Best and Worst Coaching Jobs This SeasonPosted by zhayes9 on January 21st, 2011
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
Ultimately, it comes down to the players.
Any humble coach will admit, even after accomplishing such feats as a conference title, Final Four berth or national championship, that players decide the outcome of games. Dean Smith repeatedly refused to take credit for his endless list of achievements, constantly effusing praise towards his players during his historic run on the sidelines at North Carolina. Just last season, Mike Krzyzewski raved about the growth of his team and his three seniors on the podium in Indianapolis following his fourth national championship as Duke head coach.
Still, coaches are far from meaningless, especially in collegiate athletics. They’re in charge of developing their kids from freshmen to seniors, running practices and infusing life lessons, recruiting and scheduling, managing fragile egos and making vital in-game adjustments. Coaches are the face of the basketball program and responsible for the accomplishments and failings of said program. Albeit a tricky exercise filled with plenty of variables, let’s try to highlight some of the best and worst coaching jobs of the college basketball season thus far and the reasoning for why these 12 coaches deserve either a heaping piece of the blame pie or an even larger slice of the glory.
Best Coaching Jobs
Rick Pitino– One of the premier programs in college basketball, Louisville has faced seemingly endless hardships and obstacles since their Elite Eight berth in 2009. Despite star center Samardo Samuels bolting early and the loss of senior backcourt cogs Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, the Cardinals sit at 15-3 (4-1) in the vicious Big East. But the loss of Samuels was just the beginning of the nightmare: heralded recruit Justin Coleman didn’t quality academically, Memphis transfer and impact shooter Roburt Sallie lost his case for immediate eligibility and starting power forward/leading returning scorer Jared Swopshire needed season-ending surgery on his groin. Overcoming such odds is a challenge, but the coaching genius of Pitino, a hectic full-court press that often masks talent disparity and the three-point heroics of Preston Knowles have the 15th-ranked Cardinals achieving what even the most ardent ‘Ville supporter couldn’t have imagined during a supposed rebuilding season. Give Pitino tons of credit for keeping the ship afloat.
Seth Greenberg– The preseason top 25 Hokies haven’t lit the world on fire this season. They sit at a pedestrian 12-5 (3-2) with decent wins against Oklahoma State, Florida State and at Maryland and blown opportunities against quality opponents along the way. It could have been so much worse given the vast number of injuries that Virginia Tech has sustained, though. Third leading scorer Dorenzo Hudson and expected frontcourt contributors J.T. Thompson, Cadarian Raines and Allan Chaney are all gone. Greenberg has had to manage with a rotation about six or seven deep and also dealt with moving little-used sophomore guard Erick Green to the full-time role of point guard in order for Malcolm Delaney to operate off the ball. Green has blossomed and the Hokies appeared to be an NCAA team with a statement double-digit win last night at Maryland. Not many programs could have overcome such a breadth of injuries up front.
Randy Bennett– Saint Mary’s isn’t Duke, Kansas or Ohio State. Losing all-WCC center and team leader Omar Samhan (21.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG) and not missing a beat is a daunting task for a program located in Moraga, Calif. Utilizing an Australian pipeline second to none in the sport, Bennett and his lethal backcourt tandem of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova have the Gaels ranked despite the subtraction of Samhan. Non-power conference NCAA Tournament mainstays like Butler, Gonzaga and Xavier are known for perennially replacing key contributors while other programs take 2-3 seasons to reload. Players like Rob Jones and Mitchell Young stepping in seamlessly for Samhan shows that Bennett is building something awfully similar in the Bay Area.
Steve Donahue- Donahue stepped into a precarious situation at BC. Making the steep jump from the Ivy League to the ACC is difficult in itself, but Donahue’s task was multiplied by the fact he had to teach an entirely foreign system from departed coach Al Skinner’s tight flex to a group of starting seniors while also trying to compile a large recruiting class for 2011-12 as quick as possible. Donahue has done a magnificent job of coaxing Joe Trapani, Corey Raji and Biko Paris to buy into his cause and the Eagles sit a surprising 14-5 (4-1) atop the ACC as a result. Donahue’s system has worked wonders for a BC offense that ranks second in the nation in overall efficiency.
Steve Lavin– Speaking of earning the trust of seniors recruited under an entirely new coach three years ago, the task at St. John’s was possibly even more daunting for former UCLA headman Steve Lavin when he took the job of resurrecting this formerly proud program. Promising a return to glory under the lights of Madison Square Garden, Lavin has struck gold on the recruiting trail, but his real work had to be done prodding nine seniors who haven’t won a thing at the collegiate level to survive in the Big East. Roughly nine months later, the Johnnies sit at a comfortable 11-6 (4-3) with home victories over Georgetown and Notre Dame under their belt.
