Any college coaching carousel is defined by high-profile openings, as they inherently lead to trickle-down openings at other schools. As the 2018 edition of the college basketball coaching carousel comes into focus, the early read is that this won’t be a particularly active year for high-end jobs. (Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde dove into the hot seat in his Forde Minutes column on Monday).
Some of that projected inertia, somewhat counterintuitively, comes from the searing scandal reverberating from the sweeping federal investigation into the basketball underworld. Certainly, the Louisville job opened from the scandal and there are others – Arizona, USC, Auburn and Kansas – that will be shrouded in speculation until the federal investigations and trials end. (Which may be years away.)
The uncertainty will work two ways. For athletic directors making a decision, they may become more cautious as they don’t know how to evaluate the field of potential coaches. “I think there’s a lot of uneasiness in the climate right now,” said an industry source who tracks hirings and firings. “We’re headed into the postseason, and I think there’s a lot of athletic directors thinking long and hard about firing their coach and heading off into murky water to find a clean one.”
The source added that there are too many unknowns in the environment. No one knows who else the feds are looking at and who could get ensnared in the investigation. It could be the ultimate embarrassment if an athletic director tabbed a coach and, soon after, he or his former program gets swept up in the federal probe. (Or the NCAA investigations that could come after it.)
“You have to be a lot more careful than you did before the 10 arrests,” said a high-ranking collegiate official. “There’s no doubt about that. You are more careful today than the day before the 10 arrests. Far more careful.”
Here are 20 head coaches who’ll be hot commodities when this season’s carousel begins to spin.
1. Chris Mack, Xavier – He’s the perceived leader in the clubhouse for Louisville. There’s likely nothing else projected to open that would end up intriguing him. He’s turned down droves of opportunities over the years. Would Louisville be too much to turn down?
2. Dan Hurley, Rhode Island – His pedigree and second straight NCAA tournament make him the most coveted East Coast coach. The most fascinating showdown comes at UConn and Pittsburgh, where administrators have to decide if Hurley is worth a nearly eight-figure check to dispose their current coach.
3. Tom Crean, analyst – He led Marquette to the Final Four, has 356 career wins and an elite reputation in player development. A place with less glare than Indiana would serve him well. One job to keep an eye on is Georgia, which could end up a much better job if recruiting is cleaner the next few years. So many players close by.
4. Eric Musselman, Nevada – He’s 75-26 in three seasons and headed toward his second straight NCAA tournament. He’s the top rising coach out West by a landslide, but his NBA head-coaching experience means he could likely translate elsewhere geographically.
5. John Becker, Vermont – He’s won 20 games all seven of his seasons at Vermont, but this is his best team (22-6). UVM had a 31-game league win streak and the nation’s longest winning streak (15 games) snapped over the weekend. Leading scorer Anthony Lamb (16.8), who has missed the past 15 games, is expected back for the postseason. Logical Rhode Island target if Hurley leaves.
6. Leon Rice, Boise State – He’s reached two NCAA tournaments at Boise State and has the Broncos 21-6 this year and in the bubble conversation. He’s 163-93 in eight seasons, a safe and steady hire.
7. Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure – Few have done more with less resources in recent college basketball history than Schmidt. He has the Bonnies headed toward their second tournament in his tenure and is 186-150 in his 11 seasons.
8. Earl Grant, Charleston – He’s 47-16 in the past two seasons, authoring an impressive turnaround. Charleston reached the NIT last season, and if they win the CAA regular season and tournament this year his stock will soar.
9. Porter Moser, Loyola-Chicago – Moser is a Rick Majerus disciple, and he has the Ramblers 23-5 and 13-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference. This is the best season and potentially first NCAA Tournament appearance of his 14-year head coaching career.
10. Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee – He’s 22-5 this year and Middle this projects as the sixth NCAA Tournament appearance of Davis’ career. (They’ve had victories over Michigan State and Minnesota in the past two tournaments.) He’d be much higher on this list, but he resigned from Texas A&M in the wake of an NCAA scandal in the early 1990s that resulted in an NCAA tournament ban for A&M. Could scandal-scarred athletic departments at Auburn or Ole Miss look past quarter-century-old NCAA problems?
11. Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State – He’s revived East Tennessee, reaching the NCAA tournament last year and going 23-5 this season. Forbes would be much higher as well, but he had a one-year show-cause penalty tied to the infamous Bruce Pearl backyard barbecue that led to that Tennessee staff’s downfall. (Forbes was evasive with NCAA investigators while Pearl got a three-year show-cause.) He recently signed an extension, but he could still leave. (His buyout was increased to $500,000, which wouldn’t deter any high-major school.)
12. Nick McDevitt, UNC Asheville – He reached the NCAA tournament two years ago and won the Big South regular season last year. McDevitt’s teams have been plundered by high-major poachers – Marquette, Louisville and Arizona – which is a high compliment to his ability to recruit and develop talent.
13. Nate Oats, Buffalo – He’s 57-37 in three years, including an NCAA tournament his first season and a heavy favorite to return this year. They’d be an intriguing at-large candidate if they don’t win the MAC, as Buffalo’s RPI is Top 30 and KemPom rating is No. 85. Regardless, Oats has himself and Buffalo in strong position.
14. Mike Young, Wofford – He has four NCAA appearances on his resume, which make him an attractive and experienced candidate. The victory over No. 5 UNC earlier this season has got more attention than Wofford trailing East Tennessee and UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference standings.
15. Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary’s – He’s already reached two NCAA tournaments and won a game in the First Four in Dayton last year. (Then had his team plundered as transfers left for larger programs.) A Shaka Smart disciple, Christian has great pedigree and a distinct style that would be attractive to athletic directors.
16. Nathan Davis, Bucknell – He’s won the Patriot League regular season all three of his years with the Bison. Hard to get much better than that, as Davis is 63-32 in his tenure and has wins over Vermont, Richmond and La Salle this season.
17. John Brannen, Northern Kentucky – He’s 44-19 the past two years at Northern Kentucky, including the school’s first-ever NCAA bid last year. NKU is tied for first-place in the Horizon, and another NCAA bid would elevate him further.
18. LeVelle Moton, N.C. Central – While N.C. Central has slipped in the MEAC this year, his two NCAA tournaments and three regular season titles have made him a household name in the AD and search-firm world.
19. Pat Kelsey, Winthrop – He’s been branded the Runaway Bride after jilting UMass at the altar last year. His coaching credentials are strong, but so is the skepticism after last year. Would Xavier bite if Mack left? He played and coached there.
20. Craig Smith, South Dakota – He and Drake coach Niko Medved will be considered strong candidates at Colorado State. Both served as assistants there, and CSU will be looking for someone familiar and safe after the rocky times with Larry Eustachy. Smith won the regular season last year, is 24-6 this season and projects to battle South Dakota State for an NCAA bid in this year’s Summit tournament.
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