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Buzz Williams to Virginia Tech takes top spot
The coaching carousel is funny sometimes. Last season brought a few major job openings — chief among them, UCLA — but few big names moving to new jobs.
This season seems to be the opposite. The names involved in the coaching carousel arguably are bigger than the jobs they filled.
Buzz Williams’ name had surfaced in coaching searches before, but Virginia Tech, a program that has made the NCAA Tournament once since 1996, ended up being his landing place. Bruce Pearl, once one of the top coaches in the SEC before his NCAA-hastened departure, starts over at one of the toughest jobs in the league. And Kelvin Sampson, who led Oklahoma to the Final Four, landed at Houston.
Another big name could have been in the carousel as three-time Final Four coach Ben Howland was on the job hunt, but he’ll likely have to wait for next season after pulling out of the Oregon State search.
Since the coaching carousel has essentially ended, now is a good time to review the new coaches for 2014-15.
The Elite Eight Hires for 2014-15
1. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Williams was so desperate to get away from Marquette, a school without a president and an athletic director, that he grabbed the first halfway decent major conference job. That job turned out to be Virginia Tech. Positions at Tennessee and Missouri would open after Williams landed in Blacksburg, so the hire has to be seen as a coup for the Hokies. What Virginia Tech gets is a coach who reached the NCAA Tournament in five of six seasons at Marquette and reached the Sweet 16 or better three times. He’ll be unconventional, something Virginia Tech will need to be competitive in the ACC. At Marquette, Williams built a program that could go toe-to-toe with Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh — all teams he’ll face in the ACC.
2. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
If Pearl can’t revive Auburn basketball, or at least interest in Auburn basketball, it’s worth asking if anyone can. Auburn is taking a bit of a risk in hiring Pearl, who was fired at Tennessee after he lied to NCAA investigators about hosting then-high school junior Aaron Craft at the coach’s home during an unofficial visit. Pearl is still under a show-cause penalty that prohibits him from any contact with recruits until August. The potential payoff is worth it, though. Pearl went to the NCAA Tournament every season at Tennessee, including a 31-5 season in 2007-08. His biggest task will be to fill seats in Auburn’s new basketball arena.
3. Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee
Tyndall arrives at Tennessee with arguably a better track record than Cuonzo Martin did three years ago. Tyndall led Morehead State two a pair of NCAA Tournaments, including a 2011 upset of Louisville behind the play of Kenneth Faried. He picked up where Larry Eustachy left off at Southern Miss, taking the Eagles to a pair of NIT appearances. Tyndall is a former LSU and Middle Tennessee assistant, so he’s familiar with some of the terrain in Knoxville.
4. Kelvin Sampson, Houston
Auburn wasn’t the only school to hire a coach with a checkered NCAA past to revive the program. Sampson’s five-year show cause stemming from impermissible calls to recruits while the coach at Oklahoma and Indiana expired just in time for Houston to make this move. The Cougars are getting a coach who took OU to the Final Four in 2002 and spent his exile from college basketball as an NBA assistant. Even better, the calls that cost him his job at Indiana are now OK by NCAA rules. Houston desperately needs any kind of credibility it can get. The Cougars are 0-4 in the NCAA Tournament since the Phi Slama Jama days.
5. Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Manning, the 1988 National Player of the Year and No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick, has two seasons of head coaching experience, but his second season at Tulsa yielded Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. It’s going to be tough for Wake Forest to be one of the top programs in the ACC, but hiring Manning, a 47-year-old with plenty of name recognition, is the kind of risk the Demon Deacons need to take.
6. Cuonzo Martin, Cal
Even after a Sweet 16 appearance and Tennessee’s first NCAA bid in three years, Martin knew his days were numbered in Knoxville. Martin tried for Marquette before ending up at Cal, replacing the retired Mike Montgomery. This may be a risky hire for the Bears as Martin hasn’t coached anywhere west of Missouri State. Martin’s teams, though, have improved progressively each season at both Missouri State and Tennessee.
7. Saul Phillips, Ohio
Phillips, a former Tim Miles assistant at North Dakota State, led the Bison to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009 and first NCAA win in 2014. Far from a one-year NCAA Tournament wonder, North Dakota State twice won Summit League regular-season titles and went 24-10 two years ago.
8. Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State
Reached the NCAA Tournament in three of the last five seasons at Montana, including a pair of Big Sky regular season titles. Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in a major conference with only two winning teams in the last 25 years. Montana, though, has a knack for turning out successful coaches, including Larry Krystkowiak (now at Utah), Blaine Taylor, Stew Morrill, Mike Montgomery and Jud Heathcote.
5 Notable First-Time Coaches
Orlando Antigua, USF
Manhattan’s Steve Masiello would have been a fine hire, but Plan B could be just as interesting. USF is the latest program to roll the dice with a John Calipari assistant, all of which have been lauded as great recruiters.
Jason Gardner, IUPUI
The former Arizona star and Indiana Mr. Basketball will be 34 when the season starts. A former assistant at Loyola-Chicago and Memphis, Gardner replaces Todd Howard struggled to fill the shoes left by Ron Hunter, who left for Georgia State.
Kevin Keatts, UNC Wilmington
UNC Wilmington has struggled to find its way since Brad Brownell left in 2006, but this could be a big-time hire. The Seahawks mined the Rick Pitino coaching tree for Louisville’s top recruiter.
Chris Jans, Bowling Green
Bowling Green hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968. Unlike his predecessors, Jans, a former Wichita State assistant, has the benefit of more resources thanks to a $20 million donation from Bill Frack.
Steve Wojciehowski, Marquette
Marquette is a big job for a first-time head coach, even though the last two coaches (Buzz Williams and Tom Crean) had a grand total of one year as a head coach before taking over. Wojo is as experienced as any assistant, serving under Mike Krzyzewski since 1999-2000.
4 Most Questionable Hires
Jim Christian, Boston College
Christian is a good MAC coach. Boston College is not in the MAC. His last job at a tough spot in a major conference was an 18-44 stint in the Mountain West at TCU.
Kim Anderson, Missouri
He won a national title last season — in Division II. Not many coaches make the leap from Division II to a major Division I program at age 59, but he is a former Missouri assistant.
Dan D’Antoni, Marshall
Mike D’Antoni’s brother hasn’t coached in college since 1971 at Marshall and hasn’t been a head coach other than in high school. Dan D’Antoni been in the NBA for nearly a decade, albeit on his brother’s staff.
Michael Curry, FAU
FAU loves coaches who have had bigger jobs (Mike Jarvis, Matt Doherty), so at least Curry fits a profile. He spent one season as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, but this is his first college gig as an assistant or otherwise.
3 “Boomerangs” (i.e. coaches who returned to a level lower than their last job)
Frank Haith, Tulsa
Given heavy personnel losses at Missouri, Haith probably made a wise move to get out before the Tigers could fire him. Haith lands in the American Athletic Conference at Tulsa, a program that made the NCAA Tournament eight times from 1994-2003.
Ernie Kent, Washington State
Kent’s Oregon teams were streaky in his 13 seasons, going both 29-8 and 8-23 in his final four year in Eugene. Wazzu, one of the toughest places to win in the Pac-12, will gladly take the happy medium.
Doc Sadler, Southern Miss
Sadler sat out a year before returning to the Conference USA level. Sadler was 48-18 as the coach at UTEP from 2004-06, and now he takes over a Southern Miss program that is one of the better jobs in C-USA thanks to the last two coaches.