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Candid Coaches: Which school made the best coaching hire?

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

. (USATSI)
Buzz Williams edged out Bruce Pearl for his contemporaries' top pick. (Va. Tech Athletics)

More College Basketball: Early Top 25 (And One) | Coaching changes

CBSSports.com college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Jeff Borzello and Matt Norlander spent the July recruiting period at various NCAA-sanctioned events, where they talked with coaches from all levels. They asked for honest opinions on prospects, players, coaches and issues. This is the final piece of our series.

Previous polls/questions/topics:

1: Which eligible NCAA player would you take over all others next season?

2: Will a woman be a head coach of a D-I men's program in the next 25 years?

3: Which model best combines the interest for college basketball and the NBA?

4: Should the NCAA remove marijuana from its list of banned substances?

5: Which current high school prospect has the best chance at being an NBA superstar?

6: Will the Power 5 eventually leave the NCAA in college hoops?

7: Which college coach would be best suited to coach LeBron James in a few years?

8: Have recent firings and punishments changed coaches' behavior?

****

Why not wrap up our annual polling with a topic that causes the coaches to look around the room an assess who's best in a new spot? We had to get a wide pool of opinion from coaches on this one. With so many having connections to other guys, due to once being on the same staff together or coming up in the business at the same time, it would be easy to get a skewed result. So we talked to more than 80 coaches from every level in D-I for this final question in our Candid Coaches series.

If you'd like to see the full list of coaches that have been hired, fired or retired this year, we tracked it here. Below, the top eight vote-getters.

Which school made the best head-coaching hire this offseason?

  • Virginia Tech (Buzz Williams): 29 percent
  • Auburn (Bruce Pearl): 28 percent
  • Marquette (Steve Wojciechowski) : 7 percent
  • Rice (Mike Rhoades): 7 percent
  • California (Cuonzo Martin): 6 percent
  • Loyola Marymount (Mike Dunlap): 5 percent
  • Marist (Mike Maker): 4 percent
  • Tennessee (Donnie Tyndall): 4 percent

Note: Nineteen schools/coaches received at least one vote.

QUOTES THAT STOOD OUT

"Bruce (Pearl) is probably the third most successful coach in the SEC right now ... and Auburn hired him before anybody else had a chance to make a run at him."

"Although I am a bit of a purist and completely disagree with the apparent lack of integrity, Bruce Pearl to Auburn was the best hire in terms of giving a program a chance to resurrect. Hire that was the most pragmatic and pure to college basketball was Mike Maker from Williams to Marist. A great example of a university that wants its basketball program to reflect its true academic identity.”

"Virginia Tech. For a lack of tradition, facilities and location, they hit a home run. Going to be hard getting kids there. There's no close airport, it's close to nowhere. And top 10 in that league won't be easy."

"Tennessee and Donnie Tyndall. The guy is a stud. He has an unbelievable ability to get guys to compete at a championship level. Bruce Pearl will take longer, and Buzz has a way tougher road winning the ACC than Donnie does winning the SEC."

"Marquette. It's a school that will do whatever is necessary to have a great basketball program. They spare no expense and take no shortcuts. It's a great hire. They hired a guy that gets it and has worked for and earned everything his entire life. It's the perfect match."

"Buzz Williams is the Rodney Dangerfield of college basketball. He gets no respect."

THE TAKEAWAY (BY MATT NORLANDER)

Well, that last quote turns out to not be true, because Buzz wound up winning. I included it because it was one of the first quotes I got while compiling responses and answers for this, and I wondered where Buzz would land. Initially I thought he wouldn't land first, for whatever reason. (That move to Va. Tech was so strange when it first happened, but I'm warming up to the notion.) Williams has clearly commanded a lot of respect in the recent years, keeping Marquette relevant and a consistent NCAA Tournament threat (last year aside).

A lot of this has to do with what the Virginia Tech job is ... and what it could be under Williams. Suddenly the team and school feels worth talking about, which hasn't been the case since Seth Greenberg made his annual early March please for an NCAA bid in the aughts.

Williams beating out Pearl wasn't surprising to me; Pearl being so close to winning was. I knew he'd get some votes, but to be neck-and-neck with Williams -- and for both to be so far ahead of everyone else -- was eye-opening. A lot of that has to do with the fact that both guys are personable and well-liked in the business. They also won at places where it was no gimme, and by doing so, earned their keep in that regard.

Pearl garnering so much support just goes to show that plenty believe he's still the goods when it comes to coaching, but they also know that three-year show-cause (which ends on Sunday, by the way) was too harsh by the NCAA. Lotta guys rooting for Pearl.

My question: Who stays at their current school longer, Buzz or Bruce? I'll go with Pearl there.

As for the rest of the list, some interesting names, yeah? Mike Dunlap at LMU got some support because, in reality, he's considered one of the best X-and-O minds in the game. A coach's coach. Mike Rhoades at Rice was a bit surprising, but good for him. He was an assistant at VCU in recent years. Did you know VCU and Louisville have created more head coaches in the past half-decade than any other program? Five apiece.

Wojo at Marquette is going to be one to watch. He got some support here, but plenty are curious to see if he can keep Marquette rolling to the NCAAs like Buzz did. If he does, there's a good chance the Duke job is his whenever Mike Krzyzewski steps down.

There are some questions from the writers in this business as to how Cunozo Martin, who has no ties out West, will adapt and thrive at Cal. But clearly some coaches see that as a huge win for the Golden Bears, who go on without Mike Montgomery. Martin is replaced at Tennessee by Donnie Tyndall, who's won at Morehead State and Southern Miss and will have a rough go of it for the next two years. Give it time, though. Tyndall's the goods.

And if you're wondering why Marist of all places landed on the list, know that its new coach, Mike Maker, went 147-32 in six seasons of D-III coaching. He also has plenty of D-I experience, but it's his path and connections in the northeast that have a lot of people believing he'll use Marist as a stepping stone gig to move on to bigger within the next three or four years.

Should be fun to come back and check on this list in three years or so. Not everyone that garnered multiple votes will wind up being a great hire. In terms of buzz, though, it doesn't get much better than the new guys in Auburn and Blacksburg.

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