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.


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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Texas A&M Goes With Billy Kennedy

Posted by rtmsf on May 15th, 2011

The coaching carousel continued to spin this weekend in the domino-falling aftermath of Gary Williams’ retirement from Maryland ten days ago.  After swinging and whiffing on several names including Marquette’s Buzz Williams, Memphis’ Josh Paster, and former Knicks head coach and current broadcaster Jeff van Gundy (really?), Texas A&M has reportedly gotten its man — Murray State head coach Billy Kennedy.

Kennedy Moves on to Texas A&M

Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson was also in the running for the position, as both up-and-coming coaches interviewed with the school on Saturday.  Much like AD Bill Byrne’s last two hires for the Aggies, Kennedy is a coach who has put in his time in the lower reaches of Division-I basketball and demonstrated success at every stop along the way.  The 47-year old originally from Metairie, Louisiana, has spent the last five seasons at Murray State, keeping the Racer program among the elite of the OVC.  His MSU teams finished first or second in the conference regular season race all five seasons, and his last two teams — including 2010’s NCAA round of 32 entrant — played in the postseason.

The Texas A&M head coaching position has become a stepping-stone job under the steady hand and guidance of Byrne, as the last two coaches — Mark Turgeon and Billy Gillispie — parlayed their success in College Station to big-time basketball jobs at Maryland and Kentucky, respectively.  This is not to suggest, however, that Kennedy can’t have massive success at TAMU; the school’s athletic department budget ranks in the top thirty nationally, and its relative proximity to talent-rich Houston (two hours) and Dallas (three hours) make the program fully capable of moving beyond borderline top 25 status.  Kennedy may not have brought the enthusiasm that a brand-name hire would have, but so long as he keeps the program moving forward and breaks through to that elusive second weekend of the NCAA Tournament (Gillispie took the Aggies there once, in 2007), TAMU fans will be satisfied.

A big opportunity will await Kennedy in his first season in College Station next year.  The Aggies return five of its top seven players from a 24-9 (10-6 Big 12) team, and with conference powerhouses Kansas and Texas gutted by early defections this offseason, there’s a sense that A&M could be poised to move to the top of the Big 12 standings with its existing roster and a little good fortune.  Of the five returning players from the 2010-11 all-Big 12 team, Texas A&M is the only school with two — star forwards Khris Middleton (14/6) and David Loubeau (12/5).  If the perimeter players led by senior Dash Harris and incoming four-star recruit Jamal Branch come through in 2011-12, Kennedy may be in position to do something never before done in these parts: win a Big 12 basketball championship.

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Who Will Succeed Coach K At Duke?

Posted by nvr1983 on May 12th, 2011

Over the weekend, Duke announced that recently fired Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel had been selected to be its newest assistant coach. The announcement itself was noteworthy as Capel, who just two years ago was considered one of the hottest names in coaching, had fallen to the point where he was forced to take an assistant coaching position. The question of how Capel had fallen so quickly could be answered in several ways (most notably the departure of Blake Griffin and the disappointing performances of McDonald’s All-Americans Willie Warren and Tiny Gallon), but remains mysterious.

Capel will be returning to Duke (Credit: Bryan Terry/

Capel’s return to Durham also raises the more intriguing question of who is next in line to succeed Mike Krzyzewski when he eventually decides to retire, a possibility that was made more clear recently with the retirement of Gary Williams, one of his chief rivals in the ACC at nearly the same age as Krzyzewski. The first question is whether the Duke administration will want to pursue an internal candidate or would look at outsiders. We imagine that Krzyzewski would make a strong push to hire an internal candidate or at least someone with strong ties to the program, but the performance of most of the disciples from his coaching tree has been underwhelming to put it lightly. There have been a number of prominent head coaches (Mike Brey, Tommy Amaker, Johnny Dawkins, Quin Synder, and Capel) who have coached under Krzyzewski during his time at Duke as well as two others serving as associates alongside Capel (Steve Wojciehowski and Chris Collins).

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Mark Turgeon Heads To Maryland

Posted by nvr1983 on May 9th, 2011

After what appeared to be the beginning of a long coaching search Maryland is set to announce that Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon will be its next head coach. This Friday’s announcement that Terrapin legend Gary Williams was retiring shocked the college basketball world and put the program in a tough position of having to fill an opening in one of the premier coaching positions in America after many of the top potential replacements had signed extensions with their schools in the month and a half since the Final Four.

Turgeon has some big shoes to fill

The Terrapins initially went after Sean Miller, Brad Stevens, and Mike Brey, but all three turned them down with Miller and Brey getting contract extensions as a result of Maryland’s pursuit. At that point it appeared like Maryland might be headed for a coaching search that would mirror NC State‘s albeit without the theatrics of a Debbie Yow-like character. In the end, they turned to the state of Texas where they were able to land a solid coach in Mark Turgeon, who might lack the “wow” factor of some other candidates (particularly Stevens), but has managed to compile an impressive resume at Wichita State and Texas A&M. After serving his time as an assistant coach at Kansas and Oregon followed by a short NBA stint, Turgeon’s head coaching career began with an unimpressive start at Jacksonville State, but he quickly recovered to turn Wichita State into one of the best mid-major teams in the country culminating in a Sweet 16 appearance in 2006. Although Turgeon was unable to get the Aggies to a Sweet 16, he did manage to maintain the program at the level that Billy Gillispie brought it to before his ill-fated move to Kentucky and keep it as one of the best in the Big 12.

