The Big 12 coach rankings start with Bill Self.
That’s the easy part.
After that, ranking the Big 12 coaches is a chore. Three of the league’s most accomplished career coaches — Bob Huggins, Rick Barnes and Tubby Smith have more than 1,700 wins among them — are coming off of lackluster seasons. Smith was let go from his last job, and Barnes will be under pressure to turn things around at Texas in a hurry.
A decade ago, Scott Drew took on one of the toughest rebuilding projects in the country at Baylor, succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations but still kept the Bears wanting more.
Lon Kruger and Fred Hoiberg are two Big 12 coaches who have impressed. Kruger did at Oklahoma what he’s done everywhere — stay competitive, get into the NCAA Tournament and, well, that’s about it. Hoiberg hasn’t led Iowa State beyond the Round of 32 in the last two seasons, but that still better than anyone else in Ames in the last decade.
Indeed, after the top tier of Big 12 coaches, any of the others in the league could plausibly sit in the second or third group.
*A few things to note as we are ranking coaches: We are attempting to look at the whole package of gameday acumen, recruiting, player development, and regular-season and postseason success. We are also keeping in mind a coach’s career trajectory.
And now, on to the debate. Feel free to chime in at @AthlonSports on Twitter or Athlon Sports on Facebook.
Other conference coach rankings: ACC | American
1. Bill Self, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 300-59 overall (.836), 137-27 Big 12 (.835)
NCAA Tournament: 35-14, two Final Fours, one national championship
The names and faces outside of Lawrence keep changing, but Kansas hasn’t fallen from its perch in the Big 12. Self has won at least 30 games in four consecutive seasons and reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in six of the last seven seasons. Even when the Jayhawks looked vulnerable for 2013-14 after losing all five starters, they signed the presumptive No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Wiggins, and landed transfer Tarik Black from Memphis. The new faces, including a signing class that ranked only second to Kentucky, will present a challenge for Self. He’s had the luxury of developing players like Cole Aldrich and Thomas Robinson from role players to All-America-type stars. Perry Ellis fits that mold for KU, but he's one of the few players with experience in the Big 12.
2. Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Record at West Virginia: 133-75 overall (.635), 60-48 Big East/Big 12 (.556)
NCAA Tournament: 27-20, two Final Fours
West Virginia’s first season in the Big 12 truly was an aberration for Huggin. The 13-19 season was only the second losing season of his career and second losing conference season (the first for both being his first season at Akron in 1984-85). Perhaps Huggins had a mix that simply didn’t jell last season with Deniz Klicli trying to mesh with a handful of transfers and freshmen. Still, Huggins has made things work with wayward souls throughout his career, and he’ll try to do the same in 2013-14. The Mountaineers have regressed each season since reaching the 2010 Final Four, so there’s an element of concern here.
3. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
Record at Oklahoma: 35-28 overall (.556), 16-20 Big 12 (.444)
NCAA Tournament: 14-14, one Final Four
Oklahoma knew what it would get when it hired Kruger, and the well-traveled coach delivered. No coach is more reliable at taking over a tough situation and putting the program on the right track. Kruger went 11-7 in the Big 12 in his second season at OU and became the first coach to take five different teams to the NCAA Tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV were the others). Kruger has done his work with a minimal amount of flash — he’s never coached a consensus All-American, hasn’t won a regular-season conference title since 1998 and hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2008. But programs don’t hire Kruger expecting John Calipari.
4. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Record (all at Iowa State): 62-39 overall (.614), 26-26 in the Big 12 (.500)
NCAA Tournament: 2-2
Only Iowa State could have hired “The Mayor,” who spent more time in NBA front offices than on the coaches’ bench at any level. Hoiberg returned to Ames to make his alma mater competitive, going 23-13 in the Big 12 in the last two seasons. Iowa State needs to be creative to stay competitive, and that’s what it got in Hoiberg. He’s succeeded with Division I transfers in Royce White, Korie Lucious, Will Clyburn, Chris Babb and now DeAndre Kane. And Hoiberg has beeing among the best in applying advanced statistical analysis and scouting to his program. The Cyclones led the Big 12 in points per possession and effective field goal percentage last year.
5. Rick Barnes, Texas
Record at Texas: 358-155 overall (.698), 164-75 Big 12 (.686)
NCAA Tournament: 20-20, one Final Four
Before last season, Barnes had a remarkable streak of 17 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. Then the Longhorns bottomed out at 16-18 capped off with a loss to Houston in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. Most coaches with Barnes’ raw numbers would be permitted one bad season, but Barnes has had too many recent seasons in which the results haven’t matched the potential. The Longhorns have failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in five consecutive seasons despite having five first-round NBA Draft picks and a handful of other highly touted recruits during that span. With Texas’ in-state recruiting base (which Barnes is losing hold of) and ample resources, these are meager results in a conference with only one true powerhouse.
6. Bruce Weber, Kansas State
Record at Kansas State: 27-8 overall (.771), 14-4 Big 12 (.778)
NCAA Tournament: 11-9, one Final Four
One thing we can say about Weber: He can win quickly. In his first season at Kansas State, Weber took Frank Martin’s players and won the Wildcats’ first share of a conference title since 1977. In his second season at Illinois, Weber went 37-2 with a national championship game appearance with a team recruited by Bill Self. Weber’s results at Illinois, however, dwindled in his final five seasons, but he will get a second chance for longevity in Manhattan.
7. Scott Drew, Baylor
Record at Baylor: 180-138 overall (.566), 63-95 Big 12 (.399)
NCAA Tournament: 6-3
Drew not only brought Baylor back from the brink but also brought the Bears to their most successful era since the 1940s and early ‘50s with two Elite Eights in the last five seasons. At the same time, though, Baylor arguably should be even better. Look at the end of last season as an example: Baylor drilled Kansas by 23 points and then won the NIT, but the Bears had a roster that shouldn’t have been in the NIT in the first place. Baylor has had a top-25 signing class in each of the last five seasons, according to Rivals.com, but has reached the NCAA Tournament only twice during that span.
8. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
Record at Oklahoma State: 104-64 overall (.619), 44-40 (.524)
NCAA Tournament: 1-4
Ford has at least brought Oklahoma State back to relevance in the Big 12. With Marcus Smart returning to Oklahoma State, all eyes will be on Ford to lead the Cowboys to the next steps: Contending for the Big 12 title and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Ford has a potential top-10 team on his hands, and Oklahoma State is hungry for a winner. The Cowboys haven’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2005.
9. Tubby Smith, Texas Tech
Record at Texas Tech: First season
NCAA Tournament: 30-16, one Final Four, one national championship
Maybe we’d be more optimistic if Smith were at a job that played better to his strengths. A program with little recent success on an island out in Lubbock, Texas Tech, is in need of an infusion of energy. A fine coach Tubby Smith may be, but he’s not a personality that generates much enthusiasm. On the court, the results have dwindled since his early years at Kentucky. Smith never had a winning conference season in his last stint at Minnesota and hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2005 with the Wildcats.
10. Trent Johnson, TCU
Record at TCU: 11-21 overall (.344), 2-16 Big 12 (.111)
NCAA Tournament: 5-5
Johnson has quite the rebuilding job at TCU, but there are glimmers of hope. The Horned Frogs’ only Big 12 wins came against NCAA Tournament teams Kansas and Oklahoma, and TCU signed a top-100 center in Karviar Shepherd. Johnson pulled Nevada out of the depths of the WAC, but rebuilding in that conference is different than rebuilding in the Big 12.