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This baker's dozen are poised for big seasons and promising careers
This season’s coaching carousel was a strange one. Names like Bruce Pearl, Kelvin Sampson, Buzz Williams and Ernie Kent took jobs at Auburn, Houston, Virginia Tech and Washington State.
Jobs like that are usually reserved for coaches making their first moves into major conference. This year, though, they were for two coaches able to return to college coaching after NCAA issues, one looking for a change of scenery and the last one looking to get back into the game.
Still, coaches from the mid-major ranks moved up to major jobs, including Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss to Tennessee) and Danny Manning (Tulsa to Wake Forest).
Not all of our contenders for coaches on the rise are at mid-major programs and not all the names here are unknowns. Yet for all of the coaches on the list, the best may be yet to come.
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Granted, Utah is no mid-major like many of the other schools on this list, but Krystkowiak is about to become a well-known name. Utah is poised for a breakout season after the Utes have undergone a remarkable turnaround in the first three seasons under Krystkowiak. The Utes were ill-prepared to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 as a number of transfers left Krystkowiak short-handed for a 6-25 season in 2011-12. The Utes went 9-9 in the Pac-12 last season, though, to reach the NIT. With Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge returning, an NCAA bid is a legitimate possibility. If that occurs, Krystkowiak will have NCAA appearances at Montana and Utah plus two stints as an NBA assistant on his resume.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: NBA
Archie Miller, Dayton
A high-major program will come calling eventually. Miller has the bloodlines as Sean Miller’s brother and the son of one of Pennsylvania’s most successful basketball coaches. Archie also has worked for some big names in Thad Matta, Herb Sendek and, of course, Sean Miller. An Elite Eight run that included wins over Ohio State and Syracuse showed Archie’s potential. If he improves that 26-22 record in the Atlantic 10, he’ll be a can’t-miss coaching prospect.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: NC State
Michael White, Louisiana Tech
White had his chance at a major conference job before opting to stay at Louisiana Tech rather than taking the Tennessee job. Was that a wise decision for the 37-year-old. It might be. His stock is already high after leading Louisiana Tech to a 56-15 overall mark and two regular season conference titles in the last two seasons (in two conferences, no less). The son of the Duke athletic director, White has enough returning at Louisiana Tech to lead the Bulldogs to their first NCAA Tournament since 1991.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Ole Miss
Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Manning already earned his first big-time job after landing at Wake Forest, a Tournament regular from 1991-2005. In only his second seasons as a head coach, he improved Tulsa from 8-8 in Conference USA in his first season to 13-3 with an NCAA Tournament in his second. The former Kansas star player and assistant will be watched closely as he moves into a loaded ACC.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Kansas
Richard Pitino, Minnesota
The 32-year-old led Minnesota to an 8-10 record in the Big Ten, the same mark Tubby Smith had in his final season with the Gophers. Still, Minnesota has plenty of momentum going into Pitino’s second season. He also had an impressive first season as a head coach before landing at Minnesota, improving FIU from 5-11 in the Sun Belt to 11-9 in his only season there. In addition, working for Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan has been a fast track for assistants. The younger Pitino has done both.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Louisville
Andy Toole, Robert Morris
Toole was the youngest coach in the country when he was promoted from Mike Rice’s staff in 2010. Even now, he’s still a baby-faced 33-year-old. Toole has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament due to the Northeast Conference tournament, but the Colonials are 53-17 in the NEC with two league titles under his watch. Robert Morris also upset defeated Kentucky in the 2013 NIT. He’s never coached or played at a major program, but he’ll get looks soon enough.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Penn State
Steve Masiello, Manhattan
A 25-8 season and a hard-fought loss to Louisville and mentor Rick Pitino in the NCAA Tournament put Masiello on the fast track to a major-conference job. That is, until USF didn’t complete his hire when the Bulls learned the coach didn’t complete his degree at Kentucky. Masiello finished his coursework and headed back to Manhattan for a fourth season. After 2014 was certainly a good time to jump — the Jaspers lose the top three scorers from last season.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: St. John's
Pat Skerry, Towson
Every coach on this list has led a turnaround of some kind. None of them did what Skerry did in 2012-13. Towson went 1-31 in his first season and had its best in school history the next. The Tigers have gone 43-24 overall and 26-8 in the Colonial since that dismal first year (Towson also went 4-26 the year before Skerry arrived). Before Towson, Skerry climbed the assistant ranks at William & Mary, Charleston, Rhode Island, Providence and Pittsburgh.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Rhode Island
Monte Ross, Delaware
The Blue Hens won the Colonial regular season title and reached the NCAA Tournament since 1999 when Mike Brey led Delaware to back-to-back bids. The CAA has been decimated by conference realignment, but Ross deserves credit for a turn around from five wins in his first season in 2006-07 to 25 last year. Ross, a Philadelphia native, spent a decade as an assistant to Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph’s.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Saint Joseph’s
Tim Cluess, Iona
Cluess is 55 years old, not an age where coaches start taking their first major conference gig. It’s tough to argue with his record, though. In four seasons at Iona, Cluess has gone 92-55 overall and 55-18 in the MAAC with two NCAA Tournament appearances. His New York connections — he coached high school, junior college and Division II in the region — will be intriguing for someone.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Seton Hall
Greg Lansing, Indiana State
The former Steve Alford assistant has turned Indiana State into a reliable Missouri Valley program — though winning a league title will be tough as long as Gregg Marshall has Wichita State rolling. Indiana State won 22 games last season, the Sycamores’ best total since 2000-01. Another NCAA Tournament bid — Indiana State won the MVC tourney in 2011 — would help Lansing’s resume.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Iowa State
Mike Brennan, American
A John Thompson III assistant at Princeton and Georgetown, Brennan led American to a Patriot League tournament title and its first NCAA appearance in five seasons. After taking over for Jeff Jones, who took the Old Dominion job, Brennan took American from 10-20 to 20-13.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: George Washington
LeVelle Moton, North Carolina Central
Moton guided his alma mater to a seamless transition into Division I, including a 41-7 record in his first three seasons in the MEAC. Coaches from this conference don’t often move up, but Moton seems poised to follow the same track as Anthony Evans, who moved from Norfolk State to FIU before last season.
Wild speculation for his eventual landing spot: Charlotte