CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent July on the road talking to college coaches at multiple major NCAA-sanctioned recruiting events. In the weeks since, they’ve followed up with more than 110 coaches at all levels of Division I for our annual Candid Coaches series. As always, the series features a fun array of questions about college basketball, but also touches on broader issues in society. In exchange for complete anonymity, they give us unfiltered honesty. Throughout August we’ll be posting the results of the poll questions posed to coaches.
College football season is just days away from starting in earnest. That means college basketball is about 10 weeks behind. So consider this a refresher on new coaching faces in new places. A preview of the season previews to come.
This particular question, which we ask every year, always yields interesting results. Because, for as interconnected as college basketball is, we talk to so many coaches and, given the cloak of anonymity, they open up and share with us who they think is best suited to thrive in their new spot. It’s not always guys some coaches are necessarily close with — they usually look at the candidates in new spots, and if anything, can recognize which coaches are set up to succeed more than others.
Still, some of it is guesswork, naturally. Every offseason the sport sees anywhere from 35 to 50 jobs open. Basically, roughly, 12 percent of schools bring in someone new to run their program. Most of those jobs will open again within a five-year time frame. Sometimes that’s because a coach has done so well, he steps up the ladder to another spot. Other times, it’s because a school misstepped and picked the wrong guy.
Who made the best choices in 2016? We polled nearly 110 coaches and asked:
Who is the best new coaching hire?
|Coach, college||Votes received|
|Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State||27|
|Tubby Smith, Memphis||21|
|Jamie Dixon, TCU||18|
|Rick Stansbury, Western Kentucky||18|
|Greg Gard, Wisconsin||6|
|Bryce Drew, Vanderbilt||4|
|Kevin Stallings, Pitt||4|
|Rob Ehsan, UAB||2|
|Chris Beard, Texas Tech||3|
|Jeff Linder, Northern Colorado||1|
|Herb Sendek, Santa Clara||1|
|Jerod Haase, California||1|
|Grant McCasland, Arkansas State||1|
|Travis Ford, Saint Louis||1|
QUOTES THAT STOOD OUT
- “I’ve gained a great respect for Brad Underwood after meeting him on the road and observing him over the years. I’ve known (Underwood assistant) Mike Boynton and been aware of the impact he can have on a program from his time at Wofford, but what that staff did at Stephen F. Austin was still remarkable. Offensively, defensively, pace, etc., Underwood has found his groove as a head coach. Now at Oklahoma State, I assume they will do many of the same things, but with better players. He was a great hire for any program.”
- “I like Travis [Ford], but Oklahoma State was smart to move on him now because Underwood would not have been available next year. He was going to take a big job this year. Oklahoma State knew that and got a deal done fast. He’s perfect for them.”
- “Brad Underwood to OSU. What he did at Stephen F. Austin was really impressive. Can flat out coach and understands the history of OSU basketball having played for Jack Hartman, who played for Mr. Iba. Also having spent time on the staff at Kansas State, he has a good idea of what it takes to win in the Big 12.”
- “Tubby. He’s won everywhere he’s been. He’s one of the few coaches in the country who could take a lesser brand name and turn it into a positive. I disagree with him being too old for the Memphis job. Coaches want to prove themselves no matter what. He knows the fire pit that he’s going into. That’s like he’s just saying he’s taking the job for what? That dude will win there and will win at a high level.”
- “Who else on this list has had the amount of success at multiple locations like coach Smith? He is a proven commodity.”
- “Underwood. Then Drew. Dixon and Stallings were bad hires in my mind.”
- “Jamie Dixon. Makes TCU IMMEDIATELY relevant and Pitt will regret this for many many years.”
- “Jamie Dixon, TCU. I believe they hit a grand slam and could not have done any better.”
- “Being in the league with Stallings for as long as I was I’d have to say him. Offensive genius. Never an easy scout and a very underrated recruiter. Guy has had pros every year! Damian Jones, John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli, Wade Baldwin, Jr., just to name a few.”
