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League coaches trying to turn around struggling programs
After underachieving in the last three seasons, the Pac-12 may finally start to rebound. At least that’s what the coaches in the league hope.
Despite the turmoil in the conference, the Pac-12 did not have a coaching change this season and had only one the last two offseasons (Utah). The cast includes entrenched veterans like Ben Howland and Lorenzo Romar, coaches moving their programs in the right direction like Mike Montgomery, Sean Miller, Dana Altman and Tad Boyle, and others treading water like Ken Bone and Craig Robinson.
Ranking the Pac-12 coaches can be a difficult challenge, attempting to weigh past performance with current results and possible trends in the future. With Mike Montgomery’s recent results at Cal, where few coaches since Pete Newell have won consistently, combined with his long track record at Stanford, he is our choice at No. 1.
Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.
1. Mike Montgomery, Cal
Overall record: 634-292 (17-15 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Cal: 88-47 (47-25 Pac-10/12)
Montgomery and Cal may be the only ones looking rosy in this era of futility for Pac-10/12 basketball. No, the Bears haven’t had any great teams in Montgomery’s four seasons, never topping 24 wins or 13 conference wins. Still, relative to its recent history, Cal is doing just fine. Predecessor Ben Braun took Cal to the Tournament five times in 12 seasons. Montgomery has been three times in four seasons in Berkeley. Even when the Pac-10 was held in higher regard, Montgomery was on top of his game. In his final eight season at Stanford from 1996-2004, the Cardinal went 117-28 in the Pac-10 and never finished lower than second in the league. Cal has good reason to hope some of those results are on the way.
2. Sean Miller, Arizona
Overall record: 189-82 (9-5 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Arizona: 69-35 (36-18 Pac-10/12)
Miller’s coaching pedigree is unquestioned. He’s the son of a legendary Pennsylvania high school basketball coach. And once Miller became a coach himself, he followed in a successful tradition of Xavier coaches, succeeding Thad Matta, Skip Prosser and Pete Gillen. After the tumultuous end of Lute Olson’s tenure, which included two seasons of interim coaches, Miller has Arizona back on course. Sure, Arizona missed the Tournament last season, but the Wildcats’ 53 wins over the last two seasons (including the 2011 Elite Eight) is the most in Tucson since 1999-2000 and 2000-01. Reaching the Final Four, as the Wildcats did in 2001, will be a tall task, but a top-five signing class means a return to the national elite is on the horizon.
3. Ben Howland, UCLA
Overall record: 374-198 (19-9 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at UCLA: 208-97 (106-54 Pac-10/12)
Third in the Pac-12 may be unthinkable for a coach who reached three consecutive Final Fours and put Pittsburgh basketball on the map all in a seven-year span. But the Bruins have fallen apart in the last three seasons, going 32-22 in a lackluster Pac-10/12 and losing non-conference games to the likes of Cal State Fullerton, Portland, Montana, Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee in a three-year span. The culprit has been an exodus of early entries (Jrue Holiday), transfers (Mike Moser, Drew Gordon, J’Mison Morgan) and dismissals (Reeves Nelson) that all but wiped out two recruiting classes. With freshmen Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker arriving on campus, Howland needs to rediscover the magic from earlier in his tenure.
4. Dana Altman, Oregon
Overall record: 455-271 (2-8 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Oregon: 45-28 (20-16 Pac-10/12)
Altman wasn’t the Ducks’ first choice to replace Ernie Kent, and he probably wasn’t the flashy name fans sought two seasons ago. However, Oregon is already benefitting from his steady hand. Creighton won 20 games in 11 of his final 12 seasons in Omaha and never finished lower than fourth in the Missouri Valley. The Ducks improved from 7-11 in the conference in Altman’s first season to 13-5 in his second, tying for the best league record in Eugene since 1939. He’ll have E.J. Singler, but Altman’s in for a challenge in Year Three. Three key seniors plus his top recruit from 2011, Jabari Brown (transfer to Missouri), are gone.
5. Lorenzo Romar, Washington
Overall record: 312-201 (8-7 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Washington: 219-113 (109-72 Pac-10/12)
Washington under Romar can be tough to figure out. He’s done far better relying on four-year second-tier recruits (Brandon Roy, Jon Brockman, Quincy Pondexter, Isaiah Thomas) than five-star elite prospects (Spencer Hawes, Abdul Gaddy, Tony Wroten). The Huskies arguably have been the biggest beneficiary of the struggles through the rest of the Pac-12. Washington has won either the conference regular season or tournament title in each of the last four seasons, has won an average of 25 games in that span, and reached the NCAA Tournament three times, advancing each time. Yet given the competition in the Pac-12 and the amount of talent in Seattle, should we expect more?
