Grading Coaching Hires
April 13, 2017
By Brian Edwards
Indiana – In: Archie Miller; Out: Tom Crean
-- I’ve been saying Archie Miller is a star in the business since taking Dayton to the Elite Eight in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. During his six-year run at UD, Miller compiled a 139-63 overall record (68.8%) and a 68-34 mark in Atlantic-10 play (66.7%), taking the Flyers to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments to close his tenure. Miller went 5-4 in the Tourney and won at least 24 games in each of his final four seasons. The former scrappy N.C. State point guard (1998-2002) also took UD to the NIT in his first season. He comes from amazing basketball DNA, as he and his older brother Sean played prep hoops under their father, John Miller, who retired as a high school basketball head coach after posting a 657-280 record in 35 seasons. The elder Miller went 104-29 in postseason play. Sean played for Pittsburgh and was a four-year starter at the point-guard position, handing out the famous assist to Jerome Lane, who shattered the glass backboard and prompted Bill Raftery’s legendary call, “Send it in, Jerome!!” Archie and Sean also have a sister, Lisa, who played college ball at Elon and Toledo.
There are two more huge factors that have me grading this hire as the best of this offseason. First of all, Archie is only 38 years of age and already has six years of head-coaching experience. And for those not in the know, make no mistake about it, Dayton is a big-time program with a rabid fan base. I saw it first hand at FedEx Forum in Memphis at the South Region finals in 2014 when my Gators were essentially playing a road game in terms of fan noise, as the Flyers’ faithful poured more than 10,000 fans into the stands. Secondly, Archie has assembled an outstanding staff. He has brought along Tom Ostrom, his top aide at UD. Ostrom worked under Billy Donovan at the University of Florida and played a critical role in the recruitment of Joakim Noah and Mike Miller. He followed a fellow UF assistant, John Pelphrey, to South Alabama and Arkansas. When Pelphrey was fired at Arkansas, he joined Miller at UD.
Bruiser Flint, who has 20 seasons of head-coaching experience under his belt (15 at Drexel, five at UMass), worked under John Calipari as an assistant at UMass before getting the head gig. Flint has deep, old-school recruiting ties in Philadelphia and Boston, especially The City of Brotherly Love, where he grew up and played college ball at St. Joseph’s. Ed Schilling, who recently worked under IU legendary player Steve Alford at UCLA, also joins the staff.
Missouri - In: Cuonzo Martin; Out: Kim Anderson
-- Anderson inherited a mess and probably didn’t get enough time, but he showed nothing in three seasons to think the program was heading toward the upper tier of the SEC anytime soon. Martin is an excellent hire, assuming he’s going to stick around for an extended period of time. I obviously understood when Martin bolted his first job at Missouri State to take the Tennessee gig after Bruce Pearl was forced out. Again, I could see why he wanted out at UT because the fan base was literally gathering thousands of signatures for a petition to bring Pearl back after Martin had just taken the team to the Sweet 16 (and was one could’ve-gone-either-way charging call from playing in the East Region finals). Martin recruited with the best of ‘em while he was at California for three campaigns, but several one-and-done players netted just one trip to the NCAA Tournament, one trip to the NIT and zero postseason victories. But now Martin has left a school following a brief three-year tenure for the third time. At some point, he turns into a Larry Brown/Bobby Petrino (which is piss-poor form if you ask me) if he so much as entertains another offer in the next 4-5 years.
Martin has made his mark at Mizzou already, bagging the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in Michael Porter Jr. last month. This was one of those that LSU’s Dale Brown and Larry Brown (while at Kansas, think Danny Manning’s father, Ed) used to regularly utilize, as Martin hired the prized prospects father, Michael Porter Sr., as an assistant on his staff. Porter Jr. is currently busy trying to lure top-tier recruits in the 2017 class who remain uncommitted. He helped nab one of those on April 11 when four-star guard Blake Harris, who like Porter Jr. was originally a commit to Washington before Lorenzo Romar’s dismissal.
