As the coaching carousel comes to a close, we grade new faces at UCLA, USC, Minnesota and more
Coaching turnover in college basketball appears to be as tame as ever.
With 39 coaching changes so far, the 2013-14 coaching carousel is poised to be the most inactive since in four years. In each of the last three seasons, at least 50 Division I programs changed coaches.
Only six Division I programs have yet to select a coach, but they’re all jobs in the low-major conferences. Now that Rutgers hired Eddie Jordan to replace Mike Rice, fired due to a player mistreatment scandal, all the big jobs have been filled.
Given that one of college basketball’s best destinations, UCLA, replaced its coach, the lack of major dominoes falling is somewhat of a surprise. The Bruins hired Steve Alford from New Mexico, and the Lobos responded by promoting a longtime assistant.
The Lobos weren’t alone in giving a coach one of his first Division I gigs. Minnesota, New Mexico, Northwestern, Rutgers and USC hired men with a combined three seasons of Division I head coaching experience.
Here’s a look at how the major jobs fared in the coaching carousel and a look at key hires in the mid-major and low-major ranks. Hires are graded not necessarily on the quality of the coach but how Athlon believes he will perform to the expectations of his program.
New coach: Richard Pitino, FIU
Old coach: Tubby Smith, fired; hired at Texas Tech
Minnesota took a bit of a risk in hiring a coach with only one season of Sun Belt head coaching experience. But this isn’t any normal 30-year-old coach. Pitino, of course, is the son of Louisville’s Rick Pitino and has worked on staffs with his father and one of his dad’s star pupils in Billy Donovan. The younger Pitino’s lone season at FIU wasn’t too shabby, either. In the first season after the Isiah Thomas debacle, Pitino went 18-14 overall and 11-9 in the Sun Belt for FIU’s first winning season in the league since 1999-2000. Pitino will also be the youngest coach in a league with a median age of 46.5 at the start of practice.
New coach: Craig Neal, promoted from associate head coach
Old coach: Steve Alford, hired at UCLA
Neal has tried to get head coaching jobs before at Colorado State and his alma mater Georgia Tech, but the best fit turned out to be in Albuquerque. Neal has worked with Alford every step of the way in rebuilding New Mexico into a perennial NCAA Tournament team. Neal's promotion keeps together a core of Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams, which will make New Mexico a Mountain West favorite in his first season. Neal backfilled his assistant position by hiring Lamont Smith from Washington, who previously served as an assistant at Arizona State. Neal is considered a good Xs and Os coach, but it’s a mystery how this career assistant will fare as a head coach.
New coach: Chris Collins, Duke associate head coach
Old coach: Bill Carmody, fired
Like Minnesota, Northwestern opted for a young coach with a good pedigree for its basketball program. Collins, who will be 39 when the season starts, will be the second-youngest coach in the Big Ten to Richard Pitino. A former Chicago-area high school basketball star, Collins is a longtime Mike Krzyzewski assistant and the son of Doug Collins, who has spent four stints as an NBA head coach. Former Krzyzewski assistants have been a mixed bag from Mike Brey, Tommy Amaker, Jeff Capel, Johnny Dawkins and Quin Snyder. That said, hopes are high Collins can be the coach to get Northwestern to its first NCAA Tournament in school history.
New coach: Eddie Jordan, Los Angeles Lakers assistant
Old coach: Mike Rice, fired
Could Rutgers upgrade its coach despite the scandal that cost Mike Rice and athletic director Tim Pernetti their jobs? That seems possible after Rice went 44-51 in three seasons in Piscataway. Former NBA coaches don’t always pan out on the college level, but Jordan has familiarity with Rutgers in particular. Jordan played on Rutgers’ Final Four team in 1976 and coached in the college ranks last in 1992, but that was a different era. His NBA background should help him on the recruiting trail, and his Princeton offense should work at the college level. Jordan likely will guide the transition into the Big Ten for a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2004 and hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1991.
