RTC’s Five Biggest Coaching Moves This Offseason

Posted by rtmsf on October 18th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

College basketball is finally back and as always one of the most interesting subplots of the new season is all of the coaches at their respective new schools. It seemed like this year had more coaching changes than normal, so here are the five coaching moves we’re keeping an eye on as well as a few of the ones that didn’t make the cut.

Steve Donahue at Boston College

Donahue Will No Doubt Find the ACC Challenging

  • Resume: 10 seasons as head coach at Cornell (146-138).
  • Postseason history: Three straight Ivy League Championships (2008-10); Three trips to the NCAA Tournament (2008-10), including a run to the Sweet 16 in 2010.
  • How he got to Boston College: Donahue became one of the nations “It” coaches when the Big Red stormed onto the scene in March Madness, making and breaking brackets everywhere in their run to the Sweet 16. Actually, Donahue probably first garnered attention when Cornell nearly knocked off No. 1 Kansas in January 2010. Boston College, on the other hand, was nudging down the pecking order of the ACC and Al Skinner eventually became the scapegoat for the Eagles lack of success (two losing seasons in the last five). Skinner was fired after the end of the season, and Donahue got the job April 6.
  • Signature style: An up-tempo attack that is dependent on the three-ball. Cornell was the top three-point shooting team in the nation last year, hitting from downtown at a 43.3% clip.
  • Likelihood of success: Depends on what you label success. Will the Eagles duplicate Cornell’s run of three straight Ivy League titles in the ACC? Probably not. But Boston College’s rough play always felt out of place in the ACC, and a more open style should make the Eagles competitive against the Dukes and North Carolinas. There’s no reason to believe that Donahue can’t bring BC back to the level it was at when Jared Dudley and Craig Smith played in Chestnut Hill.
  • Will endear himself if: He can make basketball exciting at Boston College again. BC has always been an awkward match with its ACC brethren, and the school still feels more like a Big East program. Because of the Donahue’s lovable underdog history, he should have a decent-sized grace period before people start to expect results.
  • Will be on the hot seat if: His attempt to change BC’s style fails. Sometimes people don’t like change (just ask Rich Rodriguez at Michigan). If the local writers in Boston start throwing out terms like soft, then it might be that Donahue and Boston College just aren’t the right fit.

Tim Floyd at UTEP

  • Resume: 327-181 combined record in 16 seasons at four schools, including an 85-50 mark at Southern Cal. Floyd also coached for five seasons in the NBA at Chicago and New Orleans where he went 49-190 and 44-45, respectively.
  • Postseason history: Eight trips to the NCAA Tournament including two Sweet 16 berths (Iowa State and USC).
  • How he got to UTEP: Tony Barbee left UTEP during the offseason to become the new coach at Auburn, and UTEP athletic director Bob Stull reportedly contacted Floyd about the position immediately after Barbee resigned. Floyd was a Miners assistant coach under Don Haskins from 1977-86.
  • Signature style: In his introductory news conference at UTEP, Floyd said that the Miners would attempt to run a pro-style offense. Expect to see a lot of half-court sets and diagrammed plays at UTEP under Floyd. Defense might turn into the Miners’ strength. At times USC was a shutdown defensive program when Floyd was at the helm with the Trojans showing the propensity to get creative in their schemes on that end of the floor (i.e., USC’s triangle-and-two defense that nearly took down Memphis in 2007).
  • Likelihood of success: Pretty good. Conference USA is up for grabs in the post-John Calipari Era. The Miners went 15-1 in conference last year, and Floyd has the profile to become a powerful recruiter if he can take a veteran group and build on their 24-6 finish in 2010.
  • Will endear himself if: The Miners compete for the Conference USA title on a yearly basis. The program knew the baggage they’d get when they hired Floyd, but the tantalizing potential of a Memphis-like dynasty emerging at UTEP was enough to justify the move. If Floyd wins games and turns the Miners into a national player (he’s already said he wants to schedule the best in the nation), people will tend to forget his dicey past.
  • Will be on the hot seat if: He gets involved in another NCAA scandal. Everyone knows that Floyd would still be at USC if it wasn’t for violations in the recruitment of O.J. Mayo. If a situation like that arose again at UTEP, Floyd’s career as a collegiate head coach could be over.