- “Stansbury. Not close.”
- “In terms of sheer impact on the program, Stansbury to WKU will prove to be the most impactful. Not saying he’s a good coach, but instantly makes WKU truly relevant, and a league favorite. Not sure the others can say that.”
- “Stansbury will out-recruit his whole league and win big. That’s not the hire that got the most attention, but it’s the one that’s going to change a program the most.”
- “TCU will never have another coach of Dixon’s caliber and if they ever do it will be because he got the program to a point where it becomes a destination job. He comes with a strong, tough philosophy and a brand of basketball which is something TCU has not had at all. Ten NCAAs in 12 years at Pittsburgh.”
- “Tubby to Memphis is a home run. He can obviously coach, but one thing that goes unsaid is how nice of a person he is off the court and on the recruiting trail. Always says hi and is willing to have a conversation with anyone. There’s plenty of head coaches that have accomplished much less who aren’t.”
- “I have an outside the box one. I am going with Wisconsin hiring Greg Gard. With most of the other moves we can all speculate as to how they will fit with the new school. In this case they are staying with a regime that had unprecedented success at Wisconsin and staying with the guy who played an intricate role in that success. I am betting a lot of coaches were hoping Wisconsin wold go outside to make this hire.”
- “Wisconsin. In an era where continuity seems to take a backseat to other key factors in the hiring process, Wisconsin got this one right. And it paid big dividends in year one. He will do terrific there.”
In 2014, Virginia Tech landing Buzz Williams won our poll.
Last year, it was Shaka Smart in a runaway.
Underwood was my guess prior to asking coaches. He was tremendous at Stephen F., winning 51 out of 54 conference games, getting to two NCAA Tournaments and, this past March, nearly reaching the Sweet 16. Underwood, a Frank Martin disciple, won more games in his first three seasons as a coach than any other man in D-I history except for some guy named Brad Stevens. So you have to think it’s a solid hire for an Oklahoma State program that’s been something of a sleeping giant for what seems like ages now.
A few coaches mentioned that Underwood should thrive, even in a tougher league, because he and his staff will have so many more resources. We’ll see. I do think Underwood is a perfect fit for Stillwater.
The Tubby Smith choice might come as a big surprise to a lot of fans, but the fact is the guy is so respected in coaching circles. He’s taken five programs to the NCAA Tournament, and Memphis is going to be the sixth. That will set a record. This will almost certainly be Tubby’s final stop in his coaching career, so let’s see what he does in a competitive market and in an easier league. It’s been a long time since he was set up like this.
Dixon to TCU is so interesting because it was an unconventional move from the outside. But he’s an alum of the school, needed a fresh start, and TCU has a lot to offer based on what so many coaches have told me. There’s an expectation that Dixon will be there 10-plus years and make the NCAAs at least five or six times, which would be mountain-moving for that program.
Stansbury is already landing five-star prospects at Western Kentucky, so that speaks for itself. A couple of coaches I spoke with said he’ll be running Conference USA by 2018. Some think that’s already happening, in fact.
I was a little surprised Bryce Drew didn’t get more votes — he’s as good as Vanderbilt could have hoped to get this year, and I think he’ll eventually win enough to move on from Vandy to a better job. Stallings to Pitt received a few mixed reviews, but some coaches said he’ll absolutely get Pitt on the upswing because both he and the program will be revived with a shot in the arm.
Gard is universally lauded. Many coaches who didn’t pick him as the No. 1 — remember, he was already on staff and was given the full-time gig after going as an interim — put him second or third, basically. No one thinks Wisconsin will fall off so long as he’s there.
Coaches in general didn’t think this was a huge year for hirings and openings. But I do think it’s an interesting one, given Josh Pastner’s move from Memphis to Georgia Tech, Tubby replacing Pastner, Stallings replacing Dixon, Chris Beard replacing Tubby, etc. I get the feeling we’ll look back five years from now and see some interesting ripple effects.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Candid Coaches: Who was the best new coaching hire this offseason?