Coaching Carousel: Best and worst from largely underwhelming spring
Lots of dominoes fell, but they weren't very big and didn't make much of a sound
Tennessee (Cuonzo Martin) and Providence (Ed Cooley) made the smartest hires
My calls on riskiest hire (Billy Gillispie), worst firing (Jeff Capel) and much more
With George Washington deciding Monday to fire coach Karl Hobbs, there are now just five vacancies left to be filled in Division I college basketball. Thus, we are approaching the conclusion of one of the quieter coaching carousels in recent years. Since the end of last season, 45 schools have searched for a new coach, but only nine compete in the six power conferences. Lots of dominoes fell this spring, but they weren't very big, and they didn't make much of a sound.
Still, there was plenty to sift through as the changes came fast and furious over the last few weeks. Here, then, is your resident Hoop Thinker's take on the best and worst of the 2011 coaching carousel:
Smartest hire: Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee.
Too many athletic directors make bad hires because they are trying to "win the press conference." Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, who hasn't made a ton of great decisions over the last couple of years, went the opposite route. The Tennessee fans who are wailing that Hamilton didn't land a "big" name are living in an alternate universe. No big name is going to take a job at a program that is about to be hammered by the NCAA.
Martin has a proven track record. He spent eight years as an assistant at Purdue, and in just three years as the head coach at Missouri State he took the Bears from a middling Missouri Valley team to one that won the regular season championship. He has excellent playing credentials from his decorated career at Purdue and his brief stint in the NBA, which will go over well on the recruiting trail. Finally, he is a man of high character, which was revealed through his successful battle with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. If Tennessee fans give Martin the support he deserves instead of the derision he doesn't, he will reward them with a winner.
Second-smartest hire: Ed Cooley, Providence.
Let's face it, this is one of the worst jobs in the Big East. The fans and the administration have unreasonably high expectations, and even when you're at your best you're probably going to finish eighth. Being the head coach at Providence requires energy and personality, and Cooley has an abundance of both. This guy is a New Englander through and through: He was born in Providence, played at Stonehill in Easton, Mass., and spent 12 years in the region as an assistant coach, most recently for nine years at Boston College. He also did a great job in five years at Fairfield, which won the MAAC last season.
Best trend: Hiring assistants.
I don't have any empirical evidence to prove that more schools are hiring assistant coaches, but it feels like it has happened with increasing frequency the last few years. Assistants put in very long hours in recruiting, game planning and player development in hopes of getting the chance to call their own timeout someday.
So I'm happy to see guys like Matt Langel (Temple assistant hired by Colgate), Paul Lusk (Purdue to Missouri State), Steve Masiello (Louisville to Manhattan), Archie Miller (Arizona to Dayton), Mark Montgomery (Michigan State to Northern Illinois), Rob Murphy (Syracuse to Eastern Michigan), Lewis Preston (Penn State to Kennesaw State), King Rice (Vanderbilt to Monmouth), Dave Rice (BYU to UNLV) and Rodney Terry (Texas to Fresno State) get their big breaks. Of course, now they also have a head coach's problems, so best of luck to them.
Riskiest hire: Billy Gillispie, Texas Tech.
Gillispie is back where he belongs, in the Lone Star State, where he proved at UTEP and Texas A&M that he can win with lesser talent. The problem is that at both of those stops, and especially during his disastrous two-year stint at Kentucky, Gillispie exhibited behavior that was both erratic and criminal.
In Lexington he did not deal well with the public or the media, and had one notorious incident where he was so angry at a player (Josh Harrellson) that he ordered him to sit in a bathroom stall during the coach's halftime talk. Gillispie has also had multiple DUI arrests. He has since admitted to having a drinking problem and put himself through John Lucas' rehab center in Houston.
I'm hoping that Gillispie has straightened out his personal life and learned some valuable lessons about how to treat people, but time will tell whether his hiring in Lubbock is worth this considerable risk.
Worst performance by an athletic director: N.C. State's Debbie Yow.
Actually, this might have been the worst performance of the decade. Yow was sitting next to her newly hired basketball coach, Mark Gottfried, when she launched a thousand headlines with her now-infamous remark that Maryland coach Gary Williams tried to "sabotage" the school's coaching search. Yow and Williams had a bitter relationship for most of the 16 years she spent as the AD at Maryland. Instead of Gottfried being the story -- and he was a darn good hire under the circumstances -- Yow had everyone talking about the enmity between her and Williams. That only reminded us why so many good candidates turned down the N.C. State job in the first place.
Second-worst performance by an athletic director: Mike Alden, Missouri.
Here's a rule all AD's should follow: If you're going to get on a plane to meet with a candidate, be sure you get a yes. Alden broke that rule when he flew to Florida to interview Matt Painter, only to be publicly rebuffed as Painter re-upped at Purdue. From there, Alden made the spring's most questionable hire by plucking Frank Haith from Miami.
I like Haith and I do think he's a good coach, but in seven years at Miami he posted a .384 winning percentage in the ACC and made the NCAA tournament once. Had Haith stayed at Miami he would have entered next season at the top of everybody's hot-seat list. Part of an AD's job is to empower the coach he hires, and I fear Alden has put Haith in a position where it will be very hard for him to succeed.
Biggest racket: The search firm.
The most important decision an athletic director can make is the hiring of a football or men's basketball coach. It is at the very top of his or her job description. Everything else basically comes down to fundraising. So why would an AD pay close to six figures to farm out his or her primary responsibilities to someone else?
Yes, a search firm can provide some helpful information, especially regarding salaries and buyout clauses, but the main purpose of the search firm is to keep the details of the process out of the media. Yet most of the time those details leak out anyway. Nor is it difficult to connect the dots between a search firm helping a school hire an AD to the AD's decision to use that same search firm to hire a coach. This part of the process is pointless and corrupt, and I predict its days are numbered.