28 April 2015

2015 College Basketball Coaching Carousel: Grading the hires

(Getty)
As always, the college basketball coaching carousel was cranking once again this offseason as a number of high-profile programs went through some changes at the coaching level. Who made out like bandits and who may have set themselves back with their hires? Here's my analysis.

Alabama - Avery Johnson (ESPN NBA analyst)
After being spurned by Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, Alabama continued on the high-profile search and pulled a surprise in landing Johnson. Johnson will be the rare college coach with NBA coaching experience and largely had success with the Mavericks (his tenure in New Jersey/Brooklyn was more mixed) and he does have some connections to the AAU scene. However, he has never coached in college before. There is risk in hiring a coach that has never recruited before but he does bring some buzz a program like this could use.
Grade: B-

Alcorn State - Montez Robinson (Bethune-Cookman assistant)
Alcorn State is a tough place to coach as proven by previous coach Luther Ruley who won 10, 10, 12 and 6 games in his four seasons in Lorman. Robinson does come with experience as an assistant with four years at Bethune-Cookman preceded by six years at Kennesaw State but his time in Daytona Beach saw the Wildcats only have one winning record. It is hard to see a program like this do that much better in terms of a hire but this is not all that inspiring.
Grade: C-

Arizona State - Bobby Hurley (Buffalo head coach)
Considering that this season was expected to be a rebuilding season for the Sun Devils, and that Herb Sendek had recently been given a contract extension, it was a little surprised to see him fired. But hey, ASU has never had issues with unreasonable expectations, especially given that winning has not been easy in Tempe on the basketball side. Hurley is certainly a talented coach with a strong pedigree and did great work at Buffalo, but he only started coaching five years ago. Sometimes betting on the hot name can be risky for a big conference program but if given time, Hurley can be a winner.
Grade: B

Bowling Green - Michael Huger (Miami (FL) assistant)
The Falcons are making a coaching change for an unusual reason after a winning season as previous coach Chris Jans was fired for his intoxicated behavior at a bar. To replace him, BGSU is bringing in a former player in Michael Huger. Huger played under then-Falcons head coach Jim Larranaga and has served as an assistant under his former coach the last eight years at George Mason and Miami. That sort of connection to the program as well as experience working under a respected coach makes this a solid hire.
Grade: B+

Bradley - Brian Wardle (Green Bay head coach)
The Braves have slipped in the Missouri Valley since reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2006 but they have found themselves a good coach in Wardle. Wardle was able to build a solid program at Green Bay as they improved just about every year and, after nearly missing out on a NCAA Tournament berth in 2014, have made the NIT two straight years. He has never coached outside of the Midwest which should help with recruiting.
Grade: B+

Bucknell - Nathan Davis (Randolph-Macon head coach)
After finding a ton of success with a D-III coach with Dave Paulsen, who left this offseason for George Mason, the bison are following the same playbook this time with Davis. Davis has been hugely successful the past six seasons at Randolph-Macon and he also has worked in Lewisburg before as he was an assistant under Pat Flannery from 2003-2008, including on both of Flanney's tournament appearances. This is a strong hire and Davis should be able to maintain what Paulsen has done.
Grade: A

Buffalo - Nate Oats (Buffalo assistant)
After Hurley took the ASU job, Buffalo made a sound move to go with continuity by hiring Oats, who was an assistant with Hurley for both of his years as head coach. It makes sense that Oats has the reputation of being a quality recruiter in the Midwest after his success as a high school coach in Detroit and he helped bring in some of the key pieces of last year's tournament team. Given that Buffalo has had a quick rise, promoting a familiar hand makes sense.
Grade: B+

Charlotte - Mark Price (Charlotte Hornets assistant)
Price certainly is a name but he really does not bring that much coaching experience to the 49ers. He hasn't coached at the college level since serving as an assistant at Georgia Tech in 1999-2000 and he just finished his second year as an NBA assistant with the Hornets. Charlotte has had success as a mid-major in the past but it will be interesting to see how somebody that hasn't coached in college for so long can ease back into the grind.
Grade: B-

Chattanooga - Matt McCall (Florida assistant)
After finding success with one young and talented assistant before with Will Wade, it makes sense for Chattanooga to do something similar with hiring McCall. Only one year older than his predecessor, McCall comes to Nooga after spending four years working under Billy Donovan, a time in which Florida went to two Elite Eights and a Final Four. He knows what it takes to win and he has a veteran roster that could be poised to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2009.
Grade: A-

