And you are...?
There's a new coach on nearly every bench in the Atlantic 10
By Ron Chimelis, Special to CNNSI.com
They came from out of the league and from within the league. They came because the previous coaches had lost games, lost fans or lost credibility within their own schools' administrations. But they came.
The Atlantic 10 Conference now numbers 12 schools with the addition of Richmond, a past football member that now belongs in all sports. There are six new coaches, or seven if you count Jim Baron, who moved from St. Bonaventure to Rhode Island.
Or eight, if you count John Beilein, a proven winner at Richmond but a rookie in this conference.
Got it? Perhaps never has an NCAA basketball conference undergone such a sudden, radical change in leadership, an even more dramatic turn of events given that there were no coaching changes last year.
"Our staff told our players this summer that almost everybody was starting out new," said Massachusetts coach Steve Lappas, who came from Villanova when Bruiser Flint was forced out after five years. "Who's going to get the jump?"
Only four coaches remain in last year's jobs, and the most venerable among them says that just because so many Atlantic 10 benches have a new look doesn't make this season a rookie camp for coaches.
"It's going to be like 'Trading Places,'" said Temple coach John Chaney, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in October and is beginning his 20th season with the Owls. "But it's not as if a lot of these people haven't proven themselves in other places."
The returning coaching class includes Chaney, Oliver Purnell (Dayton), Bob Hill (Fordham) and Phil Martelli, who was in line for the Rutgers job before pledging his allegiance to St. Joseph's, a school he loves -- and a school that loved him even before the Hawks went 26-7 and became one of college basketball's truly marvelous feel-good stories of 2000-01.
With almost everybody back, the Hawks go from Atlantic 10 secret to Atlantic 10 favorite. Almost everywhere else, though, the questions outnumber the answers.
Let's run 'em down, and keep your scorecards and pencils at the ready:
Nee was 254-190 at Nebraska, where winning in basketball is not automatic. After a quick pit stop to coach Robert Morris, he faces an even more daunting challenge at Duquesne, and is counting on better administrative commitment the university claims it will make.
But Lappas seems re-energized at UMass, where his motion offense has already excited some partisans who felt Flint's defense-minded teams had become a bit dull. Lappas is trying to keep expectation levels at UMass within reason while not dousing optimism, and that's not an easy balancing act at a school that reached the Final Four in 1996, but hasn't returned to the NCAAs since 1998.
Hobbs is a former Connecticut assistant who probably could have had several other jobs a year ago (definitely Hartford, possibly Houston) before taking this one. Chris Monroe, a team player on a squad that didn't have many, is his major returnee. Hobbs' first task is to put the recent past behind this program, and if he can do it, GW may still not be far from resuming its place as a West Division contender.
All Hahn probably needs to do is show consistent improvement, especially on the defensive end. But he does have to show that, because dismissing the popular Speedy Morris wasn't something the school wanted to do, even if most outside observers were surprised Morris survived as long as he did -- six unfulfilling years since La Salle joined the A-10.
Prosser's legacy included good teams, fine graduation rates, but often a sense that Xavier's talent could have brought the team a little bit farther. On that last point, Matta's Butler teams seemed to go as far or farther than expected. He also inherits 6-8 David West, a Wooden Award candidate and the league's best player.
Finances had something to do with the changes at UMass and Rhode Island. Attendance for Minutemen home games dropped 40 percent in Flint's last three years. Rhody is opening a new campus facility, and losing more than 20 games a year under DeGregorio wasn't helping build enthusiasm.
Morris had one year left on his La Salle contract, and has always been a well-liked Philadelphian who was favored by Tom Gola, the school's most influential basketball alumnus. But an inability to win in the A-10, despite his handful of individual stars, ultimately doomed him.
In truth, the Atlantic 10 probably needed the added voltage produced by so much reshuffling. The conference transformed itself from a respected regional league to a quasi-power conference in the mid-1990s, at one point placing more teams in the NCAA tournament than the Big East -- 5 to 4 in 1997.
The A-10 did it with exciting, dynamic coaches such as John Calipari, Mike Jarvis and Jim Harrick. All are gone, as is current Boston College coach Al Skinner, who was at Rhode Island before Harrick and whose value was probably underappreciated at the time.
"I think it speaks very well of our league that so many high-quality coaches are coming in," said Atlantic 10 commissioner Linda Bruno, who two years ago felt compelled to send a memo to league members, telling them not to get discouraged as the conference took an unexpected pounding in non-league play. The Atlantic 10 has remained a good league, but the predictability of each program was producing a subtle staleness that won't be a problem this year.
Now, can this group restore the A-10's status as a league that can legitimately hope for four or even five NCAA tournament spots, not two or three? Time will be tell, but this much seems certain: it won't be dull, even if you can't tell the coaches without a scorecard.
Ron Chimelis covers the Atlantic 10 for the Springfield (Mass.) Union-News. His "This Week in the Atlantic 10" column will appear weekly during the season.