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College Basketball: Top Head Coaching Hires for 2021-22

Chris Beard, Texas Tech Red Raiders Basketball

After an extremely successful run at Texas Tech, Chris Beard must deal with higher expectations as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns

One of the major storylines prior to the 2021-22 college basketball season is just how many coaching changes there have been. After just 28 head coaching changes in the previous cycles, 57 schools have new head coaches for this season. And that doesn't even count Mike Krzyzewski's last season at Duke.

Related: 10 College Basketball Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2021-22

So which schools made the best hires? And which schools are going the retread route? We're breaking all of this and more down in a feature from the Athlon Sports 2021-22 College Basketball Annual:

Top 4 Hires

Chris Beard, Texas

Beard's path to becoming a Division I head coach was long and unusual — he was an assistant or non-D-I head coach for 24 consecutive seasons before landing the Little Rock job in 2015. But since breaking through at the age of 42, it's been nothing but success for Beard, who has quickly established himself as one of the sport's best coaches. He did unprecedented things in his only season at Little Rock, then did more unprecedented things in five seasons at Texas Tech, where he led the Red Raiders to their first two Elite Eight appearances, first Final Four appearance and first trip to the title game of the NCAA Tournament. As a result, it was no surprise when Texas identified Beard as the leading candidate to replace Shaka Smart, and it'll be no surprise if Beard eventually leads Texas to its first national championship.

Shaka Smart, Marquette

Smart led Texas to the Big 12 Tournament title in March, which allowed the Longhorns to receive a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In that moment, his hot seat seemed cooler. But when Texas was subsequently upset by Abilene Christian in the first round, any goodwill Smart had built up with the fan base was mostly gone considering he was now set to enter his seventh season in Austin still stuck on zero NCAA Tournament victories. So Smart decided to bounce to Marquette, where he'll get to reset expectations at a Big East school with all of the resources necessary to win at the highest level of the sport.

Craig Smith, Utah

Smith just led Utah State to a top-two finish in the Mountain West Conference in three consecutive seasons while guiding the Aggies to each of the past two NCAA Tournaments. So there's no great reason to think he won't also do nice things 85 miles south at Utah, a program that made the NCAA Tournament 12 times in a 15-year span from 1991 to 2005 but had struggled recently under Larry Krystowiak, who was fired in March after missing four straight NCAA Tournaments. It might take a minute, obviously. But thanks to his big personality and coaching acumen, Smith seems like the perfect person to bring the Utes back to a respectable place and eventually have them competing for Pac-12 titles.

Tommy Lloyd, Arizona

Lloyd was the coach-in-waiting at Gonzaga, the man tapped to replace future Hall of Famer Mark Few someday. But when Arizona fired Sean Miller in April, the longtime Gonzaga assistant was presented with an opportunity too good to pass up. And though he'll still have to navigate the program through the punishment phase of an NCAA case sparked by violations committed on Miller's watch, most believe Lloyd has the chops to return the Wildcats to national relevance and rebuild the 1997 national champions into one of the most consistent winners in the sport.

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Second (or more chances)

Coaching tenures don't work out for various reasons — sometimes because of a bad fit, other times because of bad luck. Here are three coaches hoping their current D-I head coaching jobs go better than their last D-I head coaching jobs:

Richard Pitino, New Mexico
Pitino made just two NCAA Tournaments in his first six years at Minnesota, then finished 12th and 13th in the Big Ten in the past two seasons. So he was removed in March but quickly hired at New Mexico, where he'll try to bring back to life a historically solid program that hasn't finished in the top 100 in KenPom since 2014.

Stan Heath, Eastern Michigan
Heath won 30 games in his first season as a D-I head coach while guiding Kent State to a MAC title — and all the way to the Elite Eight of the 2002 NCAA Tournament, which set him up to replace Nolan Richardson at Arkansas. But in the subsequent 12 years — the first five at Arkansas, the next seven at USF — Heath won only one NCAA Tournament game and was fired from both jobs. He spent the past six years as either an assistant at Boston College or the head coach of the G League's Lakeland Magic.

Tony Barbee, Central Michigan
Barbee was mostly great in four seasons at UTEP and not as great in four seasons at Auburn, where he went 18–50 in SEC games before being replaced by Bruce Pearl in 2014. He's spent the past eight seasons on John Calipari's staff at Kentucky.

5 Intriguing Hires

Hubert Davis, North Carolina
UNC has handed the keys to Davis, a former Tar Heel player and longtime Roy Williams assistant. He spent his first offseason in charge recruiting well enough to keep Carolina near the top of the ACC.

Mike Woodson, Indiana
Woodson is replacing Archie Miller, who was fired after four straight seasons of sixth-or-worse finishes in the Big Ten. His job is to help Indiana finish first in its league the same way he did as a player in 1980.

T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State
Otzelberger was instrumental as an assistant in helping Fred Hoiberg turn Iowa State into a Big 12 winner in the early 2010s.

Mark Adams, Texas Tech
Adams is a defensive mastermind who was promoted after Chris Beard left Texas Tech for Texas. He has a roster good enough to make the NCAA Tournament in his first year as a Division I head coach.

Kim English, George Mason
English is the latest in a line of former NBA players to become college head coaches. He'll have a chance to rebuild George Mason just 65 miles from where he attended high school.