San Diego State – In: Brian Dutcher; Out: Steve Fisher
-- Let’s start with props galore to Fisher, who became a household name in the 1989 NCAA Tournament. When Bill Frieder took the Arizona St. job just before the start of the Tourney, the late/great then-Michigan AD Bo Schembechler famously said, “A Michigan man will coach Michigan.” In other words, Frieder wasn’t sticking around to coach the Wolverines for another minute. Therefore, Fisher was named the interim head coach. After five wins, including a victory over Illinois in the national semifinals at The Kingdome in Seattle, Michigan trailed P.J. Carlesimo’s Seton Hall squad by one in the final seconds of overtime. As Rumeal Robinson penetrated into the lane going right, he was defended by Gerald Greene. John Clougherty came from nearly halfcourt and called what Raftery would term, “small change” or a “nickle-dimer.” Translation: Greene was playing solid defense and for some reason was whistled for a blocking foul even though there was little contact and Robinson was passing the ball to the wing rather than shooting. Anyhow, Robinson hit both free throws and Fisher was given the head job after the Wolverines cut the nets down in Seattle. It would be wrong if I failed to note what an incredible Tournament Glen Rice enjoyed that year, and he had plenty of help from Terry Mills and Loy Vaught in the paint.
Fisher brought back nearly the entire squad the next season, only to get jettisoned back to Ann Arbor in the Round of 32 when Bo Kimble went for 40-plus points and Jeff Fryer rained down 11 treys in a blowout victory for Paul Westhead’s Loyola-Marymount squad that was playing in honor of its fallen teammate, Hank Gathers. But Fisher, with a lot of help from Dutcher, would bring in the Fab Five and get to two more title games, only to come up short in both. He led the Wolverines to the NIT championship in 1997 but was fired several months later due to the Ed Martin fiasco, which involved players like Robert Traylor and Maurice Taylor receiving illegal benefits.
Michigan self-imposed sanctions that the NCAA accepted and Fisher wasn’t implicated in any of the wrongdoing. Therefore, he took the San Diego State job in 1999. The Aztecs hadn’t tasted a postseason appearance since the 84-85 campaign. Nobody dreamed Fisher could build a powerhouse or even be slightly competitive with UCLA and USC in recruiting kids from Southern California.
However, during Fisher’s 18-year tenure, he did just that on the recruiting trail, signing the likes of Kawhi Leonard out of L.A. Fisher took San Diego St. to eight NCAA Tournaments, a pair of Sweet 16’s, five NIT’s and a pair of NIT Final Fours at MSG in NYC.
With Fisher retiring in early April, the transition to Dutcher will be smooth. He has been Fisher’s top assistant for 27 seasons at both Michigan and SD State. With that said, this is his first head-coaching job.
Georgetown - In: Patrick Ewing; Out: John Thompson III
-- Things had grown stale with JT3 and it was time for a change. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown’s greatest player who led the Hoyas to three national-title games and one championship in 1984, has been paying his dues as an NBA assistant coach since 2003. That’s the good and the bad. Ewing isn’t just a great player that’s going to give coaching a shot. He’s been doing it for well over a decade. However, the 54-year-old Ewing hasn’t been a head coach yet and has been out of the college game since Villanova’s shocking upset win over the Hoyas in the 1985 finals at Rupp Arena. But this is certainly worth a shot! I like the move and, even better, I like the idea of Chris Mullin and Ewing meeting at mid-court before games between St. John’s and Georgetown. Maybe they’ll both wear the same sweater at MSG one night just like Big John and Louie did back in the early ‘80s?
LSU - In: Will Wade; Out: Johnny Jones
-- Jones couldn’t get to the NCAA Tournament with the nation’s best player, Ben Simmons, on his roster two seasons ago. Then the program completely fell apart this past year, enduring a 15-game losing streak on the way to a 10-21 overall record. I like the pick of Will Wade as his replacement. To be clear, though, I’m not a fan of LSU AD Joe Alleva, who spent who knows how much of LSU’s cash to hire a search firm (to do his job) and make this hire. Wade has worked under Tommy Amaker at Harvard and Shaka Smart at VCU. He has four years of head-coaching experience and is only 34 years old. Wade went 40-25 at Chattanooga before landing the VCU gig, where he compiled a 51-20 record (71.8%) and went to consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Wade has already been Coach of the Year in the Southern Conference and the A-10. He has one more assistant left to hire, but the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on April 11 that Greg Heiar is joining Wade after six years under Gregg Marshall at Wichita State. Heiar also spent five seasons as the head coach at Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. Chipola is a perennial national power in the juco ranks that’s six hours east of New Orleans, so Heiar is familiar with the recruiting areas LSU likes to explore.
