The NCAA Coaching Carousel: Thoughts and Analysis

The NCAA Coaching Carousel:  Thoughts and Analysis
Apr 06, 2007, 01:28 am

-Once again, the domino fall of coaches is happening in a big way now that the season is over. The first major school to have a vacancy was Kentucky, who lost Tubby Smith to Minnesota. They actually didn’t fire Smith, although many of the fans didn’t support him and probably would have liked to have seen him fired. For whatever reason (probably partly because of the pressure from the fans and boosters), Smith left Kentucky to go to Minnesota by his own choosing. The name that immediately came up as a likely replacement was Florida’s Billy Donovan. Although Donovan was a former assistant at Kentucky, it struck me as strange that Donovan would be interested in going back. I can’t think of any reason why he’d want to leave Florida for Kentucky. The previous coach left Kentucky for Minnesota. With that in mind, why would people assume someone would leave Florida to go to Kentucky?? Admittedly, I look at a lot of coaching moves and don’t think they make a whole lot of sense, and I would have definitely felt that way again had Donovan taken the job at Kentucky. Florida will likely lose a lot of talent, but they have four very talented freshman coming in and will likely be at worst a Sweet Sixteen caliber team next year, and could be in contention for the Final Four the year after that. If Kentucky were to make any run in the NCAA Tournament at all next year they’d need to overachieve to do it, so they aren’t exactly set up for someone to step in and make a run right away.

Kentucky’s next target was Rick Barnes, or at least that’s what many media outlets were reporting. Barnes was quick to state that he wasn’t interested in the job either. UK ended up hiring their third choice, which was Billy Gillespie from Texas A&M. TAMU did lose quite a bit of talent, but they’ve had five players sign letters of intent for next season. It's always dissapointing to see players committ to a school only to have their coach leave before they even get there, but that's just the way it goes. Only one is a highly touted recruit, but Gillespie has a skill at spotting players that will perform well in his system and getting the maximum amount of output out of everyone. On top of that, he pretty much attained rock star status at Texas A&M. He isn’t likely to be as embraced at Kentucky unless he can win 30+ games every season and could end up wishing he was back with TAMU.

One of their biggest complaints about Tubby Smith was that he hadn’t been to the Final Four since 1998, although he did make it to three Elite Eights in that time-span. Getting to the Final Four just once is not easy to do and getting there consistently is virtually impossible. Over the last five years, 18 different schools have made the Final Four out of 20 possible. The only two schools that have been twice are Florida and UCLA, so prior to this year we’d seen 16 different teams in four years. It’s not a place anyone gets to on a regular basis, and because of that it isn’t likely that Kentucky fans will be satisfied with anyone because their expectations are virtually impossible to live up to. Had Billy Donovan been Kentucky’s coach, they would have most likely wanted him fired after the 2004-05 season when he failed to make it past the second round for the fourth straight year.


-Another coaching move that really has me scratching my head is the firing of Stan Heath from Arkansas. I don’t know all the details, but seriously, what were they thinking?? They fired a guy that went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. Not only that, Arkansas was a mess when Heath got there. Their win total and overall improvement of the program had gone up every single year Heath was at the helm, and they appeared to be poised for their best season since he took over with next year’s team. They return all five starters and their top six scorers, and as a young team were playing their best basketball at the end of last season, which is a good sign that they’d be very strong for next season. Heath is deserving of a great deal of the credit that went in to bringing Arkansas back and making them a contender. He was definitely headed in the right direction. The only thing I can figure is that although he was headed in the right direction, he simply wasn’t traveling at a fast enough speed. If I was a coaching candidate, I don’t know how anxious I’d be to get to a place like Arkansas who had a coach that did kind of job that Stan Heath did, but still fired him. Dana Altman of Creighton was hired, but then changed his mind about 24 hours later and is headed back to Omaha. That was probably a good move on his part.

I will say this about Arkansas. Whoever does take over that job will have been dealt a very good hand assuming they’re able to retain everyone. It is definitely a place where someone can step in and win right way. Much of the credit for that should go to Stan Heath, but nevertheless it’s not a program that needs to be rebuilt. The rebuilding has pretty much already been taken care of.

