August 28, 2010

Who were the best, worst coaching hires?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. We have two questions this week, one today and one Sunday.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Illinois-Chicago hired a new coach this week, meaning the coaching carousel finally has stopped spinning. Who are the three best hires this offseason -- and the three most puzzling?

David Fox's answer:
The three best hires were Steve Donahue at Boston College, Fran McCaffery at Iowa and Brad Brownell at Clemson. McCaffery took three programs from one-bid leagues to the NCAA tournament. Brownell did the same with two programs. Meanwhile, Donahue had perhaps the toughest rebuilding job before taking Cornell to the tournament three times. I can't wait to see what these guys do when they have resources. The most puzzling are Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, Steve Lavin at St. John's and Tim Floyd at UTEP. None of these jobs are elite, but I figured all took unnecessary risks. Hoiberg came from an NBA front office and never has been a head coach. St. John's plucked Lavin from ESPN even after his UCLA tenure was not particularly impressive. And UTEP just invited the NCAA to set up camp across the street from the gym by bringing in Floyd.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I think Clemson with Brad Brownell, Iowa with Fran McCaffery and Wagner with Dan Hurley stand out as the three best hires. Brownell is a good Xs and Os guy who will take what Oliver Purnell has built and make it even better. McCaffery finally is getting a shot at the "big time" and he will make it pay off; his fast-paced style will appeal to recruits -- and to Hawkeyes fans who have been bored by their team's deliberate style of play the past few seasons. As for Hurley, his contacts and background will help Wagner increase its talent pool dramatically; I don't expect Hurley to be at Wagner that long because he'll be moving on to a bigger job within five years. As for the other side of the coin, I'm skeptical of the hires of James Dickey at Houston, Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest and Tim Floyd at UTEP. Houston has struck gold with its past two football coaching hires -- Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin -- despite hiring a guy directly from high school (Briles) and a guy who never had been a head coach (Sumlin). So why did school officials hire another retread as basketball coach? Bzdelik and Floyd are excellent technical coaches, but their hirings still are puzzling. Bzdelik is the opposite of predecessor Dino Gaudio (a proven recruiter but a questionable coach), and you wonder if Wake's new staff is going to be able to reel in the necessary talent to compete in the ACC. I was stunned that UTEP hired Floyd; yes, he has ties to the school and is an excellent Xs and Os guy, but his hiring came less than a year after he resigned at USC in the wake of revelations about NCAA violations surrounding O.J. Mayo. It's hard to take all the talk about following NCAA rules seriously when hires like this are made.

Jason King's answer:
St. John's may have made the best hire of the offseason when it tabbed Steve Lavin to replace Norm Roberts. Lavin is a solid coach, but his energy and personality will be his biggest assets during the early stages of his tenure. St. John's needs to step it up in recruiting -- especially in the New York area. Lavin already is making strides. Some may disagree, but I think the Tim Floyd hire at UTEP also was a good one. The Miners have done a good job with their past few hires (Billy Gillispie, Doc Sadler, Tony Barbee), and there aren't many game tacticians out there as strong as Floyd. Boston College knocked one out of the park by hiring Steve Donahue away from Cornell, where he led his team to the Sweet 16 last spring. His work ethic will be refreshing for a program whose former coach (Al Skinner) had become lazy. Jeff Bzdelik was an interesting hire at Wake Forest. He deserves credit for making Colorado competitive again, but I'm not sure he's a good fit -- or a good enough recruiter -- for the ACC. Do top-tier players really want to run the Princeton offense? Oregon threw out offers like Mardi Gras beads to big-name coaches but, in the end, the Ducks had to settle for Creighton's Dana Altman, who has long been one of the top coaches in the Missouri Valley. Altman is one of the more well-respected coaches in the game but, again, I can't help but wonder if this is a good fit. What ties does he have to Oregon and the West Coast? College basketball is all about recruiting. Will Altman, a lifelong Midwesterner, be able to do it effectively in Eugene? I also thought it was a bit strange that Houston hired James Dickey. The longtime Texas Tech coach has been out of basketball the past two seasons, and there were some other strong candidates (Gillispie) that may have generated a bigger buzz. Still, Dickey long has been regarded as one of the good guys in college coaching. He also had a three-year stretch at Texas Tech that saw the Red Raiders go 57-20, including a 28-1 mark in 1995-96. That should count for something.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I like Iowa's hire of Fran McCaffery, Clemson's selection of Brad Brownell and Louisiana-Lafayette's choice of Bob Marlin. All three have successful track records. McCaffery already has orchestrated successful rebuilding projects at Lehigh, UNC Greensboro and most recently at Siena, which reached the NCAA tournament each of the past three seasons. Brownell guided UNC Wilmington and Wright State to the tournament. And it's rare when a Sun Belt program can acquire someone with Marlin's head-coaching experience; he won 225 games in 12 years with Sam Houston State, which earned an NCAA bid last season. I was surprised that UTEP's Tim Floyd found a head-coaching job so soon after leaving USC when that program was under an NCAA investigation that resulted in self-imposed sanctions. I also was puzzled by Houston's selection of former Texas Tech coach James Dickey because his tenure with the Red Raiders resulted in an NCAA probe, though he personally never was implicated. Appalachian State also clearly rolled the dice by hiring Jason Capel, a 30-year-old with only one season of experience as a college assistant, though history suggests the gamble could pay off. The last time Appalachian State took a chance on a guy who would become the nation's youngest Division I head coach, it was to give Bobby Cremins his first opportunity.



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