10 April 2016

2016 College Basketball Coaching Carousel: Grading the Hires

As with every offseason, the college basketball coaching carousel has been spinning greatly this offseason with a good number of programs changing their head coaches, including the some high-profile programs. How did each program do in making their hires? Here are my grades.

Arkansas State - Grant McCasland (Baylor assistant)
Arkansas State Red Wolves (2008 - Pres)John Brady failed to win a whole lot with the Red Wolves and thus he resigned before having to face the firing line in December. McCasland has spent the last several years working with our good friend Scott Drew in Waco but before that, he was a very successful head coach at Abilene Christian and Midland. His Texas connections should help in the recruiting game to get prospects to Jonesboro.
Grade: B

Army - Jimmy Allen (Army assistant)
Army Black Knights (2015 - Pres)Considering that Zach Spiker had one of the more successful recent tenures at West Point, I can see why they would want to go with his top deputy and have some continuity. Playing it safe in a situation like this is not a terrible idea but I do think that with virtually a new roster next year thanks to a bunch of graduates, it may have been a good opportunity to get some new blood in the mix.
Grade: C

Central Connecticut Blue Devils (2011 - Pres)Central Connecticut - Donyell Marshall (Buffalo assistant)
It is not hard to see why the Blue Devils would hire a guy like Marshall. After all, Marshall is a legend in the state from his days as an All American just up the road at UConn. However, Marshall doesn't have very much coaching experience as he has only been an assistant for a few years. Again, I do see the appeal of hiring Marshall give his name but I wonder if it may have made more sense to bring in a coach with more experience.
Grade: B-

Columbia - Jim Engles (NJIT head coach)
Columbia Lions (1997 - 2004)I'm not sure you can quantify how much of a disaster NJIT basketball when Engles took over. After all, they were an independent and went 1-30 in his first season. To go from that to winning 41 games over the past two seasons is pretty impressive. Kyle Smith did a good job with the Lions but I actually think that Engles will be an upgrade. His local roots should only help.
Grade: A-

Cornell - Brian Earl (Princeton assistant)
Cornell Big Red (2002 - Pres)From one Ivy League program to another goes Earl. (My Name is) Earl spent nine years coaching at his alma mater and during that time came one of the better eras for Princeton basketball including with a March Madness appearance in 2011. He played key roles with the Tigers with their recruiting and their defensive efforts and did well in both. His familiarity with the Ivy League should help him at one of the conference's lesser programs.
Grade: B

Dartmouth - David McLaughlin (Northeastern assistant)
Dartmouth Big Green (2007 - Pres)McLaughlin shares the name of a former Dartmouth president so there's something fun for all you Big Green fans. He will have his fair share of work in trying to build up a terrible Dartmouth program but McLaughlin has a solid resume. He has been an assistant for a pretty solid time for Huskies basketball and he is a New England native with plenty of coaching exprience in the region, including an 189-99 at Division II Stonehill.
Grade: B

Delaware - 

Denver - Rodney Billups (Colorado assistant)
Denver Pioneers (2007 - Pres)Perhaps better known as Chauncey's brother, Rodney Billups returns to his alma mater to replace Joe Scott, who finished his time at Denver with a winning record but without making an NCAA Tournament. Like the aforementioned Marshall, Billups doesn't have a great deal of coaching experience and will be one of the youngest coaches in the Summit League but bringing back a celebrated alum can work out well. Plus, Billups has coached exclusively in the Centennial State so that familiarity doesn't hurt.
Grade: B

Detroit - Bacari Alexander (Michigan assistant)
Detroit Titans (2008 - Pres)Ray McCallum did himself a fine job at Detroit but ultimately, the administration decided that it was time for a change. And if you were to draw up an ideal coach for a program like Detroit, Alexander may just come up. He's a former Titans player and coach and has coached exclusively in the Midwest with stops at Ohio, Western Michigan and at Michigan. It is his first coaching job but his resume should help him build a winner in Motown.
Grade: A-