DePaul - Dave Leitao (Tulsa assistant)
Leitao was the last coach to have any sort of success with the Blue Demons as he made the postseason all three years in which he was head coach. However, he then went on to have mediocre tenure at Virginia before spending the last few years as an assistant under Frank Haith at Missouri and Tulsa. This is far from an exciting hire, considering that DePaul is in worse shape now than when Leitao became coach in 2002, and the jury is out if he can repeat his prior success.
Grade: C+

East Tennessee State - Steve Forbes (Wichita State assistant)
The firing of Murry Bartow after a pretty successful 12 year tenure in Johnson City but they made a solid hiring here. Forbes does have some prior head coaching experience as he once served as the head coach at Northwest Florida State and he has been an assistant under a pair of successful coaches, Bruce Pearl at Tennessee and most recently at Wichita State under Gregg Marshall. The experience in Knoxville should help him with recruiting.
Grade: A-

Eastern Kentucky - Dan McHale (Minnesota assistant)
Jeff Neubeauer built a solid program in Richmond over the past ten years before departing for Fordham so it will be important to see if McHale can grow what his predessor has built. McHale had only been an assistant in the Northeast before spending two years at Minnesota but he does have connections to the Bluegrass State as he is a Kentucky graduate and worked on staffs at Kentucky and Louisville. It isn't a particularly exciting hire but it makes sense.
Grade: B

Florida - Michael White (Louisiana Tech head coach)
A lot of folks were thinking that Florida would bring in a high profile guy to replace one of the elite coaches in the game in Billy Donovan but they went low-key with White and I think it's a good move. White has only coached in the SEC footprint and he has been very successful in his four-year tenure at Louisiana Tech, finishing with three straight postseason appearances. What is also key is that he employs an uptempo style similar to what Donovan employed. A very good hire.
Grade: A-

Fordham - Jeff Neubauer (Eastern Kentucky head coach)
As was just noted, Neubauer was the most successful head coach in the history of EKU hoops so we know that he can coach. However, this is an odd fit considering that Neubauer has no connections to New York and minimal connections to the Northeast save for playing at La Salle. Fordham is a pretty tough job even with the advantages of playing in New York as it has no business whatsoever being in the Atlantic 10 so even with Neubauer's past success, I don't love this hire.
Grade: C+

George Mason - Dave Paulsen (Bucknell head coach)
Paulsen is a coach that, save for his short stint at D-II school Le Moyne in the late 90's, has won and won big everywhere he has gone. He won a D-III title at Williams and led Bucknell to four postseason appearances in five years, including a pair of NCAA berths. Mason may not be a great fit in the A-10 but it does sit in a solid recruiting area (the DMV) and has been a solid mid-major in the past. Paulsen could very well be the guy to bring them back to the Jim Larranaga glory days.
Grade: A-

Green Bay - Linc Darner (Florida Southern head coach)
After losing a good one in Brian Wardle, who departed for Bradley, the Phoenix went the Division II route to find a replacement in Darner. Darner comes to Titletown from Florida Southern where he led the Moccasins to a national championship this season and was very successful in his nine seasons in Lakeland. Before that, he had a successful run at St. Joseph's (IL). He is a native of the Midwest and his D-II track record is very impressive. All in all, a pretty nice hire.
Grade: B+

Hawaii - Eran Ganot (Saint Mary's assistant)
Considering that Benjy Taylor stepped into a mess of a situation last season and nearly got the Rainbow Warriors to the NCAA Tournament, it seemed a little odd that the school chose not to keep him around. That said, I like the hiring of Ganot, who has built a solid reputation as an assistant at Saint Mary's following four years at Hawaii. Hawaii is not an easy job but he should be able to find success in the WAC.
Grade: B+

Holy Cross - Bill Carmody (formerly Northwestern head coach)
Given the kind of programs that dot the Patriot League, having experience as Carmody has at programs with strong academic reputations is key for a school like Holy Cross. While Carmody was unable to get Northwestern to their first tournament appearance, he did do a decent job in his 14 years there with four postseason appearances but more importantly, he was very successful in his four years at Princeton. Mike Brennan has shown that you can have success with the Princeton style of offense in the Patriot League and one can see Carmody having a similar impact.
Grade: A-

