Oklahoma State made a slam dunk hire in Brad Underwood
This offseason turned out to be a good time for non-blue bloods to be in the market for a new coach.
Few major power programs waded into the coaching carousel. One of college basketball’s most historically proud programs hired a new coach (Oklahoma State), so did a power from the 90s (UNLV), so did programs that reached the Final Four in the not to distant past (Memphis and Georgia Tech).
At the same time, the pool of coaches looking to make a move provided a number of interesting options. Brad Underwood and Bryce Drew had long track records in the mid-major rankings. Chris Beard and Jerod Haase were hot names thanks to recent NCAA Tournament runs.
Perhaps most interesting were established Power 5 coaches like Jamie Dixon and Tubby Smith putting themselves on the market.
Here are the 10 most important hires in the major conferences, plus a trip around interest hires in the mid-majors.
All 2016-17 predictions and a preview of every team and conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
Top 10 Most Important Hires in College Basketball for 2016-17
Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State
The once-proud Oklahoma State program is in need of a jolt. The Cowboys haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2005 under Eddie Sutton, and they’re coming off their worst season since 1986-87. In Underwood, Oklahoma State adds a proven winner. He lost one Southland Conference game in three seasons at Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks notched two NCAA Tournament upsets in three seasons, defeating No. 5 seed VCU in 2014 and No. 3 seed West Virginia in 2016. Underwood, a longtime assistant under Frank Martin at Kansas State and South Carolina, will be at home in a league with pressure defenses at Texas and West Virginia. Stephen F. Austin led the nation in turnover rate last season and placed in the top 15 in each of Underwood’s three seasons in Nacogdoches. GRADE: A+
Jamie Dixon, TCU
Dixon got out of Pittsburgh before Pittsburgh could force him to leave. The Panthers’ progress stalled in recent years; they failed to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last seven seasons and are only two games over .500 in league games since joining the ACC. Make no mistake, though: TCU is getting a steal in bringing back one of its former players. Dixon averaged more than 25 wins per season and made the NCAA Tournament 11 times in 13 years at Pitt. Dixon probably won’t approach that level of success at TCU, which hasn’t made the tourney since 1998 and has just one 20-win season since 2000-01. But turning TCU into a respectable Big 12 program would make Dixon a miracle worker. GRADE: A
Bryce Drew, Vanderbilt
A folk hero in the NCAA Tournament as a player, Drew carried on the family legacy at Valparaiso. In five seasons, Drew captured four outright Horizon League regular-season titles and reached the NCAA Tournament twice. His final team at Valpo was his best — an overtime loss to Green Bay in the Horizon Tournament sent the Crusaders to the NIT, but they still finished the season 30–7. GRADE: A
Tubby Smith, Memphis
The Memphis job is proof that a new coach is often the polar opposite of the former coach. The Tigers hired Josh Pastner when he was 31, let him walk away to Georgia Tech when he was 38 and then replaced him with the 64-year-old Smith. Tubby has 557 career victories and won the 1998 national title at Kentucky, but last season’s Coach of the Year effort at Texas Tech seemed to remind people of how good a coach Smith really is. If Smith takes Memphis to the NCAAs, he’ll be the first coach to do so with six teams (Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech are the others). GRADE: B+
Jerod Haase, Stanford
Haase led UAB to a 28–8 mark in Conference USA the last two seasons, plus an upset of No. 3 seed Iowa State in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. A native of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Haase is heading out West for the first time since his freshman season at Cal. After hiring a Duke assistant in Johnny Dawkins, Stanford is hiring a coach who spent 13 seasons as an assistant for Roy Williams at North Carolina and Kansas. GRADE: B
Chris Beard, Texas Tech
Beard’s first season at UALR — and his only as a Division I head coach — was good enough to get him hired twice during the offseason. After going 30–5 with an upset of No. 5 seed Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, Beard took the UNLV job. Less than three weeks later, Tubby Smith moved on to Memphis and Beard returned to Texas Tech, where he served as associate head coach for 10 years under Bob and Pat Knight. Before his lone season in Little Rock, Beard went a combined 66–25 at Division III McMurry and Division II Angelo State. GRADE: B
Kevin Stallings, Pittsburgh
Pitt allowed a coach who made the NCAA Tournament 11 times in 13 years to leave for one of the worst jobs in the Big 12, only to hire a coach who made the NCAA Tournament seven times in 17 years at Vanderbilt. Stallings wasn’t the home run Pitt fans were hoping for, but he’s not a disastrous hire, either. Stallings did well enough to stay at Vanderbilt for 17 years in the first place, and he’s considered one of the better offensive X’s and O’s coaches in the business. GRADE: B–
Steve Pikiell, Rutgers
Pikiell led one of the steadiest low-majors in the country at Stony Brook, winning between 22 and 26 games in each of his last five seasons. He claimed four regular-season America East titles but just one NCAA Tournament bid. And he knows the terrain: The former UConn guard has spent his entire coaching career in the Northeast. GRADE: B–
Marvin Menzies, UNLV
UNLV was left in a bind when Chris Beard took the job and then left less than three weeks later. Menzies isn’t a bad Plan B, but he’s not a hiring coup, either. Menzies won 73.6 percent of his games in the WAC, a league that became more and more diluted through his tenure. He took New Mexico State to the NCAA Tournament five times but never won a tournament game. GRADE: C
Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech
Brian Gregory went 8–10 in the ACC, his best record in five years at Georgia Tech, and got fired. Pastner went 8–10 in the American and landed the Yellow Jackets gig. Hiring a Memphis coach who lost to East Carolina, Tulane and USF in his final months on the job is one of the more puzzling moves of the carousel. Still, Pastner is a high-energy recruiter. The talent level at Georgia Tech, at least, will be higher. GRADE: C
5 Interesting Mid-Major Hires
Jim Engles, Columbia
Columbia hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968, so the Lions hired a coach who knows a bit about adverse situations. Engles took over NJIT when the Highlanders were a Division I independent. NJIT went 1–30 in that first season but won 41 games in his last two seasons, including a road upset of Michigan in 2014.
