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College Basketball's Top 10 Coaching Hires for 2012


Only in college basketball could 45 programs make coaching changes and only a handful of them be truly blockbuster. No moves at Arizona or Kentucky as in recent seasons.

The biggest name to move may be Frank Martin from Kansas State to South Carolina. The biggest vacancy was at Illinois, where the Illini struck out on their top candidates before hiring Ohio’s John Groce.

That’s not to say there won’t be any surprises. Just think, at this time last year Missouri’s hire of Frank Haith from Miami was ridiculed. He finished the season as the AP Coach of the Year.

So while there may not have been a true marquee move among the 45 coaching changes in Division I since last year, there were plenty of notable changes across the country and perhaps a few surprises.

Who knows, maybe Larry Brown will follow in Haith’s footsteps with postseason hardware.

1. Dan Hurley, Rhode Island
Old job: Wagner head coach
He replaces: Jim Baron
The Wagner-to-Rhode Island move isn’t much of an attention-grabber, but it should be this season. Hurley took over a team that went 5-26 in 2009-10 under Mike Deane, and two years later Hurley led Wagner to a school-record 25 wins and a second-place finish in the Northeast Conference. He should be able to capitalize on his famous name and his deep connections with the region. He’s a New Jersey native who went 223-21 from 2001-10 at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J.

2. John Cooper, Miami (Ohio)
Old job: Tennessee State
He replaces: Charlie Coles
Here’s another low-major to mid-major coaching move casual fans might dismiss at their own risk. Cooper led Tennessee State to its first 20-win season since 1978-79 and first winning season since 1995-96, and it wasn’t even the highlight of the season. Tennessee State was the only team to defeat Murray State during the regular season and came within two points of upsetting the Racers in the Ohio Valley tournament final. He takes over for Coles, who retired after 16 seasons at Miami.

3. Frank Martin, South Carolina
Old job: Kansas State
He replaces: Darrin Horn
Kansas State’s dysfunction is South Carolina’s gain. reported disagreements between Martin and athletic director John Currie (though Martin has denied it). In any case, South Carolina hopes Martin can do for the Gamecocks what he did for Kansas State. Martin and Lon Kruger are the only K-State coaches to reach four NCAA tournaments in a five-year span, and Martin was the only Wildcats coach to win 20 games in four consecutive seasons. Martin also led K-State to at least one NCAA Tournament win in all four appearances. On the other hand, South Carolina is 0-5 in the Tourney since 1973. The job is tougher at South Carolina, and Martin won’t have a Michael Beasley to jumpstart his tenure.

4. Tim Miles, Nebraska
Old job: Colorado State
He replaces: Doc Sadler
Nebraska has never won an NCAA Tournament game and hasn’t had a chance to end that losing streak since 1998. Nebraska gave Sadler six seasons, and now the Cornhuskers appear to be committed to give Miles some time to turn the Cornhuskers around, too. Miles’ seven-year contract is the longest for any coach in school history -- yes, that includes football coaches. Miles has proven he can build programs. He won 17 games in his first two seasons combined at Colorado State before leading the Rams to three postseason berths in his final three seasons, improving from the CBI to the NIT to the NCAA Tournament. At then-independent North Dakota State, Miles led the Bison road wins over Marquette in 2006-07 and Wisconsin in 2005-06. He left the cupboard stocked enough at North Dakota State for an NCAA Tournament appearance the season after he left.

5. Johnny Jones, LSU
Old job: North Texas
He replaces: Trent Johnson
Jones may have gone underappreciated nationally thanks to only two NCAA Tournament appearances in 11 seasons in Denton, but consider where he started: His predecessor won 20 games total in four years. Under Jones, the Mean Green won 20 games in five consecutive seasons. He’s an ideal fit at LSU, where he played for Dale Brown during the Tigers’ 1981 Final Four trip. After that, he spent 13 seasons as an LSU assistant during a run of nine consecutive NCAA bids. Jones knows the terrain in Louisiana and he can recruit. He helped land Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Jackson as an assistant in Baton Rouge.

6. Jim Ferry, Duquesne
Old job: LIU Brooklyn
He replaces: Ron Everhart
Duquesne isn’t an easy job, but it’s much better than it was when Everhart took over in 2006. Before then, the Dukes won 10 or more games only twice in the previous 11 seasons. Moreover, Duquesne is in better shape than when Ferry arrived at LIU Brooklyn, which he took from the bottom of the NEC to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. Ferry has spent all of his coaching career in the Northeast. Will he be able to pry enough Atlantic 10-caliber recruits from New York to play in Western Pennsylvania?

7. Larry Eustachy, Colorado State
Old job: Southern Miss
He replaces: Tim Miles
Colorado State increased its win total every season under Miles, culminating in 20 wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance last season. The Rams are positioned well to continue that trend with Eustachy leading the top four returning scorers from last season, plus Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson. In eight seasons at Southern Miss, Eustachy resurrected his career at the same time he resurrected the Golden Eagles’ program. If Colorado State can reach the NCAA Tournament -- a pretty good possibility with the returning personnel -- the Rams will be the fourth team Eustachy has led to March Madness.

