When ESPN and Sports Illustrated start handing out their Coach of the Year awards late in March or April, typically they are handed out to one of two types of coaches: a big name coach leading a powerhouse to an exceptional record or a coach on the rise leading a non-traditional power to new heights. The awards are great recognition for coaches who undoubtedly have done a tremendous job with their respective teams. But more often than not, they aren’t the coaches doing the best job coaching that season. The awards are earned from compiling a couple good years of recruiting together and developing players over time; not for just their successful records that year.
But if you want to really look for the best coaching jobs of the individual season, you need to start looking at the bottom of the barrel. Look at the squads who have almost no returning talent in the power conferences, where legendary coaches are on the opposing bench two to three times a week. Graduation, transfers, and early entrants to the NBA draft can leave coaches with rosters full of question marks. When expectations are at their lowest, that’s when a great coach can really make his mark and show his excellence in his craft. Finishing in with a .500 record might not mean a lot to the national audience, but the basketball junkies will recognize a job very well done.
With that said, let’s look at some coaches who will be trying to prove all those preseason prognosticators wrong.
Steve Donahue, Boston College
Here’s all you need to know about the daunting task Steve Donahue is facing this year: his top returning scorer is preferred walk-on Danny Rubin (4.1 PPG), who saw his playing time diminish in the middle of the ACC regular season. With Reggie Jackson’s early departure to the NBA and the graduation of six seniors, Donahue will realize how bare Al Skinner left the cupboard. Along with Rubin, guard Gabe Moton and junior Oregon-transfer Matt Humphrey will be the welcoming seven scholarship freshmen and a few other walk-ons. Although some of the freshmen will certainly be talented, Jeff Bzedlik learned last year how hard it is to compete in the ACC with a young, inexperienced Wake team. If Donahue can get this group to win more than five ACC games and show player development throughout the season, most Eagles fans will be thrilled.
Ed Cooley, Providence
A native of Providence, Cooley will try to resurrect the Friars and make them relevant in the Big East again. Losing first-round pick Marshon Brooks to graduation leaves quite a scoring gap for Ed Cooley’s young team and will be the reason most pundits are down on Providence. Throw in guard Duke Mondy being released from his scholarship and most will expect another bottom half finish for the Friars. But guards Gerald Coleman and Vincent Council have shown flashes of their talent and potential. But the Friars inability to consistently play team defense cost them in Big East play (8-28 Big East record previous two years) and ultimately Keno Davis his job. Cooley will be looking to build an identity that the Friar faithful can rally around and hopefully inject some life into the floundering program.
Tad Boyle, Colorado
Everyone seems to think that Seth Greenberg and the Hokies always get screwed over by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee and last year was no different when Virginia Tech didn’t hear their name on Selection Sunday. But Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes were the real victim to the committee’s curious selection process. If he has the Buffs in the conversation on Sunday this year, he’ll be the new Pac-12 COY. That’s right, Pac-12. Joining a new and improving basketball conference, Boyle’s Colarado squad must replace its top four scorers including first round pick Alec Burks (notice a theme here?). Getting production from incoming freshmen Damiene Cain and Spencer Dinwiddie along with versatile returning sophomore Andre Roberson will be imperative for Colorado in their first year battling the best of the West coast.
Ken Bone, Washington State
After leading Portland to two straight NCAA tournament appearances, Bone has done an admirable job at Washinton State these past two season despite no trips to the dance. The 2011-12 will be a real test to Bone’s coaching ability. Like these other coaches, Bone lost an elite scorer to the NBA in Klay Thompson. He also lost talented, yet troubled, DeAngelo Casto who also decided to leave school early. Between the two players, Bone will have to replace his leader in each of the five main statistical categories. That’s quite a burden. Factor in an unspectacular crop of recruits coming in and Bone’s Cougars will be picked to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12. How guards Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore handle being the go-to players with Thompson gone will be critical. Will be Bone be up to the challenge? We’ll see.
**Updated to include Providence guard Duke Mondy’s scholarship release.