6. Tad Boyle, Colorado
Overall record: 108-116 (1-1 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Colorado: 48-26 (8-8 Big 12, 11-7 Pac-12)
How tough a job is Colorado? With 24 wins in each of the last two years, Boyle is the first coach to lead the Buffaloes to back-to-back 20-win seasons in program history. The Buffs also got hot at the right time, winning the Pac-12 Tournament -- over three of the coaches listed ahead of him here, no less -- and then upsetting sixth-seed UNLV in the round of 64. Before that, Boyle ushered Northern Colorado into Division I play, going 25-8 in his final season there in 2009-10.
7. Craig Robinson, Oregon State
Overall record: 94-99 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)
Record at Oregon State: 64-71 (27-45 Pac-10/12)
For better or worse, Robinson is the CBI king. In six seasons as a head coach, he’s taken a team to the College Basketball Invitational four times (once at Brown, three times at Oregon State, including a CBI title with the Beavers). Few teams want to end their season third-best tournament, but that should count as progress at Oregon State. The Beavers played in only one NIT since 1990, much less the NCAA Tournament. Robinson took a team that went 6-25 overall 0-18 in the Pac-10 under Jay John and went 18-18 overall and 7-11 in the conference. Robinson has upped the talent level in Corvallis, producing Oregon State’s first draft pick since 1998, and scored the Beavers’ first 20-win season in 22 years. Still the program has plateaued in four years.
8. Ken Bone, Washington State
Overall record: 134-95 (0-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Washington State: 57-46 (22-32 Pac-10/12)
Hopes were high when Bone took over at Washington State. Dick Bennett and Tony Bennett laid the groundwork for a successful program in Pullman, although the Bennett’s slow-paced system was different from Bone’s high-tempo offense. Bone has deep ties to Pacific Northwest, building up Portland State to two-time Big Sky champions. Before that, Bone won 253 games in 12 seasons at Division II Seattle Pacific. His best season at Washington State included a 9-9 conference season and the NIT semifinals in 2010-11 before his top two players left school early.
9. Herb Sendek, Arizona State
Overall record: 352-254 (7-7 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Arizona State: 98-96 (44-64 Pac-10/12)
Despite four consecutive NCAA Tournament trips, Sendek probably made a good decision to leave NC State on his own before the Wolfpack made the decision for him. He might not have the same opportunity at Arizona State. A three-season span of 20-plus wins, including two with James Harden, resulted in just one NCAA appearance. Without Harden, Sendek has a losing record (52-64) at Arizona State and an even worse mark in the conference (24-48).
10. Kevin O’Neill, USC
Overall record: 212-235 (2-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at USC: 41-55 (19-35 Pac-10/12)
Well-traveled might be a nice way to put O’Neill’s career: Marquette, Tennessee, Northwestern, Arizona, not to mention time in the NBA, including as a head coach with the Toronto Raptors. The career numbers aren’t great, but he’s rarely been in a good situation as a head coach. Saddled with NCAA sanctions, decommitments from players like Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill, and then injuries to key players, USC is no exception. The Trojans bottomed out at 6-26 overall and 1-17 in the conference. It would be tough for him to have worse luck in 2012-13, but we have to wonder if he’ll ever coach under ideal circumstances.
11. Johnny Dawkins, Stanford
Overall record: 75-59 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)
Record at Stanford: 75-59 (30-42 Pac-10/12)
Could Dawkins be the coach who breaks the trend of former Duke assistants struggling as head coaches? This season may tell. Dawkins took over following a wildly successful run at Stanford under Mike Montgomery and Trent Johnson. Double-digit wins in the Pac-12 (15 seasons in a row) and top-four finishes in the Pac-10 were once the norm. Under Dawkins, Stanford went 20-34 in the conference in his first three seasons, but the Cardinal showed major progress in 2011-12 by winning the NIT and going 26-11 overall and 10-8 in the league. Progress, for sure, but not where Stanford can be.
12. Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Overall record: 48-45 (1-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Utah: 6-25 (3-15 Pac-12)
Krystkowiak probably should receive an incomplete after roster defections hampered a program that had already slipped in recent years. As a result, Utah was dreadful in its first season in the Pac-12, starting the season 3-10 with losses to teams like Boise State, Montana State, Cal State Fullerton, UNC-Asheville, Fresno State and Weber State. Before going to the NBA as an assistant and head coach, Krystkowiak led Montana to two Big Sky Tournament titles in two seasons. Maybe there’s hope, but Utah has a long way to go.