Drexel - Zach Spiker (Army head coach)
Drexel Dragons (2002 - Pres)One could look at Spiker's 100-112 record at Army and get the wrong impression. After all, Spiker won a lot more than his predecessors did as he became the first coach in nine decades to win 15+ games in four straight years. And he's only the third coach to win 65+ games in his first five seasons and the other two are Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski. That said, his 2015-16 season was a disappointment considering the experience of the roster. But in the end, I think he's a good coach and this is a solid hire.
Grade: B

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1969 - 1977)Georgia Tech -  Josh Pastner (Memphis head coach)
I always love when programs hire coaches that are poised to be fired from their current job and that applies here. Pastner should have done more at Memphis considering he is a good recruiter and had success recruiting early while riding the coattails of John Calipari but ultimately, what sank him was his inexperience. He didn't surround himself with experience on his coaching staffs and his in-game coaching left much to be desired. Pastner is still only 38 and he has got the skills to be a good coach but he's got some flaws he's got to correct to do so.
Grade: C-

Jacksonville State - Ray Harper (Western Kentucky head coach)
Jacksonville State Gamecocks (2006 - Pres)The Gamecocks have only had four winning seasons this millennium and they have never made the NCAA Tournament at the D-I level so it has proven itself to be one of the tougher jobs at this level. But Harper is a good get for them. Harper helped to resurrect a WKU program that had fallen apart under Ken McDonald and led them to a pair of NCAA Tournaments as well as three straight seasons of 20-plus wins. He did resign from WKU when three of his players got suspended but he should nestle in well in Jacksonville.
Grade: B+

James Madison - Louis Rowe (Bowling Green assistant)
James Madison Dukes (2013 - Pres)Firing Matt Brady seemed to me to be an overreaction of a disappointment loss in their first game of the CAA Tournament. It's not like Brady didn't win in Harrisonburg, he was arguably the most successful coach at JMU since the great Lefty Driesell. So the expectations will be high for Rowe, a former Dukes player and assistant coach. Rowe, unlike Brady, has never been a head coach before so while the familiarity is nice, I wonder if the school will come to regret parting with Rowe's predecessor.
Grade: C-

Little Rock - Wes Flanigan (Little Rock assistant)
Little Rock Trojans (2015 - Pres)Chris Beard was one and done at Little Rock after one very successful campaign in which he led the Trojans to 30 wins and a win in the NCAA Tournament and so now one of his lieutenants will take over. Flanigan was a pretty clear choice because he's a Little Rock native, he's coached throughout the SEC footprint and he's had two stints as an assistant at Little Rock. If there's anybody who's going to build on this successful season, Flanigan is probably the best bet.
Grade: B

Memphis - Tubby Smith (Texas Tech head coach)
Even with a downgrade in conference, the well-traveled Smith is upgrading by taking the Memphis job. While he's not a youngeon anymore, his experience should be a welcome change from Josh Pastner's inexperience. Most importantly, the guy wins wherever he goes as he just took his record-tying fifth team to the NCAA Tournament in Texas Tech, a program that was a mess when he took over three years ago. He may not win as much as John Calipari did with the Tigers but he should make them much better than Pastner did.
Grade: A-

Milwaukee - LaVall Jordan (Michigan assistant)
Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers (2011 - Pres)I understand that attendance for Milwaukee games has slid a little bit but let's be honest, Rob Jeter won games. He went to a pair of NCAA Tournaments and had a solid 2015-16 season after the disappointing season the year before. Just like at James Madison, that'll put pressure on Jordan to win right away. Jordan played in the Midwest at Butler and he's coached exclusively in the Midwest and was a highly regarded assistant under John Beilein. He should be able to win with the Panthers but he has to do it right off the bat.
Grade: B-