Oliver Purnell at DePaul

Purnell Has a Huge Endeavor Ahead of Him at DePaul

  • Resume: 394-280 record in 22 combined seasons at four schools.  Purnell went 138-90 in seven seasons at Clemson (2003-10).
  • Postseason History: Six trips to the NCAA Tournament, and three straight March Madness at-large berths at Clemson prior to his move to DePaul. Purnell is 0-6 in the NCAA Tournament, however.
  • How he got to DePaul: Purnell’s decision to leave the Tigers for the Blue Demons surprised many. DePaul has not been competitive since joining the Big East, and Purnell turned Clemson into one of the best middle-tier programs in the ACC. Purnell stands to make a lot more money in his seven-year contract with DePaul, which probably was a reason he was willing to make a seemingly risky career move.
  • Signature style: Purnell’s teams at Clemson were known for their full-court pressure and their 90 mph fast breaks on offense. If DePaul doesn’t win games right away, the Blue Demons will at least be fun to watch, especially when they play Louisville.
  • Likelihood of success: It’s going to be tough for Purnell to build a program like the one he had at Clemson in a stacked Big East. It might take some time, but don’t count out Purnell’s ability to turn a program around. Dayton went 7-20 in Purnell’s first season in 1994-95, and five seasons later he had the Flyers in the NCAA Tournament. The same thing happened at Clemson. The Tigers went 10-18 in his first season, but by Year Five they were dancing.
  • Will endear himself if: He can get DePaul out of the Big East cellar. It’s all about baby steps when you’re taking over a team that’s won one conference game in two seasons. If the Blue Demons win four or more games in the Big East this year, then that’s progress.
  • Will be on the hot seat if: He struggles to recruit top talent. Purnell has one thing going for him, DePaul resides in Chicago where there’s always an abundance of talented prep players. If he can’t convince them to stay home and play for the Blue Demons, it’s unlikely DePaul will get much better.

Dana Altman at Oregon

  • Resume: 397-230 combined record in 20 seasons at Creighton and Kansas State.
  • Postseason history: Eight trips to the NCAA Tournament, made the second round four times.
  • How he got to Oregon: Altman wasn’t exactly the Ducks’ first choice. Oregon hoped to make a big splash with its Nike dollars and was reportedly after Tom Izzo and Mark Few among others. When the top coaches didn’t bite the Ducks turned to the man who led Creighton to 11 straight 20-win seasons.
  • Signature style: Altman likes to move the ball around and create space for shooters on the perimeter. The three-point shot is going to become the primary weapon for the Ducks. Altman’s up-tempo style should be even more effective at Oregon once he starts recruiting the kind of players that go play in the Pac-10 vs. the Missouri Valley Conference.
  • Likelihood of success: High. With UCLA and Arizona in rebuilding mode, USC riddled with sanctions and a brand-spanking-new $200M arena, there’s no reason that Oregon can’t become a power in the Pac-10. It also doesn’t hurt to have Phil Knight in your back pocket. What recruit wouldn’t want to go to Oregon and play for one of the richest programs in the nation?
  • Will endear himself if: He continues to sign top players. Altman already created some buzz when he got a commitment from Jabari Brown from Oakland, one of the top shooting guards in the country. Rivals.com has Brown ranked as the #22 high school senior in the country.
  • Will be on the hot seat if: He doesn’t win, right away. Oregon clearly doesn’t view itself as some middle of the class basketball school. The Ducks open the brand-new Matthew Knight Arena this January and aren’t afraid to pour money into their hoops program. Mediocrity is not an option.

Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest

Bzdelik Was an Odd Choice, So the Pressure is On at Wake

  • Resume: 107-104 record in seven combined seasons at three schools. Bzdelik went 36-58 in three years at Colorado before leaving for Wake Forest. Bzdelik also coached the Denver Nuggets from 2002-04, reaching the playoffs in 2004.
  • Postseason history: One trip to the NCAA Tournament (2006 at Air Force), lost in the first round.
  • How he got to Wake Forest: Good question. It certainly doesn’t seem like he became the coach of the Demon Deacons because of his past successes. Bzdelik is old friends with Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman, and after the Demon Deacons fired Dino Gaudio (who went 61-31 in three seasons, but 1-5 in the postseason) Wellman offered Bzdelik the job.
  • Signature style: Bzdelik favors a Princeton style of offense, with plenty of ball movement and back door cuts. That doesn’t necessarily mean that his teams will always slow down the tempo, though. Bzdelik-coached teams have not committed themselves to a specific speed.
  • Likelihood of success: This is one of the tougher coaches to predict. Bzdelik didn’t produce immediately at Colorado, but he did at Air Force. Maybe if he stayed with the Buffaloes then he would have righted the ship there. Who knows? One thing that is certain is that there’s plenty of young talent at Wake Forest. Bzdelik inherits the #12 freshman class in the nation according to ESPN.com led by shooting guard J.T. Terrell. If he can harness that incoming talent along with returning sophomores CJ Harris and Ari Stewart, then the Demon Deacons could be a dangerous team come conference play
  • Will endear himself if: He wins in February and March. Let’s face it, Gaudio was fired because his teams always flamed out at the end of the season, and the Demon Deacons’ epic loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament’s second round last year sealed his fate. If Bzdelik shows improvement throughout his first year, then everyone will be happy in Winston-Salem, NC.
  • Will be on the hot seat if: Wake Forest falls to fourth in the North Carolina state basketball hierarchy. When the Demon Deacons were at their best under Dave Odom and Skip Prosser they battled Duke and UNC for top billing in the state (and nation). It will take some time until Wake Forest is at that level again, but if WFU falls below Sidney Lowe and N.C. State then heads will roll.

Others to Watch: These guys don’t have the same sizzle as the coaches in our top five, but we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on their programs throughout the season.

  • Brad Brownell at Clemson – Brownell was exceptional at Wright State, but he’ll find the ACC to be a much different animal than the Horizon League.
  • Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State – “The Mayor” returns to Ames with no coaching experience to speak of; this should be interesting.
  • Greg McDermott at Creighton – McDermott made the rare jump from a BCS school (Iowa State) to take this job, presumably to avoid a firing this year or next.
  • Steve Lavin at St. John’s – Lavin was more successful that many realize at UCLA, and could eventually turn the Johnnies into a Big East power again.
  • Mike Rice at Rutgers – Rice is already tearing it up on the recruiting trail, getting four recruits to commit to the Scarlet Knights including two top-100 guys.
  • Tony Barbee at Auburn – Barbee did well at UTEP, but he actually may find the Plains to be more difficult to navigate from a basketball perspective (read: football is king; hoops an afterthought to most fans).
  • Tad Boyle at Colorado – Boyle walks into an envious situation where two all-Big 12 caliber players, Cory Higgins and Alec Burks, are already waiting on him.
  • Bill Courtney at Cornell – Can Courtney possibly keep up what Steve Donahue began in Ithaca?  Most prognosticators say no, choosing Harvard or Princeton to win the Ivy this year.
  • Fran McCaffery at Iowa – The long-time mid-major coach jumps to the Big Ten and will find the nation’s strongest league in 2010-11 to be humbling; we wouldn’t bet against him in the long run, though.  Iowa supports its hoops and he can develop players.
  • Kevin Willard at Seton Hall – In light of the Bobby Gonzalez fiasco/firing, Willard arrives in north Jersey with his three best players still around.  If he can mold Jeremy Hazell, Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson into a cohesive unit, he could go Dancing in Year One.
rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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10 responses to “RTC’s Five Biggest Coaching Moves This Offseason”

  1. Andrew says:

    Good read, although the “Lavin was more successful than many realize at UCLA” comment frightens and confuses me…

  2. rtmsf says:

    If Lavin pulls four S16s and an E8 appearance in his first ten years at St. John’s, they’ll build a statue of him. That’s the difference. At UCLA, especially relative to the talent Lavin had at his disposal (top 5), he severely underachieved. But at most programs, those numbers are great.

  3. WakeFan says:

    For Bzdelik this year will pretty much be ignored. All fans are expecting is for us to get better as the season progresses. That certainly never happened under Gaudio. 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 will be key. We should have lots of talent and a fair amount of experience. He has to recruit well for 2012 and 2013 as well since that is without a doubt the biggest question mark on his resume. A solid recruit for 2011 would certainly ease the minds of many (myself included). The leash is going to be pretty short on this one I think, which typically is not the case with Ron Wellman, our AD (Dino being an exception, under ordinary circumstances he would have never had a shot at the job in the first place). If we aren’t not very good by the 2012-2013 season, there’s a likely chance that Bzdelik is gone and Wellman takes early retirement.

