Candid Coaches: Who was the best head-coaching hire in college basketball this year?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 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, the 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 nine questions they were asked.

Ken Pomeroy recently published a ranking of all Division I men's basketball programs. When asked about it, he told my colleague Matt Norlander that "it's designed to be the list you'd create if you were coming up with the best programs [from a quality-of-the-job perspective]. And when you scan the list what you'll find is that, according to Pomeroy's rankings, only one top-25 job (UCLA) was open this past offseason -- which is among the reasons why it was a relatively quiet ride on the annual coaching carousel. Still, some big names moved. Fred Hoiberg returned to college basketball at Nebraska. Buzz Williams bounced from Virginia Tech to Texas A&M. Mick Cronin moved from Cincinnati to UCLA.  So, as we do every year in our Candid Coaches series, we asked more than 100 college coaches the following question:

Who was the best head-coaching hire this year?

Coach (School)Votes
Fred Hoiberg (Nebraska) 30%
Buzz Williams (Texas A&M) 27%
Mick Cronin (UCLA) 13%
Nate Oats (Alabama) 6%
Mike Young (Virginia Tech) 6%
Eric Musselman (Arkansas) 4%
Lennie Acuff (Lipscomb) 3%
John Brannen (Cincinnati) 3%
Mark Fox (California) 3%
TJ Otzelberger (UNLV) 3%
Other 2%
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Graphic by Mike Meredith

Quotes that stood out

On Fred Hoiberg

  • "I don't think this is even close -- Fred Hoiberg to Nebraska. Given what he did at Iowa State, and the resources and fanbase that Nebraska can offer him, he is a home run hire."
  • "If Fred follows the blueprint he used at Iowa State and stockpiles talented transfers who need a second-chance for whatever reason, he'll win at Nebraska just like he won at Iowa State. There's obviously a risk of that creating problems if it blows up on you. But there's no reason he won't be able to have, at worst, the same type of rosters at Nebraska that he had at Iowa State."
  • "I think as things shake out down the line we will see that a number of these hires turn out to be really good ones, but Hoiberg feels like the best right now. He has a model for success in the Midwest from his time at Iowa State, and I think he will be able to attract some high level talent. They have the facilities and the fanbase to attract the right guys [even if] the geography might not be overly appealing. Nebraska seems like it is making a push recently to get consistently good in men's basketball, and Hoiberg is the right guy to bring them there."

On Buzz Williams

  • "Probably the worst kept secret in college basketball was that Buzz was leaving for College Station at the end of Virginia Tech's season last year, and the reason why is that it just makes sense for both parties. The Texas A&M basketball program needed a jolt of energy with this hire and Buzz, no pun intended, has Texas roots, an outgoing personality and track record of winning at a high level wherever he is at."
  • "It might take him a minute to get going like it did at Virginia Tech, but Buzz winning at Texas A&M is the surest thing. Do you know how much easier it is to get players and win at Texas A&M than it is to win and get players at Virginia Tech?
  • "Buzz [was the best hire] because of the job he's done at two places. You could argue Marquette's a basketball school, but they've got expectations from the '70s -- and that's not what it is anymore. And Virginia Tech is a REALLY hard place to win. At A&M, it's similar situation as Virginia Tech, but he's going to have a big-time budget and big-time resources. ... He's going to have some of the best resources in the SEC."

On Mick Cronin

  • "Cronin consistently won at Cincinnati mostly without getting high-level recruits. People don't give him enough credit for that. But at UCLA, he'll get players because anybody can get players at UCLA. So he'll be really good if those fans are patient and reasonable with him."
  • "Even though the search process was such a cluster, [Cronin] is one of the best coaches in the country. He overachieved pretty consistently at Cincinnati. His style might not be the most natural fit at UCLA, [but] imagine what happens if he can continue to get the types of players UCLA has always had, and those players maximize their potential, have the toughness that he will require and play with a chip on their shoulder?"
  • "Mick with UCLA-level talent is going to be interesting. Can he make those players as tough and tenacious as his players were at Cincinnati? I don't know. But I don't think there's any doubt he's going to win and be successful."

The takeaway

It's unsurprising that Fred Hoiberg, Buzz Williams and Mick Cronin combined to get 70 percent of the vote because they're all proven winners at the high-major level. But it was Hoiberg who finished first because, as multiple coaches explained, he was the biggest prize available after being fired midseason by the Chicago Bulls.

His time at Iowa State was undeniably impressive.

Without any previous head-coaching experience, Hoiberg went to four NCAA Tournaments in five seasons, advanced three of those four years and made the Sweet 16 in 2014. So it's easy to understand why Nebraska was aggressive in its pursuit and willing to sign him to a seven-year contract worth $25 million. His presence adds a pop that otherwise wouldn't exist. And if anybody can win big at Nebraska, at a school that's made only one NCAA Tournament in the past two decades, coaches believe it's probably him.

Buzz Williams' finishing second makes sense.

He just made three straight NCAA Tournaments at Virginia Tech -- which is something literally no coach before him had ever done. Now he's back in his home state of Texas, with incredible resources, and there's no reason to believe he won't win at Texas A&M the same way he won at Marquette and Virginia Tech. As for Mick Cronin, well, the question isn't whether he'll win as much as it's whether he'll win enough to satisfy a UCLA fanbase that rarely seems satisfied with anything. As always, we'll see. But when you have a coach who has consistently won at the high-major level for nearly a decade without exception, and give him a job where getting 5-star prospects like Daishen Nix is possible, if not simple, it's hard to envision it not being a successful pairing that has UCLA competing for Pac-12 titles again soon.

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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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