The good, the bad and the ugly in offseason coaching carousel
Can coach John Groce help underachieving Illinois climb back to prominence?
The hire of the season goes to Nebraska for landing ex-CSU coach Tim Miles
Bruce Weber's good guy image could be just what K-State AD Currie needs now
While this spring shined unflattering light on the restrictions players often face in trying to switch programs, the annual coaching carousel showed once again that coaches' freedom to move remains unfettered. This year's carousel wasn't packed with big-name openings, but there was still a significant amount of intrigue generated as men cashed in on NCAA tournament success and conference realignment continued to exert pressure on straggling programs.
Here's a rundown of the most notable coaching changes as hiring season comes to an end:
The major opening: Last year, Maryland got to see just how much its program rated nationally when Gary Williams' tenure came to an end. The Terps landed on Mark Turgeon, who did some good things in Year 1 despite a very shorthanded roster, and has Maryland positioned for a return to ACC success. Will the same be true of Illinois, another top-tier program that has underachieved lately? After taking the requisite swings-and-misses at big names like Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart, the Illini landed on the most sensible candidate, former Ohio coach John Groce. While some Illini faithful grumbled about the hire, Groce comes from the excellent Butler/Xavier/Ohio State coaching tree and has more NCAA tournament wins (as a 13 or 14 seed) in the last three seasons (three) than Bruce Weber did in his final seven in Champaign (two). He also showed in point guard D.J. Cooper that he can find talent in Chicago.
The win-win situation: Nebraska isn't a basketball power, and despite new facilities, it has a long way to go to establish credibility in the very deep Big Ten. As such, the Huskers may have made the hire of the season in landing former Colorado State coach Tim Miles, a noted turnaround specialist known for tweeting at halftime of his team's games. Usually, a program like CSU will take a short-term hit after losing a quality coach to a so-called high-major, but the Rams turned around and landed Larry Eustachy, a very good coach who rebuilt his life and career at Southern Miss after well-documented issues with alcohol. Rams fans should be grateful to the trustee who balked at CSU's initial attempt to land former Oregon coach Ernie Kent. Eustachy is the better coach and fit in Fort Collins, and he inherits a good roster that should remain a factor in the Mountain West this season.
Staying ahead of the posse: Every year, it seems there's one instance where a coach is reaching the end of his rope at a high-major job and lands a new gig elsewhere before judgment is passed. This year, Groce's move to Illinois created a double-downgrade-domino effect as TCU coach Jim Christian up and moved to the MAC, replacing Groce in Athens, Ohio. That created an opening for LSU coach Trent Johnson to continue his curious coaching itinerary, leaving LSU (established SEC program) for Fort Worth after his previous move from Stanford to the Bayou. Former North Texas coach Johnny Jones is the benefactor, as he landed the LSU gig.
The fiascos: Larry Brown's somewhat confounding hire at SMU has already been discussed at length. Since his arrival, Brown has run off several Mustangs and landed wayward former Arizona point guard Josiah Turner. This is the deal SMU made when it inked Brown, so let's see how much appetite the program has for radical change and controversy.
The Ponies' convoluted/desperate search can't hold a candle to what went down in Blacksburg, Va., last month. The Hokies waited three weeks after the Final Four to can nine-year man Seth Greenberg, who did a credible job in charge at Virginia Tech but seems to have ticked off just about everyone associated with the program. After numerous assistants fled for other jobs, athletic director Jim Weaver called a press conference to fire Greenberg without even telling the coach he was getting the gate. Weaver then brought back former lead assistant James Johnson, who had left two weeks earlier for an assistant role at Clemson. The combination of events is very unflattering to Greenberg, who suffered some legitimately bad luck/timing/injuries in Tech's near-misses for the NCAAs and now has been outed as a bad guy whose development/direction of the program is not the primary reason he got fired.
The (not a good) surprise: Frank Martin's relationship with John Currie was fine. Just ask both of them. Those media reports of a giant rift? They had nothing to do with Martin abruptly leaving Kansas State for SEC struggler South Carolina when the Wildcats had a stacked roster returning from an NCAA round of 32 appearance. Yeah, right. Whether Currie's absurd Trash Can Compliance story cost Jamar Samuels his final game as a Wildcat was the last straw or not, Martin couldn't have bolted faster for a non-plum job. You decide the connection.
In the meantime, Currie underwhelmed in landing former Illinois coach Bruce Weber as Martin's replacement. There's a good chance Weber can follow in Frank Haith's Big 12 footprints and win in the short term with the Wildcats' solid returning cast, but as nice a guy and decent a coach as Weber is, this doesn't feel like a very good fit in the medium-term and beyond. Plus, it enhances K-State's little brother image, as Kansas hired a coach away from Illinois while the Wildcats hired a coach Illinois told to go away. Not a good look, but Weber's rep as a "clean" head coach may also speak to some undertones as to how Currie wants things to run. He also got rid of a coach he didn't want without having to pay him off, which is a neat budget-boosting trick. Final judgment on the move will have to wait.
The (possibly good) surprise: The Atlantic 10 continues to refortify, with Butler moving into the league last week and CAA powers VCU and George Mason also being discussed. With depth in the league as good as maybe it's ever been, Rhode Island made a nice gamble, luring Danny Hurley (and brother Bobby) to Kingston after the duo had a great year at Wagner College. With Boston College in rebuild mode and UConn facing an NCAA tournament ban and very uncertain future, the New England basketball scene is somewhat open for the taking and a lot of buzz may come from the Ocean State between the Rams and what Providence is building under Ed Cooley. The Hurleys certainly have the name recognition and connections to get talent to the smallest state in the union, and the Rams have a solid facility and fan base ready to rebound off last season's seven-win campaign that ended the solid (if maybe a bit disappointing) Jim Baron era. Credit URI for making a quick strike and luring a hot name to the program.
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