New Mexico State - Paul Weir (New Mexico State assistant)
New Mexico State Aggies (2007 - Pres)Given how successful Marvin Menzies was in Las Cruces before taking the UNLV job, it makes sense that they would promote his top lieutenant in Weir to the full gig. Weir has been in charge of the defense for the Aggies for the past several years and the tema has had one of the top defenses in the WAC during that time. The familiarity is evident given that he has been an assistant for nine years and I think this is a solid move.
Grade: B

Nicholls State - Richie Riley (Clemson assistant)
Nicholls State Colonels (2009 - Pres)The 33-year-old Riley will become one of the younger coaches in Division I college basketball and despite his youth, he has worked at a number of programs with two seasons under Brad Brownell at Clemson, two seasons under Jerod Hasse at UAB and then a season under Jeff Neubaurer at Eastern Kentucky. In that time, Riley helped build a reputation of being a pretty good recruiter and that should help him lure some talent to Thibodaux.
Grade: B+

North Carolina A&T - Jay Joyner (North Carolina A&T interim head coach)
North Carolina A&T Aggies (1988 - 2005)Cy Alexander was able to take the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament in his first season in Greensboro but until resigning in January, he had only won 23 games since. Joyner took over and had a winning record for the balance of the season by going 5-4 before losing in the MAAC Tournament so that's not terrible. And besides, how much better could North Carolina A&T have done?
Grade: C

Oklahoma State - Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin head coach)
Oklahoma State Cowboys (1973 - Pres)Underwood was one of the more sought after coaches in the carousel this offseason and that's not a surprise after the Lumberjacks went 89-14 in his three seasons including two NCAA Tournament upsets, most recently a month ago when they smacked a strong West Virginia team. Now he did benefit from a solid foundation left by Danny Kaspar but still, that's a lot of winning. His teams were very methodical yet efficient offensively and bruising defensively, both of which should fit well in the Big 12. And his recruiting connections in Dallas certainly won't hurt.
Grade: A

Pacific - Damon Stoudemire (Memphis assistant)
Pacific Tigers (1998 - Pres)It is not often that a school like Pacific can lure a coach with an NBA pedigree, as well as one who has been rumored for bigger jobs before like that of Oregon State. Stoudemire has never been a head coach but he has been an assistant at both the pro and collegiate levels. His name should definitely help with recruiting, or at least one would think, but it will be his management skills that will be key as Pacific will be on probation for academic issues.
Grade: B+

Pittsburgh - Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt head coach)
Pittsburgh Panthers (2005 - Pres)Talk about an uninspiring hire. I get that the Jamie Dixon departure was unexpected but still, Pitt should have been able to do much better than a guy that was a year from getting canned at Vanderbilt. It's not as if Stallings did a bad job in Nashville but it seems like for the past decade, the Commodores have been stuck in neutral. Nobody would try to argue that Stallings will be anything but a downgrade from Dixon.
Grade: D

Portland - Terry Porter (former Timberwolves assistant)
Portland Pilots (2014 - Pres)For a program like this, this is about as high profile as it gets. Porter not only brings NBA head coaching experience from coaching the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns but he is also a beloved figure in Portland from his days at the point guard for the Trail Blazers. I'm not convinced how good of a coach he is as he only lasted two seasons with Milwaukee and not even a full season in Phoenix but this at least should excite the fanbase.
Grade: B-

Prairie View A&M - Byron Smith (Prairie View A&M interim head coach)
Prairie View A&M Panthers (2011 - Pres)Programs like Prairie View are hard to win at so you have to take what you can get. After taking over for Byron Rimm with the Panthers at 1-16, Smith lost his first four games but then he won six of his last nine. That late push probably helped him get the full job and considering how bad the team was when he took over, that was not insignificant. Now I have no idea whether or not Smith can lead the team to their first NCAA Tournament since 1998 but you have to start somewhere.
Grade: C+

