Did Minnesota Make a Mistake In Firing Tubby Smith?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g. 

After six seasons in Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota fired its head basketball coach Tubby Smith. The firing certainly comes as a surprise to the hoops world because the Gophers just finished their best season under Smith: an overall record of 21-13 with a convincing win over UCLA in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. Smith led the Gophers to the NCAA Tournament during three out of his six seasons there but only won once in the Big Dance and never finished in the top four of the Big Ten during the regular season. A 124-81 record (60%) may not seem to support the firing but a closer look at Smith’s six seasons and the future of the Big Ten shows that the Gophers could stand to benefit with a coaching change. The following are three reasons why this move is a beneficial one for the Gophers.

Tubby Smith, Minnesota

Tubby Smith is out at Minnesota after six seasons.

  • The Big Ten regular season matters just as much as the postseason. Three appearances in the NCAA Tournament and a finalist in the NIT last season may work for many programs but the Minnesota athletic department has clearly sent a message that it expects to be at the top of the best conference in the nation. Smith finished with a record of 46-42 within conference play, and his teams were never a consistent threat to win the league. Big Ten programs take pride in winning the regular season championship and perennial contenders such as Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State are household names every year from January through mid-March. Without a more competitive team in league play, the Gophers will never be able to shed an image of a bubble team that frets on Selection Sunday.
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What’s In Store For UConn Without Jim Calhoun? The National Media Weighs In…

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 14th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Over the past 26 years, Jim Calhoun has morphed the Connecticut men’s basketball program from a middling Yankee Conference ensemble to a plucky Big East upstart to a nationally-revered hoops powerhouse. He did it without the normal built-in advantages of most successful programs, without historical precedent, without strong administrative or financial support, without favorable geography, or a rich pool of high school players to recruit from. What Calhoun accomplished at UConn is truly remarkable; his legacy is forever intertwined with the program’s foundation and rise to prominence. The situation UConn now finds itself in – transitioning away from a legendary leader – is not completely unique. Arizona, UCLA, and North Carolina, to name a few, have all weathered the departures of sideline legends deftly, sustaining their national relevance and competitiveness with new coaches. The challenge for UConn is finding the right coach to succeed Calhoun, to prolong and advance what the three-time national title winner engineered in Storrs. While Calhoun believes two-year assistant Kevin Ollie is the perfect fit, it’s unclear whether new AD Warde Manuel will stick with Calhoun’s preference in the long run. But the timing of Calhoun’s departure has forced Manuel’s hand: Ollie is assured one season on the Huskies’ sidelines, a test run to prove himself as the long-term solution.

UConn’s basketball success is tied to Calhoun’s legacy (Photo credit: AP Photo/Jessica Hill).

With UConn ineligible for the postseason in 2013 and a depleted roster to work with, Ollie faces a tough road in the upcoming season. Whether or not he is the best choice to lead the Huskies out of the Calhoun glory days is an open question, but the national media has opined in droves over the fate of UConn’s program now that it has lost its foundational architect. Here’s a sampling of some of the best Calhoun retirement-related pieces I’ve come upon in the wake of yesterday’s official announcement, with a brief pull-quote summary of how each writer believes the Huskies will march on without Calhoun.

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Jim Calhoun Expected To Retire

Posted by nvr1983 on September 12th, 2012

After years of speculation it appears that Connecticut‘s legendary head coach Jim Calhoun will finally retire. A local NBC affiliate in Connecticut was the first to report the news that Calhoun’s retirement was “imminent”. Calhoun, who turned 70 in May, has made a name for himself building up a Connecticut program that was not even on the map when he took over in 1986 to one of the premier programs in the country during his 26 seasons there. Calhoun’s credentials at Connecticut are nothing short of spectacular: three NCAA titles, seven Big East Tournaments titles, and nine Big East regular season titles to go along with several NBA stars. While Calhoun won big on the court he also went through his own trials and tribulations off it often battling the media (“not a dime back”) and dealing with a variety of medical issues. [Ed Note: For what it’s worth, in our limited interactions with Calhoun he always was courteous with us.]

