The 2020 college basketball coaching carousel was one of the calmest rides in recent memory, as only a handful of programs opted for coaching changes with the COVID-19 pandemic in its early stages and the financial ramifications unclear for athletic departments. Only one major conference program, Wake Forest, made a coaching change in relatively short order after the 2019-20 season and even that move came over a month after the season.
While Penn State and Wichita State followed suit in the coming months, those changes resulted from off-court controversies after the carousel slowed. But despite the relatively quiet offseason of 2020, some first-year coaches still managed to make a strong impression last season even while taking over programs amid the complications of a pandemic.
This time next year, a reflection on the new first-year coaches will be far beefier as big-name programs such as North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Indiana and others transition. But for now, these are the five first-year coaches whose success stood out most last season.
|Terrence Johnson: Initially hired as the Bobcats' interim coach after his boss, Danny Kaspar, resigned several weeks before the start of the season following an investigation into allegations that he made "racially biased comments," Johnson inherited a difficult situation. But Johnson led the Bobcats to their best winning percentage since the 1993-94 season with an 18-7 (12-3 Sun Belt) campaign highlighted by a stretch of 12 wins in 14 games to close the regular season as league champions. Though Texas State suffered an overtime loss to Appalachian State in the conference tournament that robbed it of a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament, Johnson was rewarded with the full-time job. Johnson could not coach in the Sun Belt Tournament game due to a positive COVID-19 test, and it's worth wondering what this team might have accomplished in the postseason if he'd been on the bench.|
|Bryce Drew: The former Valparaiso and Vanderbilt coach made his goal clear in his introductory statement at Grand Canyon , saying, "I want to be able to get the school its first berth in the NCAA tournament." Well, that's exactly what Drew did in his first season leading the Antelopes. Following a 13-17 campaign under predecessor Dan Majerle, Drew led GCU to a 17-7 record (9-3 WAC) and a No. 15 seed in the Big Dance. Grand Canyon lost a competitive game against Iowa in the first round but showed that it has the potential to become a major player on mid-major scene under Drew, who at just 46 could position himself for another crack at a big-time job with a few more seasons of success in his current role.|
|Mark Byington: After arriving from Georgia Southern to inherit a program with a 21-51 record in CAA play during the previous four seasons Byington quickly turned things around as the Dukes finished 13-7 and 8-2 in the CAA. Granted, the COVID-19 pandemic kept JMU from playing anything close to a full league schedule, but the quick reversal for the program was nonetheless impressive. It came at a great time for the school, too, as the Dukes were breaking in a brand new arena last season. Byington is a former assistant at Virginia and Virginia Tech , and now that he's proven a successful coach at two schools within the ACC footprint, it wouldn't be surprising to see his name surface in connection with openings in the area in the coming years.|
|Isaac Brown: Like Johnson, Brown inherited an unfavorable situation as allegations about Gregg Marshall's treatment of players left a cloud over the Wichita State program entering the 2020-21 season. With Marshall resigning just before the season, Brown took over as interim coach and guided the program back to the NCAA Tournament. Brown earned AAC Coach of the Year honors and was promoted to the full-time role. He also managed to keep leading scorer Tyson Etienne in the fold for another season, which should help the Shockers stay in the mix moving forward.|
|Rick Pitino: Iona's four-game run through the MAAC Tournament to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament stood out as yet another testament to Pitino's coaching chops. Regardless of what you think about the man, he knows how to win, and that was proven during his successful return to the college game after a stint coaching professionals in Greece. He inherited a solid program from Tim Cluess and quickly put to rest the many fair questions about why a small Catholic college would take a chance on an old coach with a checkered past.|