    I will say that I firmly believe that Bzdelik was not the first choice. Based on the timing and circumstances, I feel pretty certain that the first call was to Brad Stevens. Obviously that didn’t pan out and since Ron Wellman is not an idiot, unlike some other athletic directors in the state, he had a sure fire back-up option in Bzdelik. I also don’t think it was a crony hire. The two worked at the same school, but they were assistants for different sports so I can’t imagine there was much interaction. That said, Wellman does not have a good record with the basketball program. He forced out Odom which was obviously quite controversial. Skip never did quite as well as everyone hoped (though of course we’ll never know), though everyone on campus absolutely loved him as a person. A lot of people think he gave Dino too much time, and Bzdelik is risky.

    You’re right in your analysis. We want to be in the discussion as one of the best teams in NC, not an also ran. That’s been true off and on for the past 20 years. A key is going to be winning at Cameron. It’s been far too long since we’ve won there.

  4. WakeFan says:

    Just to be clear, in saying that alot of fans felt that Wellman gave Dino too long, I mean that many thought he should been interim head coach.

  5. rw says:

    Re Lavin, great points. Not sure how he’ll manage w/out Jimmy Saia running his offense. Granted he’s put together one helluva staff, and Dunlap is a defensive nightmare to prep for, but the offensive end after this season will be interesting once the Seniors are out…

  6. Andrew says:

    Heh. If Lavin pulls four S16 and an E8 in his first ten years at St. John’s, we should all build a statue of him…

    That being said, I think Lav’s a great guy and I think he’ll very much be successful at SJU, but I am interested to see how things play out there. I suspect that taking a few years off while still remaining around the game will be a positive for him in the long run. He was awful young and inexperienced at UCLA, and dealing with that type of pressure at that age, he was bound to make mistakes (and boy, did he ever). I expect to see a more mature Lavin and a more well-rounded program in this go-round…

    And it all starts with that program getting back to the NCAA’s this year. That would be a serious accomplishment (even given the, what, 32 seniors or something, he’s got returning) and another stepping stone towards rebuilding the program there.

  7. tallguy says:

    Funny how the best coaching hire in the ACC this offseason is relagated to “Others to Watch”

    Brownell will end up being the best hire of the 3 coaches because not only has he had consistent success at every place he’s been, he also has good recruiting ties to ACC country from his very successful stint at UNC-W.

    BC and Wake hired good coaches that don’t have ties to the area nor have any sustained recruiting success. It doesn’t matter how good a coach you are, if your team is to compete in the ACC, you need some talent.

  8. Brian says:

    I agree with tallguy, Brownell was the best ACC hire. I actually think Donahue won’t succeed at BC. Remember, it took him 8 years to build Cornell and 10 years to have any postseason success. He won’t have that much time in the ACC.

    Not sure how Purnell made the top five here.

    I think Barbee is a great hire at Auburn. Should get that program going a bit.

    Lavin has the personality for St. John’s but I’m not convinced yet. He can recruit but I’m not sold on his coaching skills. This season will be a good indication.

    Of all the guys on this list, the best long term hire might actually be Mike Rice. He has a long way to go to build Rutgers but if he gets patience from the fans he will succeed. Of course he could also jump ship to a better program once he achieves any sort of success at RU.

  9. WakeFan says:

    The only notable thing about Purnell is that DePaul is paying him $3m/year. He’s good at rebuilding programs, but that’s K/Izzo money.

    Brownell was a great hire and was definitely on our radar as well. But, in comparing him to Bzdelik, you have to realize that a condition of that hire was that Jeff Battle would remain on staff. He’s one of the best associate head coaches in the business and has lead our recruiting efforts for almost 10 years. He more than matches Brownell in connections to the area.

    I don’t think Donahue is the kind of coach you hire after you fired the most successful coach in your school’s history. A solid coach though. Of course BC’s AD is out of his freaking mind so that might explain it.

  10. rtmsf says:

    Purnell made the top five b/c it was so surprising for him to leave Clemson and the amt of dollars involved. Good point on Rice at Rutgers, and he’s already been recruiting like a maniac in his short time there.

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