College basketball coaching moves: Grading 2015's biggest hires four years later
After a full recruiting cycle, we assess and hand out appropriate grades for the biggest college hoops hirings of 2015
Presented below is the fairest, truest way to grade coaching hires. It's our third year of doing it, and we hope you enjoy. Instead of knee-jerk reaction within days or weeks of a school hiring someone, why not look back at the hires after a full recruiting cycle?
That's what we have below.
Coaches deserve time, four seasons' worth, to build out a dossier at a new spot. This is an egalitarian review. I've taken into consideration at coach's overall record, NCAA Tournament appearances, recruiting success and other factors that have played into what's happened along the way. Here, every significant coaching hire in a power conference from 2015. These are the guys hired before, around or after the Final Four that included Wisconsin ending Kentucky's undefeated season -- then losing to freshman-laden Duke in the national championship game.
Yes, it's already been more than four years since that all happened.
You've probably forgotten who was hired when, but this will refresh your memory. If you're curious on the four-year-later evals from 2017 and 2018, you can read thoseand .
Grading the most notable hires from 2015
All hires listed below come from college basketball's Major 7 conferences: ACC, the American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.
The hire: Steve Prohm
All things considered, stuff's going well for Prohm, who signed a three-year contract extension in March. Iowa State's gone 83-53 since Prohm was hired away from Murray State to succeed Fred Hoiberg. ISU has made the NCAA Tournament in three of his four years and been a No. 4, 5 and 6 seed in those seasons. His best season, 2015-16, included a Sweet 16 appearance.
On the down side, the Cyclones have gone 35-37 in Big 12 play, which has been a source of some consternation amongst the fan base.
But Prohm's recruited relatively well, too; ISU had the No. 37-ranked class in 2016, was No. 56 in 2017 and was 28th in 2018. Talen Horton-Tucker and Lindell Wigginton are two of the very best recruits ISU's landed in the past two decades, both under Prohm. No matter what happens going forward, fair to say he was a good hire. He could wind up being there twice as long as Hoiberg was.
The hire: Mike White
White is the winningest coach of the lot. An 89-53 record, and the Gators have made the NCAA Tournament the past three seasons, winning five games in those three years in the Big Dance. White's never been sub-.500 in SEC play and has an Elite Eight showing, too.
Hard to argue against what he's done in relation to the rest of the field here. The Gators have been good and steady in the four years since program legend Billy Donovan stepped away to coach the Oklahoma City Thunder. I said and wrote at the time of his hiring that White was the ideal successor to Donovan. He's looking like that so far, and next season should be terrific: five-stars Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann come to campus.
In fact, Florida's got the No. 6-rated class for 2019 according to 247Sports, a jump from last season's No. 19 class, which was a boost from the No. 69-rated class of 2016. The Gators have a shot at top-30 status next season.
The hire: Shaka Smart
Smart's gone 71-66 with two NCAA Tournament appearances -- no wins there -- and a 2019 NIT title (which should be applauded). The Longhorns are 31-41 in Big 12 play under Smart, their best finish being fourth in his first season in Austin. That's rough.
Recruiting-wise, Smart has delivered. Texas has lured Andrew Jones, Jarrett Allen, Mohamed Bamba and Will Baker, all five-star recruits, to sign for Smart. The Longhorns' recruiting-class rankings the past four years: No. 6, 6, 8, 13 according to 247Sports. The contrast of those rankings and lack of NCAA Tournament success is what's hurting Smart's reputation.
There's no denying that Smart's name will be as prominent as any coach in college basketball in terms of 2019-20 hot-seat status. There's also no denying that Smart will have options moving forward. If UT doesn't have a strong season (and make the NCAAs) next year, a split seems inevitable.
The hire: Rick Barnes
If a Final Four appearance had come to be in 2019, this would have been an automatic "A." Barnes has done wonders for Tennessee, though: an 88-50 record; the recruitment and development of two-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams; an SEC regular-season title; a No. 2 seed and a No. 3 seed in consecutive seasons. Tennessee's 31-6 mark in 2018-19 matched for the most wins in a season in program history.