Iowa State - Steve Prohm (Murray State head coach)
One felt that Fred Hoiberg was headed to the NBA at some point but now with him leading the Bulls, the Cyclones had to find a replacement very late in the process. Being able to land a coach the caliber of Prohm is a steal for them. Prohm not continued the success of the Racers from Billy Kennedy but have taken them higher with three postseason appearances and a .780 winning percentage. Iowa State hasn't always been a consistent winner but Prohm is more than qualified to continue Hoiberg's success.
Grade: A

Kennesaw State - Al Skinner (Bryant assistant)
Skinner may be as high a profile a coach that a program like Kennesaw State could have lured to town especially considering the absolute lack of stability the team has had (Skinner will be the Owls' fourth coach in six years). Skinner did have success as a head coach at Providence and then at Boston College but he also had minimal connections to the region having only coached in the Northeast. It may be worth a shot for such a mess of a program but it is still an odd fit.
Grade: B-

Liberty - Ritchie McKay (Virginia assistant)
Save for that crazy NCAA Tournament berth in 2013, Dale Layer really did not have that much success in Lynchberg so the program will bring back his predecessor, Ritchie McKay. McKay does have a lot of head coaching experience and did a solid job in his first tenure with the Flames, leading them to a CIT berth in 2009. His previous experience with the job has to only help as do his connections with the region.
Grade: B+

Louisiana Tech - Eric Konkol (Miami assistant)
Another Jim Larranaga protege has gotten a head coaching gig. Konkol has been an assistant under Larranaga at Miami and at George Mason since 2002 and is regarded as being a good offensive coach, the likes of which will be welcome for a program that has been pretty successful of late. That said, he doesn't have a great deal of experience in the Southeast but his Florida connections will only help with recruiting.
Grade: B

Mississippi State - Ben Howland (NBCSN college basketball analyst)
I don't think that Rick Ray really got a fair share in Starkville after having to clean up the program. That said, this is a tremendous hire to bring in a coach the caliber of Howland. While his tenure in Westwood did not end all that well, he still has had a ton of success everywhere he has coached. Even as he has minimal at best connections to the region and the conference, it is hard for a program like Mississippi State to do much better than this.
Grade: A

Murray State -

Nevada - Eric Musselman (LSU assistant)
Musselman has been all over the place as a coach having spent three years as a coach in the NBA with Golden State and Sacramento, two years as a coach in the D-League and the last three years as an assistant at Arizona State and LSU. Oh, and he is only 50. Given that he has a lot of experience coaching out west, this make sense for a program that could use a fresh face and he should at the very least bring plenty of energy to the job.
Grade: B

Northern Kentucky - John Brannen (Alabama assistant)
The Norse have largely struggled since beginning the transition to Division I basketball so Brannen will likely have his work cut out for him as the transition continues. Brannen has plenty of experience in the region as he has worked as an assistant at Alabama, VCU, St. Bonaventure and Eastern Kentucky and he also is a Kentucky native, hailing from Covington. It is a pretty solid hire.
Grade: B

Penn - Steve Donahue (formerly Boston College head coach)
For an Ivy League program like Penn, landing a guy like Donahue may be about as good as it can get. Donahue wasn't all that successful in his previous job at Boston College but he was very successful in his ten year run as he closed it out with three straight NCAA appearances, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in the Sweet Sixteen in 2010. He is also is a local guy and was an assistant as two Philly-area high schools before spending 13 years as an assistant at Philadelphia and Penn. An excellent hire.
Grade: A

San Diego - Lamont Smith (New Mexico assistant)
Smith already has a built-in familiarity with the program as he played for the Toreros in the late 1990's. Smith also has a lot of experience coaching and recruiting out west after serving as an assistant under Craig Neal at New Mexico and Lorenzo Romar at Washington. Those connections make this a solid hire.
Grade: B

SIU-Edwardsville - Jon Harris (California assistant)
When a school is making a hire, it always makes sense to bring in a guy familiar with the area and certainly SIUE achieved that with the hiring of Harris, an Edwardsville native. Harris has worked under Cuonzo Martin at Missouri State, Tennessee and California and has the reputation of being a good recruiter, important for the school's location near St. Louis. A very good hire.
Grade: A-

SE Missouri State - Rick Ray (Mississippi State head coach)
As mentioned earlier, I do not think that Ray really got a fair shot at Mississippi State after inheriting a mess of a program, even as he did not win that many games in his three years in Starkville. But this is a fine hiring for the Redhawks. Ray obviously has been a head coach before and has a lot of experience as an assistant in the Midwest with stops at Purdue, Northern Illinois and Indiana State before spending two years at Clemson.
Grade: B+

