College basketball 2017 coaching moves: Ranking the hirings of the biggest jobs filled
Which of the top hires were slam dunks, quality hires or just plain risky?
One thing I love about college hoops is how we get new storylines and interesting changes every year. College hoops is never short on content because there are 351 teams, more than 4,500 players and more than 1,400 coaches who canvass the landscape across 49 of our 50 states (sorry, Alaska). The upheaval of head coaches (30-45 jobs change annually) is not a fun process on a human level. Guys getting fired, it's bad news. But it is inevitable. With that change, we see new threads and ripple effects within programs, leagues, even national narratives.
The college hoopsAt this point, every significant job has been filled. So let's look at all of those big jobs, then men hired in new places, and at least have a discussion about who they are, how they fit and how good they could be from a pragmatic-forecast standing. Here's a baker's dozen of the most notable hires this spring in college basketball.
I'm taking into account candidate pool, each coach's experience (or lack thereof) and overall fit when it comes to man and program.
Indiana: Archie Miller
Career record: 139-63 in six seasons at Dayton
Evaluation: Indiana had a solid group of candidates to choose from. Miller is as fine a hire as any realistic candidate. I think he'll go to Final Fours (that's plural) with the Hoosiers. I think Indiana is about to challenge Tom Izzo, in the late autumn of his coaching career, for hierarchy atop the Big Ten over the next five to seven seasons.
I do wonder how Miller's personality will work with the expectations of that base. He has very high expectations from himself, too, but Miller doesn't take crap from anyone. He's also not someone who's overtly media friendly, but he's obviously going to be under a different spotlight going forward. He's a get-it guy, no question. In terms of recruiting and coaching, Miller is built for the job. He's young, and this could be his post for two decades â if he's not so good that NBA chatter eventually comes, down the road.
Illinois: Brad Underwood
Career record: 109-27 in four seasons overall (20-13 in one season at Oklahoma State, 89-14 in three seasons at Stephen F. Austin)
Evaluation: I love the move for Underwood and for Illinois. I think he'll be there for more than a decade and will take the Illini to at least one Final Four. Underwood's a tremendous coach, someone who I think will be listed among the top 20 in college hoops within the next few years, and he'll also have the recruiting ability to get Illinois back to a consistent pace.
This will be a top-25 program again, and likely within the next two years. I don't have too much to add here. There is no better candidate Illinois could have landed, and Underwood's averaged north of 25 wins in four years as a head coach.
VCU: Mike Rhoades
Career record: 47-52 in three seasons at Rice (197-76 in 10 seasons at D-III Randolph-Macon)
Evaluation: Rhoades was likely the best hire VCU could have made. He knows the area extremely well, having spent 13 years working at Randolph-Macon, then transitioned to D-I in 2009 to be an assistant for Shaka Smart at VCU. Rhoades coached three years at Rice, and just guided the Owls to their best season in more than a decade.
The Rams under Rhoades should firmly remain as a top-three Atlantic 10 program and be in the mix every year, at worst, as a bubble team for the NCAAs. Really good hire. Barring outrageous March success, VCU fans should expect Rhoades to be in Richmond for at least five seasons. I expect him to hit the sweet spot of winning just enough to keep the program really good, but not being lured away by a top-25 job.
NC State: Kevin Keatts
Career record: 72-28 in three seasons at UNC Wilmington
Evaluation: Similar to Underwood at Illinois, this is a great marriage for both. NC State finds a rising star, and Keatts moves west, from Wilmington to Raleigh. This is the next logical step in his career. He should be able to flourish. NC State's teams will be fun to watch, and they'll well-prepared. Keatts' name was in the thick of the candidate pool mix.
This was no fourth or fifth option. Debbie Yow did well here. NC State fans will like Keatts, I think. His ability to recruit in that league will be interesting. He was previously under Rick Pitino at Louisville. The Cards got some nice recruiting wins, but were never in top-10 status on a year-to-year basis for recruiting classes.
Missouri: Cuonzo Martin
Career record: 186-121 in nine seasons overall (62-39 in three seasons at California, 63-41 in three seasons at Tennessee, 61-41 in three seasons at Missouri State)
Evaluation: Martin knows this is it. He has to succeed at Missouri, otherwise his next job will not be as a head coach. Sounds weird to say for a guy that's never been fired, but if you move around this much in less than a decade's time, you've eventually got to win big at a spot. Martin has spent the past nine seasons at three schools and has two NCAA Tournament trips. Missouri will get more publicity heading into next season than any other team that's no sure-fire lock to make the Big Dance.
Getting Michael Porter Jr. is a coup, no doubt, but that roster is still thin. Fortunately, four-star 2017 point guard Blake Harris is also on his way. If Martin can lure one more four- or five-star recruit, Mizzou fans can start be optimistic about getting back to the NCAAs. But beyond next season, what will Martin bring for the long-term stability for Missouri basketball? Opinions are mixed on this. I do think Mizzou will have more talent on campus in the next three or four years than it's had there in decades, though.
Dayton: Anthony Grant
Career record: 193-110 in nine seasons overall (117-85 in six seasons at Alabama, 76-25 in three seasons at VCU)
Evaluation: The Flyers wanted someone who had been a head coach previously, so they opt to hire an alum. Grant was good at VCU, then a little above average at Alabama. His roster next year will be bad, so give him three years to steady this thing out. I think he's an acceptable hire for UD. I think Dayton should round out into a top-three A-10 program (in performance, not standing; Dayton is the best job in the league) by 2019-2020. Given the candidates out there, Grant had as strong a resume as any. Was he the best option?