Illinois: In: Brad Underwood; Out: John Groce
-- This certainly goes down as the most shocking coaching move of this offseason. Underwood did an outstanding job at Oklahoma State in his first year, shaking off an 0-6 start in Big 12 play to catch fire and get to the NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys fell to Michigan by one, 93-92, in perhaps the most entertaining game of the entire Tourney. Underwood, who was hired after a solid run at Stephen F. Austin, was only making a hair above $1 million per year at OSU. When Illinois came in with a $3 million per year offer, he was obviously interested. Whether or not Underwood allowed OSU the chance to match the offer, something that certainly could’ve happened with T-Boone Pickens’ hundreds of millions, remains unclear. Again, I think spending one year at a school and then bolting to another job is poor form. With that said, I can’t be critical of Underwood without knowing whether or not OSU countered Illinois with a strong offer. If the Cowboys didn’t, then Underwood did what nearly all of us would do – take the raise and new job, wish your co-workers well and get on with it. But that’s irrelevant from Illinois’ view, anyway. The Illini scored a really good coach in Underwood, who has taken all four of his teams as a head coach to the NCAA Tourney. He also won a first-round game twice while at SF Austin and was incredibly close to going to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago when the Lumberjacks let a late lead get away in a gut-wrenching loss to Notre Dame. The defeat against Michigan this year was equally as heartbreaking.
New Mexico – In: Paul Weir; Out: Craig Neal
-- ‘Noodles,’ who was best known as being Mark Price’s back-up point guard at Ga. Tech in the early ‘80s, was an assistant under Alford at Iowa and UNM from 2004-2013. Neal went 27-7 in his first season with the Lobos, but they lost in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Since then, UNM has had three down years without a postseason invite. The school parted ways with Neal and went to New Mexico St. and snatched its head coach, Paul Weir, who posted a 28-6 record in his only year as HC for the Aggies after Marvin Menzies bolted for UNLV. UNM could’ve done better, but I’ll be lenient on my grade since it took an in-state rival’s coach.
Oklahoma State: In: Mike Boynton Jr.; Out: Brad Underwood
-- OSU was left hanging when Underwood dipped out of Stillwater. The Cowboys chose to go with a 35-year-old rookie HC in Boynton, who was on Underwood’s staff at OSU and SF Austin. Boynton played at South Carolina and was an assistant for the Gamecocks from 2008-2013. I have no clue how this one will turn out.
North Carolina State In: Kevin Keatts; Out: Mark Gottfried
-- Everyone knows what you get with Mark Gottfried: great recruiter, extremely shaky game coach. He had some good years at N.C. St., but the school opted to go in another direction. Keatts is 44 and has made a rapid rise from a high school coach to an ACC sideline in only six years. After serving on Rick Pitino’s staff at U of L, Keatts took the UNC-Wilmington job. The Seahawks had been down in the decade following the Brett Blizzard Era. Keatts turned the program back around with the quickness, taking the school to the Tourney in his second and third seasons.
Washington: In: Mike Hopkins; Out: Lorenzo Romar
-- As noted earlier, UW lost out on two great recruits by pink slipping Romar. Hopkins has been on Jim Boeheim’s staff for 22 years and was the coach in waiting at Syracuse. He’s originally from the West, however, so this isn’t necessarily an instance where the coach will be completely out of his realm recruiting-wise (like Mark Fox was when former Georgia AD Damon ‘Red Panties’ Evans brought him to Athens from Nevada). We’ll see.
California: In: Wyking Jones; Out: Cuonzo Martin
-- Cal decided to promote from within. The school has been dealing with debt issues, so it wasn’t going to be able to make a high-profile hire by forking out a multi-million dollar contract. Like Hopkins, Jones served under Pitino before joining Martin in Berkeley.
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