Calhoun Appears To Finally Be Saying Goodbye

With the upcoming season essentially being a lost one for a program of Connecticut’s caliber (banned from the NCAA Tournament due to their low APR score) speculation was rampant that Calhoun would call it a career, but he remained committed (or indecisive depending on your point of view) to the program. However, his latest setback, a fall off his bike leading to a prolonged rehabilitation program, may have finally led Calhoun to step down. Now the next question is who will replace Calhoun. The most obvious choice would be Kevin Ollie at least on an interim basis although George Blaney is the one who has always served as the fill-in for Calhoun during his multiple absences over the years. Whether Ollie is able to shed the interim label will likely depend on the performance of this year Connecticut team. If they fail to live up to even the admittedly lowered expectations we could have one of the more interesting coaching searches in years to fill a spot at a marquee program that had essentially been created by the man leaving it.

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Jim Calhoun Hints At Retirement: How Will UConn Sustain His Progress?

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 7th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

When programs are so closely associated with one legendary coach, it’s often difficult to properly gauge their sustainability and staying power. Coaching leadership and innovation, when harnessed in the right ways, can ignite and maintain momentum. In these instances, when sideline legends engineer complete turnarounds at places with little or no previous historical success, the burning question is whether the building project and subsequent rise has set the stage for long-term security and continuity, or if the inevitable coaching change will undo the trailblazing predecessor’s foundational work. UConn men’s basketball is one of these programs. The Huskies’ success is impossible to extract from its longtime head coach Jim Calhoun. UConn garnered some regional recognition as a member of the Yankee Conference under Hugh Greer, but it was only when Calhoun took over – not to mention UConn’s move to the Big East in 1979, a conference created with the goal of assembling the region’s best basketball programs – that the Huskies truly hit their stride on the national stage. In 1986-87, Calhoun’s first season as head coach, UConn finished 9-19. Two years later, the Huskies won their first national postseason tournament when they knocked off Ohio State en route to an NIT championship. By 1990, UConn had claimed its first Big East title along with a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. More importantly, UConn debuted its new on-campus home, Gampel Pavilion, signaling a positive turn in the school’s administrative support for the ascendant Huskies. Nine Big East titles and three National Championships later, UConn has clearly established itself among the college hoops elite. It seems unlikely the Huskies will ever recede into their pre-Calhoun irrelevance, but there remains a sneaking suspicion that UConn will lose at least some measure of its national prestige once their pioneering head coach calls it quits.

It sounds as if Calhoun is ready to leave the program he elevated to elite status (Photo credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images).

What once felt like an unimaginable outcome – that Calhoun, after morphing UConn into the national powerhouse it is today, would step down – has inched closer and closer to reality. In fact, the timetable for his retirement could dictate that Calhoun has seen his last moments on the Huskies sidelines. In a candid interview with SI.com’s Mark Blaudschun, Calhoun spoke with humbling acceptance and resignation of the circumstances surrounding his health and the program he practically built from the ground up. Calhoun, 70, is coming off his 26th season at the helm, just two years removed from winning his third – and arguably his most impressive, given the talent on hand – national championship. The Huskies, who returned much of their championship rotation (minus Kemba Walker) and welcomed in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, vastly underperformed in their title-defense season. Calhoun missed three games due to recruiting violations, and UConn was notified it had been banned from the 2013 postseason thanks to its inability to meet the NCAA’s increasingly stringent APR standards. Still, Calhoun, undeterred by the variety of factors weighing against him, thought he could extend his career on the sidelines, if only to lead UConn out of the grim short-term outlook it now faces. That may still be the case, but an offseason bike injury requiring hip surgery seems to have sapped the competitive drive that has long defined Calhoun’s coaching psyche. From Blaudschun’s story:

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Risky Decisions with Some Recent Coaching Extensions

Posted by EJacoby on July 12th, 2012

In the past few days alone, three power conference schools have provided their head coaches with multi-year extensions after seasons that showed solid progress. South Florida head coach Stan Heath received a new six-year contract last Friday, California rewarded Mike Montgomery with a two-year extension on Monday and Iowa provided Fran McCaffery with a massive seven-year deal yesterday. Notice a trend here? Cal has won just three NCAA Tournament games since 1997, never entering the Dance higher than a #6 seed. Iowa hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2001 and has qualified for the Tourney just twice in the past decade. And USF hadn’t even qualified for the Big Dance since 1992 before last year. Yet each team made enough strides in 2011-12 that was apparently enough to convince school administrators that each coach was deserving of several more years of service. Is there a risk that comes with locking up a head coach after a limited track record of success? These three schools are taking a solid gamble in hoping that relatively small sample sizes are enough to suggest a trend of future success.

