After his dismissal at Louisville, Rick Pitino has returned home to New York as the new head coach at Iona
A new head coach can give an entirely new identity to any college basketball program. And while there was little turnover in the last calendar year due to COVID-19 cutting short last season (as well as many program's budgets), there were some big names on the move over the summer.
Here are Athlon Sports' four biggest hires for the upcoming 2020-21 season, which kicks off on Nov. 25:
Steve Forbes, Wake Forest
After receiving a one-year show-cause for his involvement in recruiting violations at Tennessee under Bruce Pearl, Forbes worked his way back up the college basketball food chain — two years as a head coach at Northwest Florida State (62–6 record) and two years as an assistant at Wichita State — before landing the head coaching job at ETSU in 2015. In four seasons in Johnson City, Forbes went 130–43 overall and 71–19 in the Southern Conference. His 2019-20 team, 30–4 overall and 15–1 in league play, was considered to be perhaps the best in school history and good enough to win a game or two in the 2020 NCAA Tournament — had it occurred. Forbes is a relentless recruiter who should make Wake Forest relevant again after a lost decade.
Andy Kennedy, UAB
Kennedy returns to the head-coaching ranks at his alma mater after a two-year, highly entertaining stint as an analyst on the SEC Network. And it's a great fit for both parties. Kennedy did a very good job at Ole Miss, one of the more difficult jobs in the SEC; he made the NCAA Tournament only two times but had a winning record in SEC games in his 11-plus seasons and never finished more than two games under .500 in league play until his final year. Kennedy should thrive at UAB, a program that should be among the best in Conference USA. The Blazers reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the final three seasons of the Mike Anderson era (2004-06) but have made it back only twice since.
Rick Pitino, Iona
Sure, he comes with some baggage, but is there any doubt that Pitino will win big at Iona? The question is: How big? Iona won at least 20 games every season from 2010 through 2018 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament six times in an eight-year span from '12-19. The Gaels, however, failed to win a game in the NCAAs during that stretch and were never seeded higher than 13th. Pitino's task is to put the program in position to earn seeds in the 10 through 12 range, giving it a better chance to advance in the NCAA Tournament.
Joe Scott, Air Force
Scott returns to Colorado Springs for his second stint at Air Force, hoping to recapture the magic of the 2003-04 season when he guided the Falcons to 22 wins overall and a Mountain West regular-season title. To put in perspective how shocking AFA's 12–2 conference record was that year: The Falcons had never had a winning record in league play since joining the WAC in 1980-81, and they had never won more than six conference games in any season. Scott parlayed that breakthrough into the top job at Princeton, his alma mater, but was fired after three disappointing seasons. He returned to the state of Colorado for a nine-year run at the University of Denver, enjoying moderate success but never taking the Pioneers to the NCAA Tournament.
(Top photo courtesy of Louisville Athletics)