Fred Hoiberg– It must be an odd situation in practice when the scout team has more talent than the actual players that will lace up the sneakers in the Big 12, but that’s the exact situation that Hoiberg has encountered during a first season in Ames that was supposed to be spent in the basement as one of the worst high-major teams in the country. Behind the wizardly of guard Diante Garrett, the Cyclones have been playing like a determined bunch. Iowa State seems to be improving, too, with close Big 12 losses at Nebraska and Oklahoma State sandwiching a competitive game against #2 Kansas and an impressive thrashing of Baylor. Bears forward Perry Jones has more talent in his pinky finger than Iowa State’s active roster combined, yet the Cyclones handled Baylor and a lot has to do with the mindset Hoiberg has instilled on the sidelines.
Also worth mentioning: Jim Boeheim, Steve Fisher, Cuonzo Martin, Dana Altman.
Worst Coaching Jobs
Rick Stansbury– The embarrassment the program sustained following Renardo Sidney’s scuffle in the stands was painful enough, but the fallout- Elgin Bailey being essentially ejected from the program while the talented Sidney was given a plane ride home and a slap on the wrist- made Stansbury look like someone sacrificing the soul and good intentions of a program for cheap wins. The Bulldogs have picked themselves up lately, but a season in which State was expected to contend for the top 25 and run away with the SEC West has proven to be a headache. Their endless late December road trip resulted in a 1-4 mark and the Bulldogs returned to Starkville only to fall by 18 to Alabama.
Frank Martin– Martin fell into the same trap as Rick Barnes did a season ago, trying to effective juggle a roster with too many pieces expecting playing time with the end result being bruised egos, defections, ineffective leadership and scattered effort. Kansas State has never been able to settle into a minute rotation with two suspensions to star forward Curtis Kelly and the enigmatic play of talents like Wally Judge. Could Martin’s overly intense, in-your-face attitude be wearing down his Wildcats? Kansas State has free-fallen from the top five in November to the bubble here in January.
Roy Williams– Far be it for me to hammer a Hall of Fame coach with numerous Final Fours and two national titles, but a program carrying as many blue chip and McDonalds All-American recruits as North Carolina should be ranked and contending with Duke atop the ACC. That’s not a controversial statement. Williams’ mishaps have occurred more on the recruiting trail than on the bench. Larry Drew has fumbled the baton handed to him by Ty Lawson and spotty guard play across the board in the past two seasons has negated Williams’ patented secondary fast break attack. John Henson, Leslie McDonald, Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock were all four or five star recruits. Granted there’s plenty of time for all four players, but have any of those names truly impressed you performance-wise since arriving to Chapel Hill? There’s far too much talent in the program to be 33-22 since Tyler Hansbrough departed.
Jeff Bzdelik- The cupboard was nearly empty with Al Farouq Aminu, Ish Smith, Chas McFarland, Tony Woods and L.D. Williams all leaving, but did any Wake fan think it would be this brutal? The Deacons are currently in a morbid tussle with DePaul as the most deplorable high-major team in the nation. Some optimism was abound in Winston-Salem when Bzdelik quickly managed to secure all of Dino Gaudio’s heralded recruits that the Deacs could possibly contend in the middle of the pack in the ACC. At 7-12 overall, that’s looking rather foolish. Due to the controversial firing of Gaudio two seasons after a #1 ranking, the heat is certainly on Bzdelik and Wake AD Ron Wellman to turn this ship around quickly.
Pat Knight- Apologies for Texas Tech for leaving them out of the DePaul/Wake Forest debate. We can definitely make this a three-team scrum. Tech fans also had a glimmer of hope coming into this season because a handful of seniors were returning. Instead, the Red Raiders are 8-11 (0-4) and even lost to terrible Oklahoma. The reasons for this team’s struggles are all too clear: defense. Tech is ranked #201 in the nation in defensive efficiency this season, a recurring issue for the Raiders since son followed father.
Bruce Pearl- This one is painfully obvious. You’ve surely heard the story of the actual transgression and Pearl’s subsequent fib to the NCAA, so we’ll avoid restating the details. Pearl’s selfish acts left his program in the hands of an assistant coach for eight SEC games, but, more importantly, leaves his freshmen and sophomores in the uncomfortable position of not knowing if their head coach will be in Knoxville next season. Depending on the upcoming NCAA ruling, Pearl’s wrongdoing doesn’t just damage the program this season, but will negatively affect the program for years to come.
Also worth mentioning: Josh Pastner, Billy Donovan, Herb Sendek, Mitch Buonaguro