Burning Questions: Pac-12’s Best Coach

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire), Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 28th, 2016

In recent weeks, we’ve gone through the best point guards, big men and wings in the conference. But why stop there? We need to fill in the entirety of the program. So, today, we asked our contributors to name the conference’s best head coach. As you can probably imagine, one name came up quite often. We’ll spare you the suspense by getting right to the point with our first response: clearly it is Johnny Dawkins, right? No, but read along.

Is Johnny Dawkins The Pac's Best Coach? No, Silly, But He's Sure Consistent (credit: Harry How)

Is Johnny Dawkins The Pac’s Best Coach? No, Silly, But He Is Consistent (credit: Harry How)

Adam Butler: A few years back I tried to take a look at tempo variance and its possible correlation to coaches getting fired. The hypothesis was that a coach would drastically change his style in a year in which he kinda knew what was up. He’d grasp for any means to try and win a handful of games to stick around. I was mostly right. But it also didn’t suggest that the best coaches never varied. Coach K (the Duke version) was all over the place with tempo and he’s got a bunch of titles and success. Interestingly, Johnny Dawkins was one of the most consistent coaches in the conference. Consequently (I think that’s the right word to use here but probably not), Dawkins’ win totals in his seven full Pac-12 seasons reads: 20, 14, 15, 26, 19, 23, 24. That’s mostly pretty consistent. How about these conference win totals? 6, 7, 7, 10, 9, 10, and 9. And this season is no different. Is Dawkins the best coach in the Pac-12? Absolutely not. Is he in the conversation? No. But I’ve introduced him as a fascinating look at coaching in the college world. Consider a 7-year average win total of 20 (without extremes of 10 and 30 wins) in Corvallis or Pullman? That might be celebrated. For the most part it’s also celebrated (celebratable) in Palo Alto. But that’s the curse of consistency. It’s no longer exciting. Kansas fans are no longer impressed with a Big-12 title. But ask them what they think of Bill Self when he finally drops one. Alas, I never should have mentioned Bill Self in a Johnny Dawkins blurb. It’s unfair to the former. Dawkins is not the Pac-12’s best coach, but he might be the most consistent for his now second-most-conference-tenured-role.

Mike Lemaire: Nothing gets blood flowing like a intentionally vague question. Should I pick the best coach overall? Should I judge by overall body of work? What circumstances should I consider? What factors should be evaluated during the discussion? Oh wait. None of this matters because the answer is Sean Miller and it isn’t all that close. He won at Xavier all the time. He returned Arizona to national prominence in just his second season in charge. He has won 30 games in each of the last two seasons. He has never been to a Final Four, but neither have any of the other coaches in the PAC-12. This season the Wildcats are a flawed team but it still might be Miller’s best coaching job thus far. The team lost one of the best point guards in the country (TJ McConnell) and one of the best wings in the country (Stanley Johnson) along with two other veteran starters early to professional dreams. And this season, they are missing their leading scorer (Allonzo Trier), arguably their best freshman (Ray Smith) and a valuable rotation player (Elliott Pitts), along with senior center Kaleb Tarczewski having missed eight games. Yet they are still probably the smart bet to win the conference at this point in the season. It helps that his closest competitor — at least for now — is Lorenzo Romar, but Miller runs away with this award, despite the fact that I found myself nodding along when Adam made his case for Dawkins.

Sean Miller Is The Easy Choice As The Best Coach In The Pac (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Sean Miller Is The Easy Choice As The Best Coach In The Pac (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Andrew Murawa: It falls to me to make the case for Dana Altman, last year’s conference coach of the year, and it isn’t a difficult one to make. Miller, undeniably, is fantastic – among the best coaches in the country. But his equation for success is different than Altman’s. Miller landed (through great success elsewhere) in a ready-made big-time recruiting program and has lived up to the recruiting potential and then some, having brought in four straight top-six national recruiting classes (according to ESPN’s rankings). His plan involves bringing in elite players, getting them to buy in on the defensive end, coaching them up and then sending them on their way when they’re ready, while mixing and matching veterans around the stars. And he’s had a ton of success doing that and nobody is taking anything away from him for going that route. Altman has no such luck in Oregon. His best traditional recruiting class was last season’s haul that checked him in at #22 on ESPN’s rankings. Because Eugene hasn’t been a traditional destination for elite talents, Altman has gone a far different route and had success traveling that different road. Since he showed up in Eugene in 2010-11, he’s had 32 different players (an average of more than five new rotational faces every season) play at least 20% of available minutes in a season. He’s pulled in senior transfers (Hi, Arsalan Kazemi, Mike Moser, Jason Calliste and Devoe Joseph). He’s scored multi-year Division I transfers (Hello, Joseph Young and Tony Woods). He’s made big-timers out of JuCo transfers (Chris Boucher, Dwayne Benjamin, and Carlos Emory). And, yeah, sure, he’s even gone the traditional freshman route from time to time to great success. But while Miller has had the good fortune of coaching seven players to the NBA Draft over the last five seasons, Altman has had just two (both second round picks). Along the way Altman has posted a 139-61 (69.5%) overall record and a 60-37 (61.9%) conference rate, while landing in three NCAA Tournaments including a Sweet Sixteen. It’s a different job and different reasonable goals than what Miller has in Tucson, but given the resources, what Altman has accomplished has been equally as impressive. Oh, and by the way, full credit to Sean Miller.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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