Fran McCaffery will be manning the Iowa sidelines for the next seven years (AP Photo)

California, Iowa, and South Florida have all struggled with various levels of mediocrity over the past two decades and been largely overshadowed by their football programs. Cal would appear the biggest name of the three, having produced some exciting teams going back to the days of Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray in the early 90s. But the Golden Bears have surprisingly never received better a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament nor advanced past the Sweet Sixteen since 1980. Iowa has actually had better historical success, receiving a top-four NCAA Tourney seed five times since 1980, though advancing past the Sweet Sixteen just once with a subsequent loss in the 1987 Elite Eight. USF, meanwhile, had never won an NCAA Tournament game in program history before last year’s two victories, making it just twice before in the early 90s as low seeds.

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Track Record Suggests Dunlap Can Succeed In A Difficult Situation With Bobcats

Posted by EJacoby on June 20th, 2012

Mike Dunlap did an admirable job leading St. John’s as its unexpected interim coach last season to a 6-12 record in the Big East with an extremely young roster. Starting five freshmen for much of the conference season, Dunlap never complained about the tumultuous situation surrounding his team that lost coach Steve Lavin to health issues as well as several players to ineligibility or transfer. He was considered a major asset in the young players’ developments last season and heading into next year, but it was a major shock when Dunlap was announced on Monday as the new head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats. NBA analysts were completely caught off guard, immediately pointing out that Dunlap has never been a head coach at the Division I college level or in the NBA. The detractors should consider his previous history in challenging situations such as the one he will face with the Bobcats, a team that just finished 7-59 for the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Dunlap has twice before stepped into tough spots as an interim head coach and got young players to buy in. He did it first in 2008-09 at Arizona when Lute Olson stepped down early and then last season with St. John’s. Highly regarded in terms of player development and game strategy, Dunlap is a better fit than some other big names despite his lack of professional experience.

Mike Dunlap has impressed everywhere he’s worked as an assistant in the past (Getty Images/M. Layton)

After a decade coaching Division II Metro State, a stint that included two National Titles, Dunlap has bounced around several notable teams as a highly-regarded top assistant, including with the Denver Nuggets from 2006-08 under George Karl. And Karl, the future Hall of Famer, shared some terrific praise of Dunlap when he heard his former assistant got the Bobcats job. “[He’s] probably the most intelligent guy I ever talk to about the game of basketball,” said Karl. “Mike provides insight that I’ve never had anybody deliver. When you talk to him off the court, he could be Socrates. On the court, he’s an intense, competitive SOB.” It’s these kinds of recommendations from his prior stops that got Dunlap on Charlotte’s short list. For a team that struggled so badly and doesn’t have much talent or ego to deal with, the Bobcats needed someone willing to work endlessly in search of developing young talent. “To hire a guy of knowledge and character and service more than spin and perception is something that makes me feel great,” added Karl. When you think about it that way, Dunlap seems like a progressive hire by the Bobcats, a team that’s made such a mistake with these moves in the past.

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Why SMU’s Headline Hire of Larry Brown Could Actually Work Out

Posted by EJacoby on April 23rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

It’s been almost a full week since Southern Methodist officially hired Larry Brown to become the Mustangs’ new head coach, creating major headlines from a school that hasn’t had much to show from its program’s entire basketball history. The question surrounding the hire remains — Does SMU really expect Brown to turn around the program, or is the hire simply intended to draw publicity to a team in desperate need of some attention? We tend to think that the primary motive was the latter, but that it also just might be a smart move for the SMU program at this point in time.

Why Him? Hall of Famer Larry Brown (and his Assistants) are a Smart Hire for SMU (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Larry Brown is in the Basketball Hall of Fame with a decorated legacy that includes being the only coach to win both an NCAA (Kansas) and NBA (Detroit) championship, but he hasn’t coached in the college ranks in nearly 25 years. At 71 years old, and with a track record of bolting from head coaching positions early in his tenure, why is there any reason to expect that Brown will be capable of turning around a struggling college program? The truth of the matter is there probably isn’t. College basketball is not what it was back in 1988 when he won a title for Kansas. There are now over 340 Division I teams, many of which have come to expect postseason success given the widespread parity that the sport has developed. The fact that SMU hasn’t qualified for an NCAA Tournament since 1993 doesn’t give Brown any slack either — the school is headed for the Big East in two seasons and desperately needs to turn things around in a hurry.

