Last week, Will Leitch of Sports on Earth wrote a piece ranking the Best 25 Coaching Positions in College Basketball. Since then, some of my colleagues here at RTC have taken their swings at the same topic, albeit on a micro-level, counting down the best jobs in each conference from top to bottom. Now it’s the Pac-12’s turn, using Leitch’s list of priorities. To be clear, we’re not talking about any one thing here. We’re not talking about which team is the best this year, or who has the best chance to be really good in 2017. We’re talking about playing a fun hypothetical game designed to do little more than to start an argument; to wit, if suddenly every single Pac-12 job opened up all at once tomorrow morning, which school would have the best chance of landing its most desired head coach. Or, as Leitch put it: “If I were a hypothetical Average Coach, which job would I most desire?” It’s a completely unanswerable question that is dependent on a million different factors, right? Yeah, screw that. Find the correct answers below.
- Arizona – Leitch puts Arizona as the 11th best job in the nation, just behind UCLA, which checks in at #8. UCLA’s got 11 banners in the rafters, the legacy of John Wooden, an alumni list that could be mistaken for a list of basketball Hall of Fame inductees, a great campus with an opportunity for a great education, and it’s right there in the heart of Los Angeles. Undoubtedly, UCLA is one of the three best college basketball programs of all-time. But Arizona’s the better job. We’ll get to some of the relative negatives on the UCLA side of things below, but here, since we’re talking about Arizona, let’s wax positivity about this position. Arizona, as you may know, has had some basketball success of its own. It is the Pac-12 program with the most recent NCAA title (1997). In the modern era of college basketball (let’s call that post-Magic/Bird), it has the most regular season conference titles of anyone in the Pac-12, it has as many Final Four appearances as UCLA (at least according to the NCAA’s official record book; UCLA had its 1980 Final Four appearance vacated), and it’s got the same number of national championships as the Bruins. Let’s call those records a wash. What is not a wash is the level of support that the Arizona fan base gives its team. It isn’t really up for debate; Arizona has the best basketball fans in the Pac-12. By a long shot. And, in part because of that, when it comes down to the facilities arms race, Arizona is probably in the lead there as well. That’s true even before the McKale Center begins a $30 million renovation. UCLA is a great job, don’t get me wrong, but all things being equal, the UofA head coaching gig offers the best chance for success in the Pac-12 over the next couple decades.
- UCLA – Above, we’ve already alluded to quite a few of the positives that UCLA has going its way. Its history is unmatched in college basketball. But, in the past 35 years, UCLA has one national title and 10 times has gotten at least a piece of the Pac-12 title. In other words, while nobody is ever going to forget about that great history, UCLA takes something of a back seat in the modern era of college basketball. And a lot of that has to do with fan support. Right now, you go to a UCLA basketball game and you’re liable to see a Pauley Pavilion that would generously be called half-full. Even during the three-straight Final Four era of Ben Howland, there were plum mid-afternoon weekend starting times against Top 25 conference opponents that wouldn’t sell out. And the expectations at UCLA? Yikes. Yes, it was probably best for both sides that Howland and UCLA parted last season, but let’s remember: Howland went to three straight Final Fours half a decade ago, was coming off a Pac-12 title, and got straight canned. Limited fan support plus unreasonable expectations? Yeah, UCLA is a good job – a very good job – but compared to the sunshine and rainbows in Tucson, Westwood is a briar patch. Read the rest of this entry »