Rutgers - Steve Pikiell (Stony Brook head coach)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1995 - Pres)Let's face it, Rutgers is a disaster. They haven't had a winning record in a decade, haven't made the NCAA Tournament in 24 years and they have been way overmatched in the Big Ten. The facilities are terrible, the fanbase is apathetic and they continue to fail to lure in local prospects. So Pikiell is in for a tough job in Piscataway but he is a program builder. After all, Stony Brook was a tire fire when he took the job and by the end of his tenure, the Seawolves were a consistent contender in the America East and appeared in their first NCAA Tournament. I know they wanted Dan Hurley but this is a very good hire.
Grade: A-

Saint Louis Billikens (2015 - Pres)Saint Louis - Travis Ford (former Oklahoma State head coach)
Ultimately, Jim Crews wasn't able to build on what Rick Majerus left, mostly because he wasn't a very good coach. Now Ford isn't a particularly great coach either as his Oklahoma State teams generally underachieved but he has done solid work at smaller programs like Eastern Kentucky and UMass. I think that this could prove to be a solid fit.
Grade: B

San Francisco - Kyle Smith (Columbia head coach)
San Francisco Dons (2012 - Pres)Now while Smith did fail to get the Lions to the NCAA Tournament, he certainly was more successful than many of his recent predecessors especially as he got them to two postseason tournaments (the 2014 & 2016 CITs). He also has extensive experience out west from his time as an assistant at San Diego, Air Force and Saint Mary's. The Dons are a long way from their heyday but I don't see why they can't be contenders in the WCC.
Grade: B

Santa Clara - Herb Sendek (former Arizona State head coach)
Santa Clara Broncos (1998 - Pres)Say what you want about him but Sendek is a solid head coach. After all, NC State really hasn't gotten that much better after he got pushed out a decade ago while he got screwed by Arizona State after his team two years ago overachieved. Therefore, this is a pretty good get for a program that hasn't made the tournament since the Steve Nash team. I would be surprised if Sendek is unable to get Santa Clara back to the NCAA's at some point.
Grade: A-

South Dakota State - T.J. Otzelberger (Iowa State assistant)
South Dakota State Jackrabbits (2008 - Pres)It would be tough for any coach to replace Scott Nagy considering all he did to build the program in Brookings but they were able to lure one of the more well-respected assistants in the country to replace him. He has a lot of experience coaching in the Midwest after several seasons as an assistant at Iowa State and he is known to be a very good recruiter, helping Fred Hoiberg land many of his top players before he left for the NBA.
Grade: B+

Southern Utah - Todd Simon (UNLV interim head coach)
Southern Utah Thunderbirds (2002 - Pres)Simon took over for Dave Rice after he got the ax early in conference play and while he did suffer a good number of injuries to their roster down the stretch, the Rebels also didn't exactly light the Mountain West on fire. But there is one advantage to bringing in Simon is how good of a recruiter he is. He helped lure a good chunk of the UNLV roster under Rice and he has got good connections both in Las Vegas but also in Southern California.
Grade: B-

Stanford - Jerod Haase (UAB head coach)
Stanford Cardinal (2014 - Pres)I think the Cardinal pulled the trigger a little too quickly on Johnny Dawkins but they did land themselves a pretty good young coach in Haase. Now I'm no fan of Roy Williams and Haase is a Williams protegee but I think his experience coaching the UNC JV team was very beneficial for him. It helped when he took over his own program at UAB where after a sub-.500 debut, he won a lot of games. While he hasn't coached out west before, he is a California native and originally went to Cal before transferring to Kansas. You can definitely win plenty of games on the Farm as Mike Montgomery showed and the Cardinal should be a Pac-12 contender under Haase.
Grade: B+

Stephen F. Austin - Kyle Keller (Texas A&M assistant)
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (2002 - 2011)As noted already, Brad Underwood did a pretty terrific job in Nacogdoches and it will be up to Keller to keep up the winning. The fit is easy to see considering Keller's run under Billy Kennedy in which the program rose to win the SEC this past season and perhaps more so considering that Keller is regarded to be a very good recruiter. He should be able to get players but the key will be if he can coach them as well as Underwood did.
Grade: B

