As North Carolina State thrashed about this spring for a coach, it occurred to me: N.C. State is one of the toughest big-time jobs in college basketball. It has to be. Otherwise, one of the first 48 candidates contacted by the Wolfpack would have said yes to a job in the ACC with a salary in excess of $1 million.
|Just ask Herb Sendek how easy it was to win at N.C. State. (Getty Images)|
Not tough like Texas-Pan American, where you get paid like a school teacher and literally can't win. Tough like N.C. State -- great salary, great league, but still brutal.
Ten for Tuesday looked into it. I can't wait for the results!
1. Ole Miss: Pick one, or pick them all. This job is tough for reasons including racial, financial, geographical, traditional and historical. Tad Smith Coliseum is old and small, and the commitment to the sport hasn't been big in Oxford. The state's best players tend to go elsewhere, but if they do stay local, they usually fall for the persuasive powers of Mississippi State. This could change under dynamic new coach Andy Kennedy, but under previous coaches Ole Miss basketball has been a non-entity on the national scale. Plus, the elephant in the corner that nobody talks about: This state in general and this school in particular continue to scare away a segment of the African-American population.
2. Seton Hall: Having the worst facilities in the league is bad. When that league is the Big East, it's disastrous. Ask George Blaney and Louis Orr. Not only is Seton Hall's gym bad -- an aging, unfriendly NBA arena -- it's not even on campus. Why would a recruit want to play here? If you're from Jersey and you're pretty good, there's Rutgers. If you're exceptionally good, there's Villanova or St. John's. And if you're great, there's Duke. Any year Seton Hall wins 20 games and goes to the NCAA Tournament, the national coach of the year race is over. Oh, and this is an awful final thought: The SHU fan base has no idea how difficult this job is.
3. Stanford: Stanford's admissions are so tough that, in any given year, maybe three or four of the top 100 high school seniors could get into school. And a student-athlete of that caliber is a prize who will be sought by all the academic powerhouses -- UCLA and Duke primarily. That generally leaves Stanford to look for overachievers in the next tier of recruits. Imagine being Stanford and having to compete against Oregon, Arizona and Washington, against waves of players who couldn't get into Stanford. Tough job. Northwestern is in the same boat, but Northwestern doesn't get its own listing because, frankly, nobody expects Northwestern to win. At Stanford, thanks to Mike Montgomery, you're supposed to win.
4. N.C. State: We've been over this, but it bears repeating. The Wolfpack is to college basketball what Clemson is to college football -- an overrated program built to unrealistic heights by coaches who cheated, with an overbearing fan base too biased to see that reality. Herb Sendek went to five straight NCAA Tournaments and was averaging 20 wins per year, and it wasn't enough for Wolfpack Nation. Wow. Throw in the presence of Duke and North Carolina 30 miles away, and this job is a killer.
5. Penn State: Location, location, location. Penn State is in the middle of a basketball graveyard. On one side of the state is Philadelphia, recruited by national powers. On the other side, Pittsburgh and West Virginia dominate. Abandoned in its own state, where is Penn State to turn for recruits? To Indiana? Or Michigan? Those states have their own powerhouses. When people tell you that Texas and Oklahoma are tough basketball jobs because they're "football" schools, hold up a hand and say two words: Penn State.
6. Colorado: The Buffaloes averaged 5,018 fans this past season, which would be good for a small hockey school but is abysmal for big-time college basketball. That is one reason why Colorado has never staked a claim to big-time college basketball. It will take a bevy of great players to turn this program around, but who wants to play basketball at a football school with all sorts of off-field issues and a basketball fan base that doesn't seem to give a hoot?
7. Washington State: Compared to Washington State, Colorado fans are gaga over college basketball. The Cougars averaged 3,945 fans last season, which is no way to make a dent in an already untenable recruiting situation. In Eastern Washington, the Cougars are battling Gonzaga for players -- an unfair fight. Everywhere else, the competition is the Washington Huskies. Game over.
8. Clemson: Poor Clemson. Gets ragged on for its football program, and now it gets ragged on for basketball, too. Look, it is what it is -- and this is one horrible basketball job. Larry Shyatt's a pretty good coach and recruiter, but he had no chance. Oliver Purnell? He's still climbing the hill. Look at Texas' Rick Barnes, clearly one of the best coaches in recent NCAA history. Yet at Clemson from 1995-98 he won 20 games just once, and he went a lousy 28-36 in ACC games -- which is still by far the best ACC record in Clemson history. The state of South Carolina doesn't produce enough basketball talent for Clemson to compete for ACC titles, and if you're from another state, why on earth would you leave home for Littlejohn Coliseum?
9. Providence: Some say this is a tougher job than Seton Hall. Could be. With an enrollment of barely 3,000, Providence could be the smallest school in any of the six BCS leagues. The facilities aren't great. The access to players -- Rhode Island? -- isn't good. And the Big East is a monster. Depressing.
10. Kansas State: If everything breaks right, Bob Huggins is going to win so big at Kansas State you'll wonder how the Wildcats ever got onto this list. But if everything breaks wrong -- if O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker go to Southern California or just turn pro; and if Michael Beasley and Herb Pope decide not to be traded to Kansas State like pieces of horse flesh -- Huggins will find out just how bad this job really is. When the NCAA ruled that schools can't use private planes to fly in recruits, it was a shattering blow in Manhattan, Kan., a suburb of Hades.