St. John's - Chris Mullin (Sacramento Kings advisor)
It is not that hard to see why the Johnnies hired Mullin, after all he is only the most famous player in school history and a legend from the prime days of the program. However, Mullin has never coached before in his life. There's no guarantee that Mullin can pull a Fred Hoiberg and be a consistent winner at his alma mater. Even with his status, it is hard to ignore that there were some talented coaches rumored to be in the mix for this job.
Grade: C

Tennessee - Rick Barnes (formerly Texas head coach)
Barnes is far from the best in-game coach and he is 60 but this is still a good hire for a program that is on its third head coach since the messy Bruce Pearl departure. Barnes should bring some sorely-needed stability to Knoxville and he has the reputation of being a very good recruiter that gets his teams to the NCAA Tournament, which should be enough for the Rocky Top faithful.
Grade: B+

Texas - Shaka Smart (VCU head coach)
Smart has been in the mix for virtually every major job ever since he led VCU to the 2011 Final Four but it finally took the Longhorns to get him to leave Richmond. Even as he hasn't had as much success since that 2011 run, Smart still was a huge success with the Rams. It may take some adjusting for both sides to adapt to Smart's system but this is about as good of a hire that Texas was going to get.
Grade: A

The Citadel - Duggar Baucom (VMI head coach)
Baucom, who was reportedly in the mix for this job when they hired Chuck Driesell in 2010, comes to Charleston with a little familiarity with the program considering that VMI is a conference rival. He did not win a ton of games at VMI despite the exciting style of play he employed but it is important to note that VMI is a pretty tough place to win at. At the very least, he will make the Bulldogs fun to watch.
Grade: B

UALR - Chris Beard (Angelo State head coach)
Beard will be the first new coach in over a decade as he will success the winningest coach in program history, Steve Shields. Beard has worked at a great variety of gigs over the past two decades with almost all of them coming in the state of Texas, including head coaching gigs at McMurry and most recently at Angelo State where he turned a losing program around. That should help him in recruiting efforts within that state.
Grade: B+

UIC - Steve McClain (Indiana assistant)
It has been over a decade from the last time the Flames made the NCAA Tournament and it appears to be a program on the decline over the past few years besides a surprising winning record in 2013. Bringing in an enthusiastic coach in McClain makes sense for a program that could sorely use it and he also comes with head coaching experience having spent a decade at Wyoming. McClain's experience and connections to the area certainly do not hurt.
Grade: B

Utah State - Tim Duryea (Utah State assistant)
After the retirement of Stew Morrill after 17 seasons in Ogden, during which he built a pretty good basketball program, the Aggies chose to go with stability and promote Buryea. Buryea has been an assistant since 2001 and has been Morrill's right hand man since 2008. Considering that Buryea has no head coaching experience, it is uncertain to think what will happen long-term but this seems like a solid move for at least the short-term.
Grade: B

Utah Valley - Mark Pope (BYU assistant)
Following Dick Hunsaker stepping down as head coach of the Wolverines, the program chose to stay in state with their hiring of Pope. Pope, who spent a decade in the NBA, has been an assistant at Brigham Young since 2011 after spending a season each at Wake Forest and Georgia. He did run the BYU defense which was a disaster this past season but he is also regarded as being a smart coach so it is a fine hire.
Grade: B

VCU - Will Wade (Chattanooga head coach)
After losing such a talented coach like Shaka Smart, VCU was able to regroup and bring in a pretty darn good coach in Wade. Wade, who was an assistant under Smart from 2009 to 2013, has made a positive impact at Chattanooga where he went 40-25 in two seasons including 22-10 this past season. The Rams will likely not miss a beat with the transition from Smart to Wade, making this a very shrewd hiring.
Grade: A

VMI - Dan Earl (Navy assistant)
If anything else, Earl will likely bring a significant departure from the style of play the Keydets became known for under Duggar Baucom as his Navy teams played far from a fast style of play. Earl has been an assistant under Ed DeChellis going back to Penn State and then followed him after his bizarre decision to take the Navy job. They have made some program but they still finished six games under .500 this year. It is hard to see how Earl will do considering the far different style of play he is expected to bring.
Grade: C+

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