And now Barnes is landing five-star players for Tennessee, which is good, considering Barnes just admitted on Tuesday that he'd have bailed on Tennessee if UCLA was willing to pay his buyout. OK, then, Rick!
Barnes is the only coach on this list.
The hire: Chris Mullin
No, not an "F." Mullin did get his alma mater -- barely -- to the NCAA Tournament. But the Johnnies were a one-and-done in the First Four. I'll probably never forget what Mullin said after St. John's lost in the Big East Tournament this past March. With his team on the bubble, he opted not to lobby for St. John's to even make the field, then admitted his players needed a break from each other.
All told, St. John's went 59-73 in four seasons under Mullin and was 20-52 in Big East competition. The school never finished better than 74th at KenPom, which is damning.
Just as damning: the process to replace Mullin has been something of a public embarrassment. Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser passed on a huge deal to stay in the Missouri Valley. Arizona State's Bobby Hurley, Iona's Tim Cluess and UMBC's Ryan Odom have also passed, and plenty of other names said no behind the scenes since Mulllin left. Now St. John's tries to find the next guy, maybe the right guy, in what's a tough situation moving forward in Jamaica, New York.
The hire: Bobby Hurley
ASU is not a program steeped in tradition and big-time success in men's D-I hoops. Hurley has coached the Sun Devils to a 73-58 record and got the team to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time in almost 40 years. That's to be commended (though ASU made the First Four in both years).
Hurley also turned down St. John's, which is to be commended!
And he called out his fan base for not showing up at times this season, which can be dicey, but I love the honesty. Before Hurley arrived, Arizona State was averaging fewer than 5,000 fans per game. The past two years, that number has been more than doubled.
Arizona State is 32-40 in Pac-12 games under Hurley, an oomph. The program has recruited well nationally; Hurley's had the No. 17, 23, 11 and 30-ranked classes since taking over, according to 247Sports. It's a solid "B" all-around.
The hire: Ben Howland
Mississippi State has been a mostly anonymous program since Howland was hired in 2015. The Bulldogs made the 2019 NCAA Tournament, ending a 10-year drought there, but promptly got beat by Liberty.
Howland's gone 78-56. Year Five seems like an important one. Will MSU continue its trajectory, or is a stall coming? Howland was turned down for other jobs prior to getting Mississippi State, but it's been a worthwhile hire, I think. The program hasn't gone backward, that's for sure. There's just no sizzle or national interest there, either, because of a lack of NBA picks, notable wins, NCAA Tournament success, etc.
The hire: Avery Johnson
Johnson joins Mullin on this list as the only guys who are no longer with their schools. While Mullin resigned, Johnson and Alabama mutually parted ways in mid-March (whatever that actually means). He went 75-62 and made one NCAA Tournament (2018) for the Tide. There was also the whiff of FBI scandal, as the recruitment of Collin Sexton brought about speculation (though the school cleared Sexton).
Johnson went 34-38 in the SEC and a lot of good basketball players agreed to play for him. In total, Bama underachieved. Johnson would have had one more year if he wanted it, probably, but credit to him and the school for realizing that this was not healthy longterm for the program.
The hire: Dave Leitao
Rare is the case when a school brings back a former coach to lead the program. Rarer still is when said coach can make that decision look like the right one. Leitao is 48-82 in this his second go-round with the Blue Demons with no NCAA Tournament appearances and no season finishing better than 99th at KenPom. Oh, and DePaul had two of its assistants mentioned multiple times in last October's federal trial on college basketball corruption.
Leitao coached DePaul to the CBI Finals and a 19-17 mark in 2018-19, marking the first time since 2006-07 the team was above .500 at the end of the year. But with the Big East next season set to be a notch tougher than it was the past one, Leitao needs his 28th-ranked recruiting class -- plus eventually eligible transfer Cart'Are Gordon -- to get this team up to bubble status in order to stave off a changing of the guard. .
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