New coach: Andy Enfield, Florida Gulf Coast
Old coach: Kevin O’Neill/Bob Cantu (interim), fired
How much the college basketball world laugh at USC if the Trojans hired Enfield any time before March 22? A Sweet 16 run changed everything for Enfield and USC. For the Trojans, this move brought in the hot name and a style that would seem to thrive in Los Angeles, but he has only two years of head coaching experience at the Atlantic Sun level. Bumping Enfield’s grade here were the hires of assistants Tony Bland (San Diego State) and Jason Hart (Pepperdine) who know the terrain out West.
New coach: Steve Alford, New Mexico
Old coach: Ben Howland, fired
In theory, UCLA should have its pick of a handful of coaches and it picked the one whose most recent performance was a loss to 14th-seeded Harvard in the NCAA Tournament. Alford won three NCAA Tournament games at New Mexico and Iowa where Howland won 15 at UCLA. Is Alford a better coach that Howland? That’s a tough debate. But Alford is a better fit for UCLA now. Alford recruited Kendall Williams and Tony Snell out of Southern Calfornia, an area where AAU coaches soured on Howland in his latter years.
New coach: Tubby Smith, Minnesota
Old coach: Billy Gillispie/Chris Walker (interim), fired
Smith is the second coach with a national title (joining Bob Knight) and second former Kentucky coach (joining Billy Gillispie) to be hired at Texas Tech since 2001. With the exception of one Sweet 16 under Knight in 2005, this strategy hasn’t worked all that well for the Red Raiders. Smith is a fine coach, but is he a great fit for a program that needs a dose of energy to turn the program around? Smith, 61, will be the oldest coach in the Big 12.
OTHER HIRES ATHLON LIKES
New coach: Bobby Hurley, Rhode Island associate head coach
The former Duke point guard has been the top assistant for his brother Danny at turnaround jobs at Wagner and Rhode Island.
CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE
New coach: Reggie Theus, Los Angeles D-Fenders (NBA Development League)
Journeyman college and NBA coach went 25-9 in his last college appearance in 2006-07 at New Mexico State.
FLORIDA GULF COAST
New coach: Joe Dooley, Kansas assistant
Dooley went 57-52 at East Carolina from 1995-99 before spending the last decade on Bill Self’s staff at Kansas.
New coach: Anthony Evans, Norfolk State
Evans led Norfolk State to a 29-3 record in the MEAC the last two seasons and defeated No. 2 seed Missouri in the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
New coach: Joe Mihalich, Niagara
The MAAC’s all-time wins leader (265-203 in 15 years at Niagara) gets a change of scenery at Hofstra.
New coach: Jeff Jones, American
Old Dominion moves into Conference USA with a coach who has 357 career wins at Virginia and American.
New coach: Jim Crews, promoted from interim coach
After the passing of Rick Majerus, Crews did a great job holding the program together with a regular season and tournament title in the Atlantic 10. Now, the former Evansville and Army coach as the job for the long term.
New coach: Jimmy Patsos, Loyola (Md.)
Siena won 77 games and made three NCAA Tournaments in Fran McCaffery’s final three seasons before falling apart under Mitch Buonaguro. A longtime Gary Williams assistant at Maryland, Patsos won 47 games in the last two seasons at Loyola. The two coaches who preceded him won 48 games total in seven seasons.
New coach: Matthew Graves, Butler assistant
A Butler player and assistant, Graves is making his first foray outside of the state of Indiana in his career.
New coach: Danny Kaspar, Stephen F. Austin
At Stephen F. Austin since 2000-01, Kaspar is more than ready for a step up to the Sun Belt. The Lumberjacks averaged 23 wins a season in his final six years at SFA.
New coach: Kareem Richardson, Louisville assistant
Richard joins a long list of Pitino assistants to take head coaching jobs in recent seasons including Enfield, Richard Pitino, Steve Masiello (Manhattan), Marvin Menzies (New Mexico State), Kevin Willard (Seton Hall). Not to mention Billy Donovan and Mick Cronin.