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Gary Williams Stuns The College Basketball World

Posted by nvr1983 on May 6th, 2011

The announcement out of Maryland that Gary Williams would be stepping down from his position as head coach to become a special assistant to the athletic director is one of the most stunning pieces of news we have come across this offseason. In any other offseason we would say it was the most stunning piece of news, but the Missouri coaching search saga probably trumps it due to its sheer lunacy. Still, the fact that Williams, who while not at the top of his game (that was back around 2000-02), would step down when he appeared to be building up the Terrapin program after a recent rough patch, is jarring.


Williams has been a large presence on the Maryland sideline

Much of the talk regarding retirement this off-season has centered around UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who also has more well-documented history of medical problems, an impending three-game suspension looming, and, of course, the ability to go out at the absolute top of the game having just won a national championship. Looking at the announcement in retrospect it does make some sense as Williams is 66 years old and has accomplished just about everything that a coach could imagine accomplishing at this point in his career, but it still seems strange. Although his numbers might not seem like much in the era of huge win totals like those amassed by Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Calhoun, and Jim Boeheim, when you look at them in a larger historical perspective they are very impressive. While most fans associate Williams solely with Maryland, his career is more extensive. It includes stops at the following schools:

  • American: 72-42 including two trips to the NIT (at a time when the school couldn’t automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament)
  • Boston College: 76-45 including two trips to the Sweet 16
  • Ohio State: 59-41 (the only blemish on his coaching resume)
  • Maryland: 461-248 (1 NCAA title, another Final Four appearance, and another five Sweet 16s along with two ACC Coach of the Year awards)

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Miami Goes The Safe Route With Jim Larranaga

Posted by nvr1983 on April 23rd, 2011

Over the past three weeks we have heard all kinds of speculation about why Miami opted not to pursue Kansas State coach Frank Martin. He would need too much money. A statement that Martin refuted as his base salary was essentially the same as Frank Haith‘s base salary at Miami and was only made higher due to the fact that Martin’s teams won enough to hit performance-based incentives. His demeanor turned off Miami officials at a game at this season’s Orange Bowl Classic. A fair criticism if you are looking to run a youth league team, but some of the biggest coaching names in college basketball are well-known in media circles for their foul language. Do you think that Miami officials wouldn’t love Mike Krzyzewski on their sideline (ignoring what would likely be an astronomical salary to get him to leave Duke)? He was caught cheating at Miami Senior High. Perhaps the only fair criticism as Martin’s championship team, which featured Udonis Haslem and Steve Blake, had its 1998 state championship vacated due to recruiting violations related to using players zoned outside the school’s area. It is worth noting that Martin was never formally accused on any wrongdoing, but in the eyes of many in the Miami-Dade basketball community he was culpable.

Miami opted to go the safe route with Larranaga (Credit: Nick Wass/Associated Press)


Now Miami has opted to go with George Mason coach Jim Larranga, a fine coach to be sure and one who has actually advanced further in the NCAA Tournament than Martin ever has (Final Four versus Elite Eight), but you would be hard-pressed to find a pundit who would argue that Larranaga was a better fit for Coral Gables than Martin. This is not intended to minimize Larranaga’s accomplishments at George Mason, which are laudable as he not only made the Final Four (2006), but also made the NCAA Tournament four other times including this year where his team was considered a borderline top 25 team late in the season.

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Could Miami Hire A Coach Without Contacting Frank Martin?

Posted by nvr1983 on April 11th, 2011

When Missouri shocked the college basketball world with its announcement that it had selected Frank Haith to replace Mike Anderson most writers believed that the Miami administration would instinctively look to Manhattan, Kansas to find a replacement for Haith in Frank Martin, who grew up in Miami and still has strong ties down there. It was widely expected that the Hurricane administration would make a hard push at bring the Kansas State coach to Coral Gables where he could rejuvenate a program that has had few bright spots in its uninspiring history. Hurricane fans, long a fickle fan base even in football where they had a 20-year run that rivals anything done in that sport, even expressed a modicum of excitement at the possibility that their basketball program could finally become relevant even if it would take some work to catch ACC stalwarts like Duke and UNC. Yet it has been a week since Haith left Miami and according to Martin they have not even contacted him or anybody representing him.

We can't believe Miami hasn't contacted you either, Frank

Much has been made of the fact that Martin reportedly made significantly more than Haith ($1.55 million per year vs $1 million per year for Haith), but according to Martin that figure is if he hits all of his incentives and his actual base salary is “only” $1.1 million per year, which is essentially the same as Haith’s salary. The Miami administration has a well-earned reputation of not being willing to open up their checkbook for big-name coaching hires and the fact that they are without an athletic director at the present time (their prior athletic director Kirby Hocutt left for Texas Tech) may limit their ability to spend a few extra dollars even if they wanted too. In the end, that–either Miami’s incorrect assumption on Martin’s salary or inability to offer up more money without an athletic director–may end up costing the Hurricanes a golden opportunity to become relevant as they reportedly have their sights set on Tommy Amaker and have offered him “roughly $1.1 million for five years”, the same as Martin’s base salary. Amaker is said to be interested in the job, but has some reservations due to the effect it might have on his wife’s career (she is an Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School). Amaker has clearly done a good job turning around the Harvard program from 8-22 to 23-7 and brought them to the verge of the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid, but you would have hard time finding someone connected with basketball who would put Amaker at the same level as Martin.

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