Wait and see
LSU: Will Wade
Career record: 91-45 in four seasons overall (51-20 in two seasons at VCU, 40-25 in two seasons at Chattanooga)
Evaluation: Had two really strong seasons at Chattanooga, but failed to make the NCAAs while there. Then Wade went to VCU the past two seasons and earned 10 seeds both times. Wade is a solid young coach. He's still learning the craft, and getting a major-conference gig before you're 35 is an exhilarating challenge. He's going into an area he's unfamiliar with, having never recruited that far south. The reality is, many coaching hires have uncertainties.
To me, 2017 is bringing more TBD-like hires. A lot of these guys have good potential, and some guys at smaller schools (as is the norm) are wait-and-see. I don't think it's a bad year for coaches. But, and I'd tell Will this, there are a lot of guys stepping into fruitful but difficult spots. The SEC is absolutely going to be better next year. Wade won't have the time to fall behind. LSU's been underwhelming for a while. He needs to spark this immediately.
San Diego State: Brian Dutcher
Career record: 0-0
Evaluation: Stability move. Dutcher was Steve Fisher's wingman for decades. A lot of what San Diego State has become is because of him. But that one-chair slide still means a lot. I believe that San Diego State can keep its status as a top-30 program, nationally, under Dutcher. Let's remember how many longtime assistants (in football and in basketball) fail in this regard, though.
Let's keep it pragmatic and go with a "B" here. SDSU's recruiting shouldn't take too much of a dip, and that fan base isn't going to go anywhere. Dutcher will have support. The Mountain West is in a dip now, and the league might not have three NCAA Tournament-worthy teams next season. Dutcher getting the Aztecs dancing in 2018 would be a big sign of solidity.
New Mexico: Paul Weir
Career record: 28-6 in one season at New Mexico State
Evaluation: Weir stays in the Land of Enchantment but bolts on New Mexico State after one season and an NCAA Tournament appearance. For Weir, it's a move that's got to be about money as much as it is a league upgrade. I do not blame him in the slightest. NMSU fans do, though. They feel betrayed by his call. Weir now has to rally the fan base in Albuquerque after attendance tumbled the past two years under Craig Neal.
New Mexico had some other options, got turned down by San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego, and so Weir gets his shot and will have to build this with his own grocery items. NMSU was a situation wherein he lost some guys, but still had the culture from the Marvin Menzies era.
Georgetown: Patrick Ewing
Career record: 0-0
Evaluation: Nobody Georgetown to a Final Four and won a few Big East titles between now and 2025? That would be ridiculous, and ridiculously fun. But I just have no grip on if it's logistical.Ewing could flame out in two years, or he could turn this into a decade-plus endeavor and give us one of the great program stories in college hoops in the past two decades. Can you imagine if Patrick Ewing managed to coach
What we know: Ewing would not have taken the job if John Thompson Jr. didn't counsel him to do so. Ewing has admitted that publicly. But he's been away from the college game for three decades. He's spent the past 15 years on an NBA bench, and to make the transition to college is a very different lifestyle. He'll be given every opportunity, though. In terms of splash factor, no bigger hire was made in 2017, including Miller to IU.
Oklahoma State: Mike Boynton Jr.
Career record: 0-0
Evaluation: This was one of those "who?" hires. While Doug Gottlieb openly and frequently campaigned for the job, Boynton blew away the interview â and was the cheaper option. Boynton helped Brad Underwood get to four straight NCAA Tournaments between Stephen F. Austin and OSU, and he gets this job after not being offered SFA last year after he interviewed for it, following Underwood leaving for OSU. I am a firm believer in Boynton's coaching ability, but the uphill challenge is the league he is in, no question.
If Oklahoma State can make two of the next four NCAA Tournaments, it will qualify as a big win of a hire. On Easter, Boynton landed a nice transfer: Former Miami (Ohio) point guard Michael Weathers, who averaged 16.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds this past season. He will get players. There's little risk in the money at stake, but if OSU dips to the bottom of the league in the next three years, then it will be hard to climb out of the basement.
Washington: Mike Hopkins
Career record: 0-0
Evaluation: Hopkins was the long-time coach-in-waiting at Syracuse. With Jim Boeheim set to coach in Cuse until the meteor hits, Hop had to make the move. Washington is an enticing spot. But this is a hire with some mystery to it. Hopkins did well for himself as a recruiter under Boeheim. He won't be low on talent in the Pacific Northwest. Washington has been dormant for a long time. This is an interesting one.
Perhaps Washington could have landed a bigger name, even pulled a sitting head coach or a former head coach. Hopkins is due for his shot, though. Because he's waited so long, and because it's a drastic change of scenery, I'm showing caution with my grade here. Hopkins will be viewed as a success if he can get to the NCAAs with more frequency than Lorenzo Romar (who will now recruiting against his old school, as he is an assistant for Sean Miller at Arizona).
California: Wyking Jones
Career record: 0-0
Evaluation: The Cal search was a bizarre one, and ultimately the administration takes a chance on a sitting assistant â just like Oklahoma State did. Jones, like Boynton, is African-American. And so this is great news for the profession. The idea that two unknown black assistants could interview their way to a head-coaching job after the unanticipated loss of their respective bosses to other jobs? I can't see something like this happening as recently as even five years ago. Black coaches in the business were very uplifted by this news, and by the number of African-Americans in general hired to new posts.
Now, there are many people in the coaching business who are at the same time rooting for Jones but also skeptical of this working out only because of how little Jones will have to start with. Next season will be tough, as the Golden Bears will have one of the worst rosters in the Pac-12. If Jones can get through next season and still be able to land some four-star players, he'll give himself a chance.
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