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Rick Pitino’s Massive Coaching Tree Adds Another Branch As Richard Becomes FIU’s Head Coach

Posted by EJacoby on April 17th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

Florida International has never made any meaningful noise on the basketball court (one NCAA Tournament appearance in school history), yet the Golden Panthers continue to create plenty of buzz off of it. Over the weekend it was announced that Richard Pitino, the 29-year-old son of famed Louisville coach Rick Pitino, would be taking over as head coach at FIU. Richard Pitino was a Louisville assistant and replaces the recently fired Isiah Thomas, who of course is one of the NBA’s all-time great players as well as a former head coach and executive at the highest level in the NBA. Thomas’ buzzworthy hire did not equate to any success in three years with the program (26-65 record) so FIU will now give it a second shot with another big name. Pitino immediately becomes one of the youngest head coaches in Division I, taking up after his legendary father who got his start at Boston University at just 26 years old. Richard is just one of many Pitino assistants that have moved on to become head coaches, as we take a look at how widespread and successful the Rick Pitino coaching tree has become over the years.

Richard Pitino (Left) Looks to Continue Blossoming His Father's Enormous Coaching Tree (USA Today)

We start all the way back in 1985 with Pitino’s head coaching gig at Providence, the first of three schools he would eventually take to a Final Four. The 1987 Friars that advanced to the Final Four included three young assistants by the names of Stu Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Herb Sendek. Jackson went on to become a head coach at Wisconsin and later for the New York Knicks, and he is now the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the NBA, one of the highest executive positions in the sport. Van Gundy, of course, also went on to become an NBA guy, coaching both the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. Sendek, meanwhile, has become a longtime college coach with NC State and Arizona State, where he remains today. Sendek himself has helped groom some tremendous head coaches like Thad Matta, John Groce, Chris Mack, and Sean Miller. In addition to all of the coaches that sprung from the Providence years, Pitino also coached Billy Donovan, the starting point guard for the Friars at the time. Donovan has since gone on to win two National Championships for Florida with assistants-turned-coaches Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart, among others. Pitino’s three years at Providence produced an extensive history of coaching talent, and we are just getting started.

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Analyzing the Illinois and Tulsa Coaching Hires – Exciting New Fits

Posted by EJacoby on March 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

More coaching vacancies continue to get filled across the country, as it became official on Thursday that Ohio head coach John Groce was hired for Illinois’ coaching vacancy and Kansas assistant Danny Manning agreed to become the new head coach at Tulsa. The Illini coaching search had been a major news story of the past few weeks, but Tulsa’s job had also been open for quite some time since earlier this month. Both hires come as somewhat of a surprise and make for exciting new eras for the Fighting Illini and Golden Hurricane programs. Here’s a look at how each coach might fit in.

Illinois

Groce Parlayed a Sweet Sixteen Trip Into a Big Ten Job (credit: Chicago Tribune)

Bruce Weber experienced a tragic downfall at Illinois during this past season that included ugly performances by the team during Big Ten play and painful press conferences filled with admissions of poor coaching tactics. What started off as a perfect fit for Weber, a man who brought the Illini to the National Championship game in his second season, never developed into a comfortable pairing. Weber was unable to bring in the top recruits that the previous Bill Self regime had (whose players were the ones that Weber coached to the Final Four), and even when some big names eventually came to the program, Weber never developed their talents as expected. As a result, a program that has brought in a total of nine RSCI top-80 recruits since 2009 just completed a terribly disappointing 17-15 campaign, and Weber is long gone.

Bringing in Groce certainly is not the big name that some people were expecting when this job became free. CBS and Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis both stated that Illinois is a top 10 coaching job, and some other media members echoed that belief. But perhaps the job has lost a bit of its luster in recent years, as several top candidates decided to pass up on the opportunity to stay at their current mid-major programs, including Shaka Smart of VCU and Brad Stevens at Butler. It took Ohio’s magical run to the Sweet Sixteen before Groce came into the picture, and while he may not have been the school’s first target, he should be a great fit in Champaign.

