Coaching Carousel: Best and worst from underwhelming spring (cont.)
Most surprising contract extensions: Tie between Richmond's Chris Mooney and VCU's Shaka Smart.
Both these guys were red hot coming off their teams' performances in the NCAA tournament, and they had some great opportunities. Mooney had been high on Georgia Tech's target list since last year, and Smart seemed a perfect fit for N.C. State, where his us-against-the-world shtick would have played great. Yet both men signed long contract extensions for considerably less money. I'm all for loyalty and job security, but I can't help but wonder if these guys might someday come to regret those decisions. Big-time opportunities don't come around every year, and no mid-major coach stays hot forever.
Under the gun: Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech.
I believe Gregory will do a very good job at Georgia Tech because I have known him a long time and have seen him in action. But my personal belief in Gregory will mean bupkis if he doesn't win. Too many Georgia Tech fans believe that the school had to make an economical hire because it spent so much dough on a new arena and Paul Hewitt's buyout.
In eight years at Dayton, Gregory brought the Flyers to two NCAA tournaments, and the last two years they finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in the Atlantic 10. Yes, Gregory spent six years as an assistant to Tom Izzo at Michigan State, but he's also a Midwestern native with no natural recruiting ties to the south. The Yellow Jackets are going to be really bad next year, so it would help Gregory's cause if he could sign a prominent local recruit or two to keep the local skeptics at bay for a little while.
Worst firing: Jeff Capel, Oklahoma.
You'd think bringing a school to the Elite Eight would buy a guy more than two years, but Capel was unceremoniously dumped by OU after leading the Sooners to a 14-18 record (5-11 Big 12). The wild card here is the ongoing NCAA investigation into alleged contacts between some of Capel's former players and NBA agents. OU athletic director Joe Castiglione never explicitly said the investigation was the reason Capel was fired, but the AD made sure everyone knew that Capel's replacement, former UNLV coach Lon Kruger, had an impeccable reputation.
If Capel is found to have committed wrongdoing, then Castiglione's decision to cut him loose will have been justified. But if Capel is exonerated by the NCAA, his firing will be one of the more egregious examples of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mindset that has come to plague college athletics.
Best boost to a 401(k): Jim Larranaga, Miami.
Larranaga pulled one of the real stunners of the spring by deciding to take his talents to Coral Gables, but when you think about it the move was a no-brainer. Larranaga has not had as many job offers from power conference schools as you might think. The most notable temptation came three years ago, when Larranaga thought about taking the job at Providence, his alma mater. Now, at the ripe old age of 61, Larranaga made an obvious and understandable grab at a big payday and the chance to coach in the ACC. He has had better teams at George Mason than the one he'll coach next season, but make no mistake, Miami is a much better job than George Mason. Given the money, the location and the league, you can't help but conclude Larranaga did a smart thing.
Best landing strip: Gainesville, Florida.
After Billy Donovan lost his top three assistants this spring, he filled two of those spots with former head coaches from power conferences: John Pelphrey, who was fired by Arkansas and had served previously on Donovan's staff at Florida, and Norm Roberts, the former St. John's coach who spent last season working as a studio analyst for SNY. They're both smart hires. Both guys have a history of being excellent recruiters (Pelphrey had just brought in his best class at Arkansas) and both are still young and hungry enough to want to be head coaches again.
Worst recyclers: Cal State Bakersfield's Rod Barnes and Texas A&M Corpus Christi's Willis Wilson.
Barnes was let go by Georgia State after going 35 games under .500 in four years, while Wilson spent the last two seasons as an assistant at Memphis after getting fired by Rice following his 16th year on the job. I know everyone wants to be a head coach, especially if you've been a head coach and are now an assistant, but I think it's a bad career move to take a dead-end job. It smacks of desperation, and these guys are better than that.
Sleeping with the enemy award: Dane Fife, Michigan State assistant.
When a guy played at Indiana and had a brother and father who both played at Michigan, you'd figure the last thing he would ever do is cash a paycheck in East Lansing. Yet that isn't the most surprising aspect of Fife's decision to join Tom Izzo's staff. The most surprising thing is that Fife had a job as a Division I head coach at IPFW, where his teams went a respectable 82-97 (43-39 Summit League) during his six years there. Fife is only 31, yet he has a wealth of experience because he got hired by IPFW at 25. Between his experience, competitive fire and many recruiting contacts in Michigan and Indiana, Fife will be a big help to Izzo. In return, Izzo will be a big help to Fife down the road. No head coach works harder to get his assistants head-coaching gigs than Izzo.
Worst procrastinator: Jeff Altier, athletic director, Stetson.
Altier announced on Feb. 20 that his coach, Derek Waugh, was going to step down at the end of the season and take another position within the school's athletic department. That should theoretically have given Altier a head start on finding Waugh's replacement, but he didn't announce the hiring of former Belmont assistant coach Casey Alexander until April 20. You might think that it wouldn't take an AD two full months to hire a little-known mid-major assistant coach who works in the same part of the country. But you'd be wrong.
Worst loss of an alum: Princeton.
If you're an Ivy League school, there's no shame in losing your coach after his team comes within a bucket of beating a No. 4 seed (Kentucky) in the NCAA tournament. But when you're Princeton, and you're supposed to be the class of the Ivy, and your coach is an alum, and he leaves for ... Fairfield? I'd say there's some shame in that.
No disrespect to Fairfield, but if schools like Butler, Gonzaga, Richmond and VCU can lock up their coaches when they're in high demand, there's no reason why Princeton couldn't have done the same for Sydney Johnson. Princeton athletic director Gary Walters seems to be under the impression that it's such a big honor to coach at Princeton that the school doesn't need to pay its coach at market value. Johnson proved him wrong.