Candid Coaches: Which power-conference school made the best coaching hire?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Reid Forgrave spent much of July on the road in cities across the country, covering the live recruiting periods. While there, and in the weeks since, they've surveyed coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be posting the results on several questions posed to more than 100 coaches.

The coaching carousel started spinning during last season and didn't stop for good until ... earlier this month. Did you realize that? The San Jose State job actually (and abruptly) opened in July, which left a Division I position vacant until the school hired Colorado assistant Jean Prioleau on Aug. 4. So things are just now getting settled. But they are settled. Thus it seemed like a good time to ask more than 100 college coaches the following question:

Which coach was the best hire in one of the seven major basketball conferences this year?

Rank

Coach

School

Vote percentage

1.

Archie Miller

Indiana

37.8 percent

2. 

Brad Underwood

Illinois

26.4 percent

T3.

Chris Holtmann

Ohio State

10.4 percent

T3.

Cuonzo Martin

Missouri

10.4 percent

5. 

Kevin Keatts

NC State

6.6 percent

6.

Will Wade

LSU

2.8 percent

7. 

Mike Hopkins

Washington

1.9 percennt

(NOTE: Each coach listed received multiple votes.)

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Illinois and Indiana score with Underwood and Miller. Mike Meredith/CBSSports.com

Quotes that stood out

On Indiana's Archie Miller ...

  • "Indiana is a symbol of toughness -- doing things the blue collar way. I think he proved [he can do that] at Dayton. He took a blue-collar team that didn't have star players and got them to the Elite Eight. I think he's going to have a mix of role players and star players, and it's going to be the closest thing to that [style] since Bobby Knight. I think he fits the mold. I lived in Indiana from 1994-99, the back end of Coach Knight. I know how crazy people are in that state about basketball. It's a top 10 job in the country. I know playing physical and playing the style Archie wants to play is going to be appealing to fans."
  • "Archie Miller won at a high level at Dayton for multiple years. His pedigree as the son of a great high school coach, and his brother Sean's success at Arizona, lead me to believe he will be very successful at Indiana. He's as close to a can't-miss hire as there is."
  • "I have nothing but respect for the Miller family. You're looking at someone who understands the area. I can't see any way, shape or form how they're not successful. You look at what he did at Dayton, what Sean's done at all the places he's been at."

On Illinois' Brad Underwood ...

  • "I had the scout [on Underwood's team when we played him] when he was at Stephen F. Austin. I was very impressed with what he did there, and he had a pretty decent year at Oklahoma State [last season]. I'm impressed with how he can coach and recruit."
  • "I would be shocked if Illinois isn't back near the top of the Big Ten in two or three years. His 53-1 record in conference play at Stephen F. Austin is ridiculous -- no matter the league. Love watching his teams play."
  • "The dumbest thing Oklahoma State ever did is let that guy get away. He's an unbelievable coach. Illinois was smart to swoop in and get him. And he was smart to take the money."

On Ohio State's Chris Holtmann ...

  • "I've known him a long time and competed against him when he was at Gardner-Webb. I think he's got the makeup for it. Reserved, works his face off, does it the right way, treats people well, and he can coach his ass off."
  • "Ohio State made an unbelievable hire with Chris Holtmann. He's extremely underrated. I coached against him head-to-head when he was at Gardner-Webb. He took a calculated risk in going to Butler as an assistant. Chris knows what he's doing, his players love playing for him, and he knows how he wants to play. They do a very good job of at evaluating his kind of guys. They get their shot where they want to get it. But he can change things defensively. He can make subtle in-game adjustments, whether it's how he's guarding ball screens or switching his defense completely. He's very good at making adjustments within the game."
  • "I think he did a great job at Butler. His teams always play with great toughness, and that will translate well in the Big Ten. I don't know him at all other than watching his teams play, and how they competed. The way they compete will translate well."

On Missouri's Cuonzo Martin ...

  • "He got Michael Porter to commit, and got [younger brother Jontay] there as well. They may not have the talent just yet, but it's Cuonzo so they will defend and always be in games. Should translate to the biggest turnaround in wins for any of the programs who hired new guys."
  • "He's changed Missouri from a cellar-dweller into a potential deep-run NCAA Tournament team. I don't know how good they can be but, obviously, they have pieces. You talk about a roster overhaul with really good players. Hiring Porter's dad -- that right there makes you pretty legit."
  • "Cuonzo has already proven he'll get players. And that's the key to everything -- especially in the SEC. He'll be really good there."

Takeaways

The top of this list was fairly predictable.

I always assumed Archie Miller would be the No. 1 answer to this question by a significant margin -- if only because he's long been universally respected by his peers, an obvious coaching star in the making. From coast to coast, people just think he's great. The men who work for him think he's great. And there's really no obvious reason he won't have Indiana competing at, or near, the top of the Big Ten in time.

In fact, several weeks back, I was a guest on an Indiana-focused podcast, and the host asked the following question: "If Archie Miller fails at Indiana, what will be the reason?" Simple question, right? And yet the question caught me completely off-guard because I'd never even considered the possibility. Honest to God, I've never once even considered the possibility that Miller won't be great at IU.

That's the best compliment I could give him.

I think he's a home run hire.

As I've said many times, I was not a fan of Indiana removing Tom Crean after an injury-plagued season that followed an outright Big Ten title. But once Indiana did it, Indiana could not have done better than hiring Archie Miller. My expectations are very, very high.

Same goes for most of the men on this list.

I don't believe Illinois could've done better than Underwood. I don't believe Ohio State could've done better than Holtmann. And I don't believe Missouri and LSU could've done better than Martin and Wade -- both of whom have already shown themselves to be aggressive and savvy recruiters by luring five-star prospects to their SEC campuses. I'm not insisting they'll dethrone Kentucky's John Calipari anytime soon. But they're certainly already making the SEC more interesting.

Bottom line, some schools made some good hires this year.

They won't all work out, obviously.

But the guys at the top of this list? Yeah, I'd bet on them being just fine.

CBS Sports Insider

Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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