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
Donahue will have to lead a young BC squad against the heavyweights of the ACC this year.
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.
Here’s our first edition of Twithitters. Here’s the quick idea- have a rundown of important games, power polls, rankings, etc. with a brief “Twitter” response. So short and sweet. Mayo and Luke disobeyed the rules of Twitter but we’ll let it slide this time.
First topic, three best/worst off-season coaching hires.
Top 3 Hires:
Arkansas finds the perfect guy.
- Mike Anderson, Arkansas – Proven coach who has won with “40 minutes of hell” at 2 different spots. Bringing fans back to the Nolan Richardson championship days. Perfect fit.
- Lon Kruger, Oklahoma – All 54 places he coached at he has won. Sooners fans will be pleasantly surprised to have winning basketball before spring football.
- Ed Cooley, Providence – Getting a local boy who turned around Fairfield ain’t bad. Stealing one of Jim Calhoun’s top recruiters will get the Friar faithful excited.
- Mike Anderson, Arkansas – This isn’t rocket science. Not only does Arkansas get a coach with a proven track record, but also a guy who has been there before as an assistant. This hire has rejuvenated an admittedly stagnant fan base as memories of former head coach Nolan Richardson begin to percolate with Anderson’s arrival.
- Jim Larranaga, Miami – Miami looked doomed to make a desperation hire after being rebuked by Tommy Amaker, who thought that Harvard was a better job than The U. Yes, Harvard. Instead, they get a guy who has been to a Final Four and has a proven track record. Harvard?
- Bill Gillispie, Texas Tech – The Red Raiders go from a guy who used his nepoticious (ok, I made that word up—see Bob Knight) connections to get his head coaching job to a guy who has earned everything that he’s achieved. Gillispie was never a good fit personality-wise at Kentucky. Tech feels much more like Texas A&M where Gillispie put his name on the map.
- Mike Anderson, Arkansas: A gift! In Anderson, Arkansas is getting a Nolan Richardson clone. He’s a solid recruiter and a master motivator, always getting the most out of his players. With a solid class on it’s way the former Mizzou man could bring the Razorbacks back to national prominence once more.
- Dave Rice, UNLV: A former player and Rebel at heart, Rice should return the Runnin Rebels style of the early 90’s and reenergize college ball in Vegas. He did a terrific job at BYU and with some solid assistants -Stacey Augmon (Denver Nuggets)/Justin Houston (SDSU) – the Rebels should hit the ground running.
- Ed Cooley, Providence: After turning a seemingly non-existent Fairfield program into a conference champion two years running, Cooley has experience taking lemons and turning them into lemonade. Cooley is great on the recruiting trail and with a little luck could have the Friars back in the tourney in two years.
Bottom 3 Hires:
I guarantee I will make one NCAA tournament in the next seven years.
- Jim Larranaga, Miami – Because “The U” didn’t hire Frank Martin. A terrific basketball coach who actually wants to coach at Miami. Not settle down and retire like Jimmy boy.
- Mark Gottfried, NC State – Debbie Yow made this coaching search into a pissing match between her and Gary Williams. She threw her new coach under the bus in the process.
- Frank Haith, Missouri – Strike out on Matt Painter. Panic. Hire Frank Haith. Couldn’t get a hold of Paul Hewitt or Sidney Lowe?
- Frank Haith, Missouri – Missouri fans lost a guy they loved in Mike Anderson. Then, they thought they were getting Matt Painter from Purdue. Instead, they get the next best thing. Well, if not the next best then at least close, right? Wait, what? WHAT was his record in the ACC while at Miami? 43-and-what? 43-and-69? Uh oh…
- Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech – Usually when an ACC school hires a coach from a smaller, mid-major type program, it’s a guy who has achieved great success there and the whole program is sad to see him go. If the guy’s previous fan base is breaking out into song upon his departure, you might have wanted to re-evaluate.
- Mark Gottfried, NC State – Gottfried did have moderate success during his run as the Alabama head coach, but just because he will be an upgrade over Sidney Lowe doesn’t make him a great hire. Here’s a guy who want after a Wake Forest recruit the day after Skip Prosser passed away and walked out on his team mid-season in ’09. Yeah, he’ll be able to recruit against Roy Williams and Coach K…
- Larry Krystkowiak, Utah: Rick Majerus why have you forsaken us? Just because a guy can win at Montana and Idaho doesn’t mean he can compete with UCLA, Arizona and the PAC-12 crop. I’ll give it 4 years before Utah is looking for a new coach and Krystkowiak is back in the unemployment line.
- Frank Haith, Missouri: Really? I’m sure you’ll be receiving the complimentary fruit basket from Iowa State welcoming you to the Big 12 cellar any day now.
- Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee: Don’t dislike the coach as much as the situation. Martin did a great job at Missouri State but is entering a hostile situation in Knoxville. With an NCAA investigation pending, an already thin roster and possible penalties on the way this job would be a bad move for anyone.