June 9, 2009

Coaching carousel: The good, bad and ugly

This had been a relatively quite offseason on the coaching front until last week, when two schools (Fairleigh Dickinson and UT Martin) made changes. (Click here for a complete list of coaching changes.)

The timing of the moves obviously was a surprise, but it also gives our basketball writers an opportunity to discuss some of the changes this offseason.

Which coach or coaches should be expected to take his new team to the NCAA tournament next season?

David Fox's answer:
I'll be conservative and say John Calipari is the only coach who should be expected to make the tournament. Picking the Wildcats to go to the Final Four, like some fans have already, is a risky proposition. As talented as it is, Calipari's first signing class is full of guys used to having the ball in their hands. Veterans Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks (if he remains in school) will deserve their fair share, too. Another coach I think will make the tournament is Virginia's Tony Bennett. Remember, he had immediate success at Washington State, which isn't exactly a basketball powerhouse. He's an excellent defensive coach who inherits one of the nation's underrated sophomores in Sylven Landesberg.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
If Kentucky doesn't get there under new coach John Calipari, shock will be too kind a word to describe how UK fans will feel. New coach Chris Mack will be expected to guide Xavier to the tournament, as well. And it wouldn't be a surprise if Ken Bone gets Washington State back into the tournament. All the other first-year guys would deserve high praise if their teams make it; after all, the reasons most of these schools have made coaching changes is because the team has been bad.

Steve Megargee's answer:
Kentucky fired Billy Gillispie after he failed to make the NCAA tournament last spring, so John Calipari better get the Wildcats there next March. And he certainly has assembled the kind of talent that makes an NCAA bid seem inevitable. Xavier might not be quite as strong as usual now that Derrick Brown has moved on to the pro ranks, but the Musketeers should be good enough to earn their annual NCAA bid. Those are the only two coaches who really need to reach the NCAA tournament immediately, but a few other new coaches also have reason to believe they could be dancing next season. Portland State coach Tyler Geving inherits a team that returns three starters after winning the Big Sky tournament last season. Nevada coach David Carter was Mark Fox's right-hand man when the Wolf Pack were consistently delivering 20-win seasons. The return of Luke Babbitt should help Nevada challenge for a postseason bid again. And the Pac-10 is so wide open that it wouldn't come as a major surprise if Washington State gets back to the tournament after a one-year absence.

Which coach will have the most long-term success?

David Fox's answer:
John Calipari should deliver a Final Four early in his tenure at Kentucky, and there's little incentive for him to leave. Alabama coach Anthony Grant has been on the fast track since he was a member of Billy Donovan's staff at Florida. He'll do fine with the Crimson Tide. The first couple of seasons will be rough for Sean Miller at Arizona, but he'll have the Wildcats back in Pac-10 contention sooner rather than later.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
John Calipari's recruiting ability is something Kentucky hasn't had since the mid-1990s, when Rick Pitino was there. Top-flight talent goes a long way toward helping a program sustain success, so look for Calipari and Kentucky to rule the roost in the SEC for a while. I also think Ken Bone is a great fit at Washington State, which has enjoyed a basketball resurgence this decade. Bone has a ton of recruiting contacts in the Pacific Northwest; he's also a good Xs and Os guy. I don't think the Cougars are going to win any national titles, but they should be contenders in the Pac-10 on a regular basis and occasionally make nice runs in the NCAA tournament. For the most part, I think the other coaches hired this offseason will be looking to leave for better jobs after a few seasons of success.

Steve Megargee's answer:
John Calipari has a history of messy exits, but his former schools sure loved him while he was there. He reached a Final Four at Massachusetts and would have won a national title at Memphis if his players had made their free throws or if Kansas' Mario Chalmers hadn't hit that 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation. Yes, UMass had to vacate its Final Four bid and Memphis' 2007 success now is under scrutiny. Who knows if Kentucky might face a similar dilemma whenever Calipari leaves Lexington? But when you look at the talent he already has stockpiled at Kentucky, it's hard to argue that Calipari will make the Wildcats consistent Final Four contenders as long as he sticks around in Wildcat Country.

Which move puzzles you the most?

David Fox's answer:
Georgia going to Nevada to get Mark Fox is puzzling, Memphis promoting whiz kid Josh Pastner is questionable, VCU grabbing unknown Florida assistant Shaka Smart raises an eyebrow and Farleigh Dickenson firing Tom Green last week is bizarre. I'm skeptical of all of those, but Florida International hiring Isiah Thomas is in another stratosphere. Sure, he's not coaching against the Celtics or the Lakers in the Sun Belt, but a team such as Western Kentucky has this college basketball thing down pat. Thomas can't say that. Thomas' track record since he retired from playing isn't impressive. He struggled as a coach. He struggled as an executive. He struggled as the owner of the CBA. FIU has plenty of other problems in its athletic program. Does it really need to take a chance on Thomas?

Mike Huguenin's answer:
Georgia fired Dennis Felton in January, and Bulldogs officials obviously thought firing Felton that early would enable them to get who they wanted. But I doubt Mark Fox was the guy they thought they would end up with. Fox did an OK job at Nevada, but he has spent his entire career west of the Mississippi River. Is he going to be able to recruit in the Southeast? In his own division, Fox will be going against John Calipari, Billy Donovan, Bruce Pearl and Kevin Stallings, and Georgia isn't exactly a program known for its ability to attract top-flight talent. Fox has a tough road ahead.

Steve Megargee's answer:
Fairleigh Dickinson struggled the past two seasons the Knights went 8-20 in 2007-08 and 7-23 in 2008-09 but the decision to fire Tom Green last week still seemed rather abrupt and impersonal. FDU undoubtedly was going to subject itself to criticism for firing a coach who had won 407 games while coaching at the school for 26 years. But the real surprise was the timing of the move. The firing was announced about two months after most coaching changes are made.

Is there an under-the-radar hiring you think will pay off big?

David Fox's answer:
It looks as if Washington State is going to be a factor for a while. New coach Ken Bone has spent his entire coaching career in the Pacific Northwest. He has strong recruiting connections and proved he can win with Portland State. Washington State hit a home run with this hire. You're probably not too familiar with Xavier's Chris Mack or Nevada's David Carter, but these programs have had success with promoting from within through several coaching changes.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I think High Point got a good one in Scott Cherry, a former guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina. Cherry was hired off the staff at South Carolina and also has been an assistant at George Mason (including on their Final Four team), Tennessee Tech and Western Kentucky. Cherry has an interesting back story he began his coaching career after working for three years as a forklift salesman and should be a solid recruiter and good Xs and Os guy. He plans to run an up-tempo attack at High Point, which is a member of the Big South Conference. The Big South lacks a dominant program, so it's not hard to imagine Cherry being able to quickly turn High Point into a contender. And when that happens, he'll be on his way to a better job in a bigger conference.

Steve Megargee's answer:
North Florida is a new Division I program that hasn't experienced much success since making that move, so the Ospreys did well for themselves by landing an assistant from a major-conference program. Former Baylor assistant Matthew Driscoll has received much of the credit for the Bears' recruiting success during Scott Drew's tenure. Nobody's expecting Driscoll to suddenly start bringing the same kind of talent to UNF, but he ought to be able to recruit a better brand of athlete than the Ospreys have attracted in the past.




 

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