Stan Heath will be taking over at South Florida. There are some programs that need to be rebuilt, and then there are others like South Florida that have never built at any point prior to now, and still aren’t. Best of luck to him and hopefully he can get it going, although that is a very tough job in a very tough league.


-Steve Alford left Iowa for New Mexico. Although he wasn’t fired, his seat was most likely getting pretty hot. The athletic director was probably more likely to help Alford pack than to try and convince him to stay. Richie McKay, the former New Mexico coach, is a good coach who had some real bad luck with injuries during his tenure. He took over a pretty bad situation, cleaned it up rather nicely, and had the Lobos in the NCAA Tournament in 2005. Still, a dismal finish to this season is probably what resulted in him being shown the door.

Iowa hired former Butler coach Todd Lickliter. I understand that Iowa has better facilities, more money and is in a better conference, but is this a good move for Lickliter?? Iowa is not only drastically different in terms of their athletic department, it’s a drastically different university than Butler. The things that worked at Butler and the types of kids that bought into his system probably aren’t going to be the types of kids he gets at Iowa. He took Butler to two Sweet Sixteens in his stint, so it isn’t as if it’s impossible for a coach to have success at a place like Butler. In that same time period Iowa only made it to the second round once. Nevertheless, although I hate to see a coach like Lickliter leave a place like Butler, it’s probably a great opportunity for him.


-Jim Beilein left West Virginia to take over at Michigan. Last year, Beilein lost basically all his contributing players from a team that went to an Elite Eight one year and a Sweet Sixteen the next. He appeared to be a strong candidate for the opening at Indiana, but ended up staying at West Virginia and basically starting from scratch. He had a big year this past year considering how young his team was, and appeared to be poised to be able to once again make an NCAA Tournament run next year. It seemed like odd timing for him to just bolt for Michigan. He isn’t getting all that much more money from Michigan either. That move struck me as a little strange.

Bob Huggins, formerly of Kansas State, will be replacing Beilein at West Virginia. This is a surprising move. I know Huggins went to West Virginia, as well as grew up there, but he really had what looked to be a strong team at Kansas State for next season. Not only that, the fans absolutely loved him. It really caught Kansas State by surprise because all indications seemed to show that he was fully committed to that program. The players he recruited to play out there such as Bill Walker and Michael Beasley can’t be happy about it either. Kansas State would have likely spent the entire part of next season ranked in the top 25. They still could if they can land the right coach, and that shouldn’t be hard considering that it is a place that someone can go to and win right away. In my mind it’s the most attractive job on the market right now, assuming that the new coach will be able to retain and win over all the players.

Jim Lowry from Southern Illinois is a guy that comes to mind for Kansas State. He plays a style of basketball that seems to focus on the same strength that Kansas State has. He’s also a very good, young and established coach considering the job he’s done at Southern Illinois. I know who my first call would be to if I was Kansas State’s A.D.


In my opinion, it’s Memphis. People always talk about how John Calipari is going to leave for a better job. A better job where?? Why?? There is nothing that any major conference job could offer that he doesn’t already have at Memphis.

They have a big, passionate following and can pay as well as just about any job in the country.

He can certainly win at Memphis. Back to back Elite Eights are a testament to that.

He can certainly recruit at Memphis. He’s got Derrick Lowe coming in next year, along with two excellent power forwards.

He gets plenty of exposure. Last year Memphis was on major national television 15 times not counting the NCAA Tournament. There aren’t many major programs who were on that often. They’ll likely be on even more next year.

It’s basically impossible for them to over-schedule. I’ve heard many argue that playing in Conference USA holds them back. It really doesn’t when you consider that more than half of their games are out of conference games. On top of that, it allows them to schedule brutally out of conference, which gets games on television, which makes them more money and gets them more exposure. Even if they rack up some losses against a tough out of conference schedule, they can easily offset that by dominating an otherwise mediocre C-USA and still have a very solid shot at making the NCAA Tournament every year.

With Memphis returning all but one player from last year’s Elite Eight team, and adding to it some very highly touted incoming freshmen, they will most likely begin the season ranked in the top five, and stay there for most of the year. I consider them a contender for the national championship next year. Calipari would have to be crazy to leave Memphis right now. He’s got a pretty good thing going, and I think he knows it.

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