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Frank Martin Making Surprise Move From K-State to South Carolina

Posted by EJacoby on March 26th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

The rumors had spread rampant over the weekend, and while an official contract has yet to be signed, it appears that Kansas State head coach Frank Martin is bolting from Manhattan, Kansas, to take the job at South Carolina. Several outlets have reported the story, including the Kansas City Star, which reports that an announcement is scheduled for Tuesday at a press conference. Assuming that contract details are all that remain from making this official, we can go ahead and assume that Martin will be the new coach in Columbia beginning next season. Surprised by this move? We don’t blame you; the move is not a natural progression up in the coaching hierarchy.

Frank Martin is Reportedly Saying 'Peace' to Kansas State En Route to South Carolina (AP Photo)

South Carolina is a struggling basketball program that’s made just one NCAA Tournament since 1998. The Gamecocks have not won a game in the Big Dance in over 35 years and are coming off a 10-21 season that placed them dead last in the SEC. South Carolina is certainly considered a football school, and the appeal of being in the SEC comes primarily into play because of the football ties. So why would Martin leave Kansas State, a school with a rising basketball tradition that’s won at least one NCAA Tournament game in four of the past five seasons, for ‘the other USC?’

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With Pieces In Place To Repeat Calhoun Returns

Posted by nvr1983 on August 31st, 2011

It was one of the worst kept secrets in all of sports, but earlier today Connecticut announced that Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun would be returning for his 26th season as head coach at the school. While there were some questions late last season as to whether Calhoun would return and serve his suspension (missing the first three games of Big East play this season) as the Huskies progressed through the NCAA Tournament those thoughts diminished although there was a sizable minority that felt that he still might retire at the top of college basketball following the Huskies’ improbable run to the NCAA title.

Calhoun Made It Official Today: He Will Return to Defend His Title (Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

As the summer wore on it became increasingly clear that Calhoun was coming back based on what UConn recruits were saying and when Calhoun reportedly won an well-publicized albeit behind-the-scenes power struggle that led to Jeff Hathaway’s dismissal as athletic director at the school nearly every college basketball pundit assumed that Calhoun was coming back. Friday’s night surprise announcement by Andre Drummond that he would be going to UConn this year was viewed as icing on the cake. As we said the night that Drummond committed the Huskies are far from prohibitive favorites to repeat as they will have to learn to adapt to playing without Kemba Walker, but rising sophomore Jeremy Lamb has shown flashes of star potential last year as a freshman and over the summer playing for the US National Team and they will have one of the best interior defenses the country to go along with a handful of talented supporting players.

While Calhoun has a few more obstacles to overcome (like his suspension for the first three games of the Big East season–against South Florida, St. John’s, and Seton Hall) he has the Huskies in position to contend for another national title although UNC, Kentucky, and a handful of other teams all appear to be legitimate contenders. If Calhoun is able to get this new team to mesh and integrate a dominant big man to replace a dominant perimeter player, we may find ourselves in a similar situation next April as to whether or not Calhoun will return to defend another championship.

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Bruce Pearl, VP Of Marketing — For Now

Posted by jstevrtc on August 30th, 2011

The ink on Bruce Pearl’s three-year show-cause sanction from the NCAA is barely dry, and he’s already found his next job. Pearl has agreed to the position of VP of Marketing for the Knoxville-based H.T. Hackney company, one of the biggest wholesale grocers in the country. We haven’t been able to confirm this yet, but RTC is going on record as saying that Hackney’s CEO, William Sansom, will not have to go before the NCAA to justify why it wants to hire the former Tennessee boss.

Pearl: From Volunteer to VP to...We'll See

OK, we’re ribbing Pearl a little, there, but frankly, we like the move. A lot of guys who have achieved Pearl’s level of success would shun opportunities like this, knowing how they’d be made fun of for going from the heights of men’s Division I hoops to a wholesale grocer (though it is a $4 billion a year outfit). Pearl doesn’t care about this, and we think that’s something to admire. What’s more is…it’s a VP job in marketing. Not an easy day’s work, usually, but we also know a lot of marketing VPs who do absolutely no work at all. We predict that Pearl — a marketing and economics major in college, according to the linked article — will have a workload that falls somewhere in-between there but closer to the latter.

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