All it takes is one magical moment for a college basketball coach to evolve from an unknown commodity into a star. Just think about Ron Hunter, who captured the hearts of the country when he fell from his coaching stool while coaching Georgia State to a dramatic upset victory over Baylor in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
That moment, and his success as a coach which cultivated it, helped raise Hunter's national profile. Now he is the coach at Tulane and recognized by college basketball fans both for being a successful coach and for his iconic moment in the 2015 Big Dance.
So who is the next coach poised to elevate his status within the profession considerably over the coming years? Three of our experts weighed in for this edition of the dribble handoff. CBS Sports College Basketball Insider Gary Parrish is out on vacation, but we can only assume he would have picked UCLA's Mick Cronin.
Matt Norlander: Mark Pope (BYU)
Have you seen what Mark Pope's already been able to accomplish as a head coach? Let's quickly look back at his four seasons at Utah Valley. He went from 12 wins to 17 to 23 to 25. UVU has been Division I since 2004 and Pope is responsible for its two best seasons in that timespan. At BYU last season -- his inaugural one -- he went 24-8 and was probably going to get the Cougars to a No. 6 or No. 7 seed, their best landing in the NCAA Tournament since Jimmer Fredette's senior season. Pope's career record is 101-64, which is all the more impressive when you realize his first two seasons at UVU were not above-.500 campaigns.
BYU -- as detailed in this scouting video by Jordan Sperber -- was the best 3-point-shooting team in college basketball in 2019-20. It was seventh in offensive rating/efficiency. Pope stepped in and effortlessly took the baton from Dave Rose, who retired as far and away the best coach in program history. What's more, Pope's been able to have success in recruiting and in the transfer market. He landed Matt Haarms, who was viewed as a top-five transfer this offseason. BYU has found itself in the running for more high-profile transfers than was previously the case. Given how good Pope's performed in his first five seasons as a coach, it would not shock me if the next five seasons don't just include a tenure with BYU. Perhaps the Pac-12 will wind up luring him in before long.
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Kyle Boone: Brad Underwood (Illinois)
Brad Underwood's non-traditional rise to the top tier of coaching would align with his non-traditional rise through the coaching ranks over the years. Now at Illinois, the 56-year-old didn't become a Division I head coach until 2013 -- when he took over Stephen F. Austin at nearly 50 years old. And his years in coaching prior to that came as a career assistant at the junior college level, mid-major level, and finally, at the high-major level at K-State then at South Carolina.
But he's steadily risen and his star is brightening by the year. He was plucked by Oklahoma State in 2017 after three magnificent seasons at SFA. Then he was plucked by Illinois in 2018 after a one-and-done year in which he took the Cowboys to the tournament.
I'm betting on that upward trajectory to keep on the incline. His first two seasons in Champaign were anything but spectacular, but last season he fielded a tourney-caliber team, and next season he'll field an Illini team that should challenge for a Big Ten title. Should that happen, a place like Illinois with its proud history, coupled with its closeness to talent-rich Chicago, suggests Underwood has the firepower at his disposal to make Illinois a real force, not just next season, but for years to come.
David Cobb: Matt McMahon (Murray State)
The Racers have long been one of the best programs in the Ohio Valley Conference. But they hadn't made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 20 years until 2018 and 2019 when they did it under McMahon with Ja Morant leading the way. What makes McMahon's tenure most impressive, though, is how his program bounced back last season after losing Morant, who will likely be the NBA's Rookie of the Year. The Racers finished 15-3 in OVC play and lost a 76-75 thriller to Belmont in the championship game of the league tournament. It was a season that proved how solid the program is that McMahon is building.
The 42-year-old former Murray State assistant will be back for his sixth year at the helm, which makes him the program's longest-tenured coach since Steve Newton, who was there from 1985 to 1991. Murray State's coaches since then have gone on to coach at Alabama (Mark Gottfried), Cincinnati (Mick Cronin), Texas A&M (Billy Kennedy) and Iowa State (Steve Prohm). Cronin has since taken the UCLA gig, which is one of the top jobs in the sport.
In short, Murray State is one of the best launching pads in the sport, and McMahon is on track to parlay his extended tenure in the Bluegrass State into a big-time job. Or who knows? Maybe he'll stick around, keep taking an already solid program to new heights and become a legend where he is. Either way, McMahon is poised to elevate his standing in the profession considerably over the coming years.