Scott Nagy, Wright State
Nagy took over a good Division II South Dakota State program that, predictably, took its lumps in its first few years of Division I. Once the Jackrabbits found their footing, Nagy led SDSU to three NCAA Tournaments and one NIT in his last five seasons.
Zach Spiker, Drexel
Spiker led Army to 19 wins last season. If that doesn’t sound impressive, consider that only three other coaches have exceeded that mark at Army, and two of those coaches are Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski.
Todd Simon, Southern Utah
Spending half the season as UNLV’s interim coach helped Simon land a full-time head coaching job. The Rebels went 4–1 in his first five games after taking over for Dave Rice before a rash of injuries slowed the team down the stretch. Simon is a former head coach at talent-rich Findlay Prep in Nevada.
Ryan Odom, UMBC
Odom takes over one of the toughest jobs in the America East. The son of retired Wake Forest and South Carolina coach Dave Odom has been around the block as an assistant at Furman, UNC Asheville, American, Virginia Tech and Charlotte. In his lone season at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, he led the school to its first 20-win season in eight years.
6 Interesting First-Time Coaches
Damon Stoudamire, Pacific
The former Arizona star and NBA veteran is taking his first head coaching job after serving as an assistant at Arizona and Memphis and with the Grizzlies. Stoudamire takes over a Pacific program facing scholarship limitations and a postseason ban due to NCAA violations.
Jeff Boals, Stony Brook
Boals was one of Thad Matta’s top assistants at Ohio State for seven years. Recruiting was a major piece of that as Boals helped bring in a steady flow of top-100 players. He’ll inherit a consistent winner at Stony Brook.
LaVall Jordan, Milwaukee
Firing longtime coach Rob Jeter was a controversial move for Milwaukee. The school replaced him with Jordan, who excelled in developing Michigan’s guards, including Darius Morris, Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas.
Bacari Alexander, Detroit
Alexander was a key player on Detroit’s 1998 and ’99 teams, two of the only three Titans teams to make the NCAA Tournament since 1979. Alexander spent the last six seasons as an assistant under John Beilein at Michigan.
Kyle Keller, Stephen F. Austin
Keller has big shoes to fill as Stephen F. Austin has averaged 29 wins under two coaches in the last four seasons. Keller, a former assistant at Oklahoma State, Kansas and Texas A&M, is known as a standout recruiter around Dallas.
T.J. Otzelberger, South Dakota State
Otzelberger is the rare assistant to be retained by two different head coaches. Originally hired at Iowa State by Greg McDermott, Otzelberger was retained by both Fred Hoiberg (in 2010) and Steve Prohm (2015). He left ISU for a two-year stint at Washington but was re-hired by Hoiberg in ’15 (before Hoiberg bolted for the Chicago Bulls). Otzelberger is regarded as elite recruiter.
Rick Stansbury, Western Kentucky
The former Mississippi State coach rebuilt his career as an assistant at Texas A&M before landing one of the better mid-major jobs in the country. He left a mess at Mississippi State, but he’ll get players at Western Kentucky.
Johnny Dawkins, UCF
The former Duke guard went to one NCAA Tournament in eight seasons at Stanford, a program that was a perennial NCAA team before he arrived. What can he do with a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2005 when UCF was in the Atlantic Sun?
Travis Ford, Saint Louis
It’s hard to figure what Saint Louis saw in Ford. The former Oklahoma State coach went 63–80 in the Big 12 and 1–5 in the NCAA Tournament with the Pokes. Ford’s best team on paper, in 2013-14, ended the season with a loss to Gonzaga in the Round of 64.
Herb Sendek, Santa Clara
Once upon a time, Sendek made five consecutive NCAA Tournaments at NC State and then got out of Raleigh before the Wolfpack could force him out. Sendek went to the NCAAs twice in nine years at Arizona State before he was let go in 2015.
2 NBA Names
Terry Porter, Portland
The longtime NBA veteran and two-time All-Star joins the ranks of former NBA coaches taking their first college head coaching jobs in recent years. Porter went 99–116 for the Bucks and Suns and served as an NBA assistant in other stints. He’ll know the neighborhood — he spent the first nine years of his playing career with the Trail Blazers — but he’ll have to get used to working for a WCC program that’s topped 20 wins just twice since 1995.
Mike Dunleavy Sr., Tulane
More colleges are bringing in ex-NBA head coaches, but this seems a little extreme. Dunleavy is 62 and hasn’t coached since 2010 with the Clippers. He went 613–716 with four NBA franchises and now takes on one of the tougher jobs in a conference with UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati, Temple and SMU.