentioned for the Indiana job, but he was never in serious contention. Was the backup choice to Jim Christian for the TCU job.

9. Scott Sutton, Oral Roberts—Sutton, the youngest son of legendary Eddie Sutton, isn’t as well known as his brother Sean, who was recently fired at Oklahoma State, but he just might be the best. He has led Oral Roberts of the mighty Summit League to three straight NCAA tournament appearances. His name has been mentioned in the open positions at Missouri State and TCU, and last year even turned down the position at Wichita State. Give it one more year and one more tourney appearance, and he’ll be gone

10. Bill Grier, San Diego—Grier has learned from one of the best in Mark Few as an assistant at Gonzaga, and in one season at San Diego he beat his former mentor in the WCC tournament, and upset UCONN in the NCAAs. Actually turned down a Pac-10 position at Oregon State to stay at San Diego, but like most on the list, it’s only a matter of time before he moves on.

11. Randy Bennett, St. Mary’s—His name was mentioned for the Oregon State opening as well as the Cal job, but so far he has shown his plans are to stay at St. Mary’s to continue to teach rising stars like Patty Mills.


Other Notables: Some of these coaches are too fresh at their current positions and still have a little to prove before moving up to bigger jobs, some were left off the list because they currently hold jobs at high major schools, and some were omitted because they are too old to be considered “up-and-coming”. But nonetheless, they are all hot commodities in the coaching ranks.  

1. Tony Bennett, Washington State—I’m sure by now you’ve heard of him. Last years national coach of the year has turned Washington State’s program around leading them to back to back 26 win seasons after taking over for his father. He was Indiana’s first (public) choice but turned them down, which may come back to bite him since he is losing both of his star guards. If he can keep the program where it is near the top of the Pac-10 after losing Weaver and Low, expect him to be one of the top names come next off season, and the temptation just might be too great. Either way, WSU is in the Pac-10, so it’s already a major job.

2. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati—Also didn’t make the list because Cincinnati is a pretty major job, but he'll be a household name in the next couple of years.  

3. Keno Davis, Drake—Just like Tony Bennett, if you win national coach of the year in your first season at the helm, you automatically get a spot on this list. Davis led Drake to a 28-5 record this year, and won the Missouri Valley Conference title after being picked to finish last by some publications. He turned Adam Emmenecker, a former walk-on who averaged only 11 minutes a game through his junior season, into a conference player of the year. If he doesn’t allow Drake to slip in the next year or two, he is surely on his way to a bigger and better job.

4. Brad Stevens, Butler – At 31, Stevens is the 3rd youngest coach in history to lead his team to 30 wins in a season, his first at Butler. Led the Bulldogs to a top 10 ranking. Needs a few more years of experience before he moves up to a major program.

5. Jim Larranaga, George Mason—Jim Larranaga might not be able to be considered an “up-and-comer” considering he’s 58 years old and has been a head coach dating back to the 70’s. But after taking George Mason to the Final Four two years, his name has jumped back on the radar for other schools. Most recently, he was offered the position at his alma mater Providence, but turned it down and stayed at Mason. If he wouldn’t take that position, don’t expect him to go anywhere anytime soon.

6. Bob McKillop, Davidson—A really hot name right now after Davidson surprise run to the Elite 8 and just falling short of the Final Four. Like Larranaga, he is no spring chicken at 57. Don’t expect him to leave anytime soon though. While Stephan Curry is still shooting threes on the court, McKillop will be roaming the sideline. Plus, his ties to the school are great. His two eldest children graduated from the school, and his youngest son, Brenden, is a guard on the team currently. Not to mention he has been there since 1989.

7. Tommy Dempsey, Rider—Dempsey is the youngest Division I coach with 100 wins, which is very impressive. Next year will really be the deciding factor in Dempsey’s future, where we will see how Rider fares as he loses Jason Thompson to the NBA.

Six Assistants Who Will Be Head Coaches Soon:  

1. Gib Arnold, USC - Has a serious basketball education. Was an assistant at Pepperdine under Paul Westphal, and is now the associate head coach under Tim Floyd at SC. Father, Frank, was an assistant at UCLA under John Wooden and a successful head man at BYU.

2. John Groce, Ohio State - At age 35, has already been a coach for 14 years, first cracking a division I staff under Herb Sendek at NC State, and now serves under Thad Motta. Is largely responsible for Ohio States back-to-back top five recruiting classes that included Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr.

3. Tony Jones, Tennessee - Associate head coach under Bruce Pearl, he is largely credited with recruiting top recruits Ramar Smith and Duke Crews

4. Derek Kellogg, Memphis - As a player led some great UMASS teams under John Calipari, who now serves as his mentor at Memphis.

5. Anyone, Duke – Take your pick. Johnny Dawkins is always a hot name, but he seems to have a little Bill Guthridge syndrome and doesn’t seem ready to leave Coach K’s side any time soon. The same can’t be said for Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, former Duke standouts as players, who should find themselves head guys in the next few years.

6. Mark Montgomery, Michigan State—Associate head coach at his alma mater, he has been with Tom Izzo for six seasons now. Considering Izzos track record of sending his top assistants off to head coaching positions, this one is a no-brainer.

Other Notables:

  • Larry Shyatt, Florida
  • Cameron Dollar, Washington
  • Joe Dooley, Kansas
  • Ray McCallum, Indiana
  • Kevin O’Neill, Arizona
  • Joe Holladay, North Carolina
  • Greg Gard, Wisconsin