Stony Brook - Jeff Boals (Ohio State assistant)
Stony Brook Seawolves (2008 - Pres)Steve Pikiell did a very solid job in building up a bad Stony Brook program so now it will be up to Boals to build on the progress. Boals is a Thad Matta protegee, having worked for him the past seven years, and he has worked all over the Midwest with stops at like Marshall and Akron as well as a few seasons at Robert Morris. One may have liked to see a coach with more experience in the East and in the America East footprint but I think this is a solid hire.
Grade: B

TCU - Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh head coach)
TCU Horned Frogs (1995 - Pres)I get it that Dixon is a TCU alumnus and that perhaps some folks in Pittsburgh were not happy with Dixon hadn't been able to do more in the NCAA Tournament but even with all that, this was an odd move by Dixon. TCU is a terrible job and for them to land a very good head coach like this is such a coup. If somebody like Dixon with his track record can't win in Fort Worth, there may not be too many coaches that can.
Grade: A

Texas Tech - Chris Beard (UNLV head coach)
Texas Tech Red Raiders (1972 - 1977)Beard only coached at UNLV for a week before the Texas Tech job opened up as Tubby Smith left for Memphis and despite having to face a $1 million buyout, he decided to pick up his things and head to Lubbock. Certainly an unusual situation but he does have extensive ties to Texas Tech given his decade as an assistant under Bob Knight and he also has plenty of experience coaching in the state. It is not easy to win in Lubbock but given Beard's background, he should be able to pull it off.
Grade: A-

Tulane - Mike Dunleavy (former Los Angeles Clippers head coach)
Tulane Green Wave (1998 - 2013)This is a good example of a program hiring a guy for his name without really wondering how good of a fit said name would be. People know Dunleavy for his long NBA coaching career but he never really had the reputation of being all that great of a coach, he has never coached in college and he hasn't coached anywhere in six years. And the Green Wave aren't exactly a consistent contender. There's just too much not to like with this hire.
Grade: C-

UAB - Robert Ehsan (UAB assistant)
UAB Blazers (1996 - Pres)Ehsan was Jerod Haase's top assistant during the latter's very successful tenure in Birmingham and given that three of their top players return next season and the program is on its way up, promoting from within makes sense. Ehsan is only 33 but he's already spent many years as an assistant, with one year at Virginia Tech and six under legendary Maryland head coach Gary Williams. All in all, I like the move.
Grade: B+

UCF - Johnny Dawkins (former Stanford head coach)
Central Florida Knights (1996 - 2006)As I said above, I think that Dawkins was fired too early and I think he's a solid coach. That said, he only led Stanford to one NCAA Tournament appearance and he wasn't exactly a big winner. That said, he could be a good fit in Orlando. He's a bit of a disciplinarian and a team that has been very undisciplined over the past few years. Just like in football, UCF is seen as a potential sleeping giant as a basketball program but is Dawkins the kind of coach that can harness potential and build something?
Grade: B-

UMBC - Ryan Odom (Lenoir-Rhyne head coach)
UMBC Retrievers (1997 - 2009)It wasn't that long ago since UMBC was in the NCAA Tournament but since that appearance back in 2008, the only one in program history, they have only had double-digit wins just once since. Odom only spent one year with the Bears but led them to the D-II Tournament one year after winning eight games. He has been an assistant at a number of locations in the conference footprint and while it is a tough job, he may be able to push the action.
Grade: B

UNLV Rebels (2006 - Pres)UNLV - Marvin Menzies (New Mexico State head coach)
It certainly has been a strange coaching search for UNLV from being spurned at the altar by Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin to the newly hired Chris Beard bolting for Texas Tech. So Menzies was obviously not the team's best choice but in the end, he's a good coach. A well-traveled assistant with a season at UNLV a decade ago, Menzies built a very solid program in Las Cruces which was the class of the WAC. UNLV should be better than it currently is and I think that Menzies will be able to achieve just that.
Grade: B+

