Most college coaches are given one real shot at making an impact and leaving a legacy. It’s a win or go home type career path, with tons of fame and fortune if you’re the former but endless disgust and resentment if you find yourself in the latter category.
Sure, there’s plenty of bench bouncers and job jumpers, who seem to find their way from school to school, mid-major to mid-major or from Raleigh, NC to Arizona State (Hello, Herb Sendek and Lon Kruger). But, many college basketball coaches open and close their head coaching careers with one bad screw up.
The lucky are afforded another opportunity, or two, or five. But, how do they fare?
This year the likes of: Billy Gillispie, Mark Gottfried, and others were all given a second chance at life in the NCAA ranks. They’ve each enjoyed some success in their career but the questions still linger.
Will Gillispie prosper as he did in College Station or will he flounder like he did at Kentucky? Is Mark Gottfried the right man for N.C State, in the post Sidney Lowe era, or will his days of mediocrity in Tuscaloosa stick with him?
The queries will keep piling up amongst fans and foes alike. The unnerving “what if” scenarios will continue to fuel the fire if immediate gratification isn’t found in the form of wins and losses. And legacies will endure further criticism and scrutiny, as analysts and experts view the actions of each journeyman with a microscopic lens.
For some of these headmen, the second coming could be there last. But, for the few who thrive, the renaissance of their coaching lives and this their’ Mona Lisa.
So, as players begin to report to classes and hype for the upcoming college basketball season starts to heat up, let’s take a look at some of the coaches trying to get it right the second time around.
Billy Gillispie, Texas Tech –
History: No wonder the Abilene, Texas native couldn’t put it all together in Lexington, he’s meant to be back in the heart of Texas. The 51-year-old, Gillispie, spent just five seasons as a head coach before taking the Kentucky job in 2007. It was as if Gillispie was doomed from the start, getting in way over his head with one of the most stressful jobs in the country. Sure, as a recruiter he is top of the line, bringing in four top-25 recruiting classes during his three-year tenure at Texas A&M, but the pressure of coaching in Rupp arena seemed too great for the relative novice. His 40-27 record was nothing to be ashamed of and making the tournament in his first season was certainly an accomplishment, but the hopes of fans, alumni and upholding that great tradition proved too much to handle for the Texan.
Outlook: Gillispie struck gold with the Miners of UTEP during his two-year stint in El Paso. He went on to reignite the flame of a long-lost program at Texas A&M, turning A&M back into a basketball powerhouse and even taking them to the school’s first Sweet 16 since 1980. Needless to say, Gillispie does his best work in the state of Texas. And with a struggling Tech program standing with one foot in the dumpster already, it appears that a little Texas magic might be the only thing to help salvage what’s left. Look for Tech to bring in some big names and be tournament relevant for many years to come.
Pat Knight, Lamar –
History: From the Present to the Past. Gillispie is taking over Knight’s old job at Texas Tech. After three-plus years (Bob Knight’s mid-season retirement in 2007) in Lubbock, Knight was sent back to the unemployment line without as much as a sniff from just about any D-I contender. His tenure at Tech was certainly a low light in what was once a very promising coaching career, but a 50-61 record and a lone NIT appearance isn’t going to get you much in terms of job security. Knight’s overall record was bad enough but in conference the younger Knight couldn’t seem to do much in terms of winning. Never finishing with more than five conference wins and compiling a 16-42 tally in the Big 12, is all you really need to know about Knight’s time in Lubbock.
Outlook: He may not have caught many breaks in the Big 12 and maybe he was thrown into the limelight too soon, but Knight does have some great coaching skills. A small school like Lamar might give Knight just the boost he needs to turn around his career. The Southland conference has decent talent and his namesake alone will bring some mid-level recruits to the hills of Texas for their college ball. A few good recruiting classes and some lucky breaks along the way and Lamar could be dancing for the first time since 2000. If so, give it a few years and Knight could be back on his way into the big time.
Mark Gottfried, North Carolina State –
History: Three winning seasons at Murray State, two NCAA tourney appearance and suddenly a 34-year-old Gottfried is head coach at the University of Alabama. His first few years in Tuscaloosa presented quite the challenge for the young coach, watching as his team’s hopes fizzled out midway through the SEC schedule. But, a third year run to the NIT Finals and five straight NCAA tourney appearances, including a 2004 trip to the Elite Eight, Gottfried seemed like the coach who would finally bring a national title to Alabama. But, after three less than stellar campaigns and a mid-season fiasco in 2009, Gottfried was forced to resign and watch as his promising coaching career became nothing but a distant memory.
Outlook: Gottfried may not have the sexy namesake of a Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart, or even Billy Gillispie, but his track record speaks for itself. A 279–154 (64%) record, 11 post season appearances, 7 NCAA Tourney berths, an Elite Eight and even a National Title as an assistant (1995 UCLA). That is a pretty impressive resume and one that a desperate school like N.C State needs to take a chance on. If Gottfried can recruit nearly as well as he did for the Crimson, then Tobacco Road better keep an eye out.
Joe Jones, Boston University –
History: Jones time in Columbia was one that he’d probably like to soon forget. Seven seasons in the Ivy League and just one winning record to show for it (16-12 in 2006-07). His time as an Assistant at Villanova is well documented and Jones has often been referred to as a recruiting mastermind. But, apparently no matter how convincing you can be, the Ivy League will continually cock block you out of decent college talent. After leaving Columbia with an underwhelming 86-108 record, Jones made the smart decision of joining on with fellow Ivy Leaguer, Steve Donahue at BC. With Jones on Board, Donahue was able to bring in one of the best recruiting classes BC has seen in over a decade and set Donahue up for plenty of success moving forward.
Outlook: Last season was a big win for Jones, helping lead BC to a near NCAA tournament berth and building an atmosphere of winning in Chestnut Hill. But, his work didn’t go unnoticed as Boston University came calling soon enough with hopes of Jones taking the reigns. His recruiting skills should be more useful in the Boston area and hopefully his core of returning starters from a 2011 tourney team will help turn the BU program around.
Paul Hewitt, George Mason –
History: 2004 was much like a dream for Paul Hewitt. After turning Sienna into a relevant college basketball school once again, Hewitt took the job at Georgia Tech, hoping to rejuvenate a lost program. His first three seasons were marred with coaching lapses and ACC mediocrity. But, heading into the 2003-04 season a freshman by the name of Chris Bosh wound up on Hewitt’s roster and helped the coach keep his ass off the hot seat. A 28-10 record and National Title appearance saw Hewitt receive an out of this world extension, one that automatically rolled over each April to provide a new 6-year extension, and job security for what would seem like eternity. The honeymoon did not last long, however, as Hewitt would make just three more NCAA appearances in the next seven seasons and watch as his team finished under .500 for the other four. A 13-18 disaster was the last straw this past season as Tech cut the cord with Hewitt for good, deciding they’d rather pay his ridiculous salary than keep him at the helm any longer.
Outlook: Hewitt has been the subject to much criticism ever since signing that extension in 2005. But, cutting ties with the Yellow Jackets may have ultimately saved his career. Hewitt is a good coach with great recruiting skills and George Mason is just the place to put those skills into good use. Jim Larranaga, now taking over at Miami, had great success during his 14 seasons in the CAA, experiencing five NCAA berths and a Final Four run not soon to be forgotten. George Mason is now a nationally known name and has begun to attract the type of big names that can take the mid- right out of the mid-major. Hewitt’s style should help the Patriots maintain their dominance in the Colonial and see Mason continually into the NCAA tournament.