8. John Groce, Illinois
Old job: Ohio
He replaces: Bruce Weber
Ohio made the most of two NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons under Groce, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2012 and upsetting Georgetown in the first round in 2010. Perhaps that inflated the perception of Groce -- he was 34-30 overall in MAC play -- but Illinois is getting a coach who can recruit at a high level within the Big Ten. At Ohio State, he recruited Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequon Cook. At Illinois, he’ll work to convince Illinois fans they didn’t need Shaka Smart, but he’ll also need to convince Chicago recruits to play in Champaign.

9. Bruce Weber, Kansas State
Old job: Illinois
He replaces: Frank Martin
The ongoing Bruce Weber hot-seat watch at Illinois finally ended, but Weber couldn’t have landed in many better situations with most of the Wildcats’ roster returning for next season. Kansas State fans weren’t excited about the hire, but this is still a coach who led a team to the national title game and a 37-2 season in 2005. He’s still regarded as a good X’s and O’s coach, but will Weber be able to recruit to Kansas State when he struggled to recruit to Illinois near the end of his tenure?

10. Jim Christian, Ohio
Old job: TCU
He replaces: John Groce
Try to look past an undistinguished four seasons at TCU, though last season’s 7-7 record in the Mountain West represented a six-game turnaround and the Horned Frogs’ best conference mark since 2004-05. It’s better to look at Christian’s six years at Kent State. The Golden Flashes won at least 20 games every year under Christian and reached the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and 2008. Now he’s back in the MAC and in the state of Ohio. Like Eustachy, Groce and Weber, he inherits a veteran team with NCAA Tournament potential.

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Five key rookie coaches

Tony Benford, North Texas: He’s a first-time head coach, but he has a long resume as an assistant as a recruiter with a combined 18 seasons at Marquette, Arizona  State and New Mexico.

Pat Kelsey, Winthrop: Kelsey played for Skip Prosser at Xavier, coached under him at Xavier and Wake Forest and eulogized his mentor at Prosser’s funeral. He stepped away from basketball for a season before returning to a program that made nine NCAA appearances from 1999-2010.

Danny Manning, Tulsa: Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith and Bill Self won titles after coaching at Tulsa. Manning brings title rings (one as a player, another as an assistant) to the Golden Hurricane.

Dan Muller, Illinois State: Muller was a senior the last time Illinois State played in the NCAA Tournament. He rose through the ranks of Kevin Stallings’ Vanderbilt staff as a tactician and recruiter over the course of a dozen years.

Richard Pitino, FIU: The 29-year-old son of Rick Pitino may be a little more invested in his position than predecessor Isiah Thomas. It’s a tough job, but Pitino has big-time school experience at Louisville and Florida, plus that last name.

Four second-chance coaches
Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois:
His Missouri State teams were competitive in the Missouri Valley but never reached the NCAA Tournament in nine seasons. After time on the Kansas staff, Hinson will try to revive the Salukis, who haven’t had a winning season since 2007-08.

Keno Davis, Central Michigan: His three years at Providence ranged from pedestrian to dreadful. Before that, he led Drake to its best season in nearly 40 years, finishing 28-5 in his only season as a head coach there in 2007-08.

Jim Baron, Canisius: Baron pulled Rhode Island out of a post-Jim Harrick funk but wasn’t able to reach the top of the Atlantic 10. He’s a veteran not afraid of low- and mid-major reclamation projects. Canisius fits that mold.

Doug Wojcik, Charleston: Another case of good but not good enough. Wojcik returned Tulsa to 20-win status, but the program stalled in the NIT.

Three more new coaches under 30
Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary’s:
Member of Mount St. Mary’s Class of ’04 worked for another young coach in Shaka Smart at VCU last season.

Bashir Mason, Wagner: At 28, he’s the nation’s youngest head coach, which isn’t an oddity in the NEC with Christian at Mount St. Mary’s and 31-year-old Andy Toole at Robert Morris.

Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro: He was a walk-on for North Carolina’s 2005 title team and a starter the following season. Not quite a new coach, he went 11-11 as an interim coach after Mike Dement was dismissed.

Two big jobs filled with former Clemson assistants
James Johnson, Virginia Tech:
Johnson spent only 11 days as a Clemson assistant (replacing Rick Ray, below) before returning to Virginia Tech to replace his old boss Seth Greenberg. A unorthodox move for the Hokies, but he was regarded as one of their better recruiters.

Rick Ray, Mississippi State: He’s the first new basketball coach in Starkville since 1998. At Clemson and Purdue, he was part of staffs that reached the NCAA Tournament in five of the last six seasons.

One puzzling hire
Larry Brown, SMU: He hasn’t coached in college since leading Kansas to the 1988 championship. He’ll be 72 when the season starts and 73 when downtrodden SMU makes its move to the Big East. And he’s already cutting players. On top of all that, he has a coach-in-waiting in tow in former Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich. We’ll get to see Larry Brown vs. Danny Manning for a year in Conference USA. What happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.

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-David Fox 

Follow @DavidFox615