UTRGV - Lew Hill (Oklahoma assistant)
UTRGV Vaqueros (2015 - Pres)UTRGV, or when it was Texas-Pan American, has long struggled to be a consistent winner as they have not made a postseason tournament since the 1981 NIT, but one coach that did put a winning season together way back when is Lon Kruger, who Hill has worked for since he got to UNLV. Hill has coached at a lot of places, albeit never as a head coach, and he is known for his ability to recruit the state of Texas. That is critical for a program that may struggle to get guys.
Grade: B+

Texas-SA Roadrunners (2008 - Pres)UTSA - Steve Henson (Oklahoma assistant)
Speaking of another Kruger assistant, Henson has worked under Kruger for almost every season since 1999 so if that's not a close connection, I don't know what is. Given Kruger's history for building programs, that should help Henson at UTSA where consistent basketball success has been hard to come by. He should be able to recruit the Lone Star State well as well as around the San Antonio area.
Grade: B+

Valparaiso - Matt Lottich (Valparaiso assistant)
Valparaiso Crusaders (2000 - 2010)It was going to be hard for Valpo to do much better than the beloved Drew and thus they went the safe route and promoted from within once again. Continuity has resulted in good things for the Crusaders over the years and it makes sense here considering how successful Drew was during his five years as the head coach. Interestingly, Lottich is the first non-Drew to coach the team in almost 30 years, when he was only six old. He only has been coaching since 2013 so inexperience could be a concern.
Grade" B

Vanderbilt - Bryce Drew (Valparaiso head coach)
Vanderbilt Commodores (1999 - 2003)Given that their previous coach left about a year before he was going to get canned, for Vanderbilt to land Drew has to be considered a win at the end of the day. Drew comes from a line of coaches (although we do love to hate on Scott Drew for obvious reasons) and he has been hugely successful at his alma mater and more importantly, he has been consistently successful. That shows he can both build and sustain a program. Considering that Vandy's problem has been getting over the hump of just making the NCAA Tournament, I think Drew is the kind of coach that can do just that.
Grade: A

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (1999 - Pres)Western Kentucky - Rick Stansbury (Texas A&M assistant)
So much for his retirement four years ago from Mississippi State. Since then, Stansbury has been a key assistant under Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M and now is back in charge of his own program. Even as Stansbury is in his upper 50's, this is about as good of a hire that the Hilltoppers could have made considering his level of success in his days in Starkville. He should be able to build a winner in Bowling Green.
Grade: A-

Wisconsin - Greg Gard (Wisconsin interim head coach)
Wisconsin Badgers (1962 - 1969)The circumstances behind the abrupt retirement of Bo Ryan were really bizarre and at 7-5, he didn't exactly leave his chosen successor in the best of shape. Therefore, for Gard to rally the troops and ultimately get them almost to the Elite Eight was a really impressive coaching job. This Wisconsin team certainly didn't have the talent of the one that preceded it but Gard was successful in getting the most of them. The Badger faithful have reason to be excited now about their future.
Grade: A

Wright State Raiders (2001 - Pres)Wright State - Scott Nagy (South Dakota State head coach)
Nagy was at South Dakota State for since 1995 and in that time, he helped lead the Jackrabbits transition from D-II to D-I. It wasn't an easy transition but by the end, they had become the top program in the Summit League. Therefore, this is a coup of a hire for the Raiders after the controversial firing of Billy Donlon after three 20 win seasons in four years. Nagy should be able to get Wright State back to March Madness.
Grade: A

Wyoming - Allen Edwards (Wyoming assistant)
Wyoming Cowboys (1965 - 2005)Less than an hour after the great Larry Shyatt effectively retired, Edwards got promoted and the continuity makes sense. After all, Shyatt helped to build the Cowboys into one of the top programs in the Mountain West and Edwards was alongside him the whole way. Edwards has coached in a bunch of locations as an assistant and he may be able to recruit well with his connections in his hometown of Miami.
Grade: B+

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