Some coaches earned their first chance with a big programme, others will be under pressure to deliver. Nothing new in the NCAA, and of course coaches and coaching will be a focus as much as the players. Sometimes, the coaches are stars in and of themselves, and they deserve the spotlight. So here’s a quick recap of what changed on the coaching side in the offseason and who’s worth to keep an eye on in the next months.
UNLV bench was one of the top stories this summer. David Rice was fired and Mark Cronin declined the job. The next candidate was Chris Beard, who led Arkansas Little Rock to a surprising 30-5 record and an upset of Purdue in the first round. Everything was agreed upon, the contract was signed and the formal media presentation was made, until the young coach changed his mind and decided to move to Lubbock and take the head coaching job at Texas Tech, where he was assistant to the legendary Bobby Knight.
Beard was chosen to take Tubby Smith‘s place, who was offered to replace John Pastner in Memphis. Pastner, a former Calipari assistant who never lived up to the hype in Tennessee, moved to the ACC and took the head coaching seat at Georgia Tech, a programme that has been out of the tournament since 2010. Finally, UNLV got its head coach in Marvin Menzies, who led New Mexico State to the tournament four times in five years in his first tenure in that capacity. Paul Weir, a former Menzies assistant, will be tasked with contending for the WAC title, and will also have the chance to play against two of the four Italian freshmen in Mattia Da Campo and Scott Ulaneo, now with the Seattle Redhawks.
The Big 12 will feature two new head coaches. Jamie Dixon, who spent the last thirteen years on the Pittsburgh bench, got the job at TCU. After his good work with the Panthers, worth a couple of 30-win seasons and the Elite Eight in 2009, he will now try to bring back to respectability a programme like TCU that has not been relevant for the last few years. Oklahoma State might be the winner of the offseason in this category after signing Brad Underwood, one of the youngest and brightest minds in the NCAA. It took him only three years to build a winning culture and lead the Lumberjacks to the tournament, thanks to his widely praised motion offence. The difficult task of replacing Underwood in Texas fell to Kyle Keller who, despite being in his first season as head coach, already made clear he wants to create a recognizable Lumberjack brand of basketball and turn Stephen F. Austin into one of the most desirable mid-major in the NCAA, following the example of programmes like Gonzaga, VCU and Wichita State.
Last but not the least, SEC and ACC had a few changes as well, starting with Kevin Stallings, who moved to Pittsburgh to replace Dixon, while Bryce Drew will move to Vanderbilt. Jerood Hasse, after shocking the NCAA world with the upset of his UAB over Iowa State a couple of years ago, moved to Stanford and the Big 12. Travis Ford, fired by Oklahoma State, is the new head coach of St. Louis. Rick Stansbury, in his first coaching gig after the experience with Mississippi State in 2012, is back at work with Western Kentucky and already turned some heads by recruiting the five-star prospect Mitchell Robinson and by staying in the mix to sign Malik Newman up until the end. Last, but certainly not the least, Mike Dunleavy Sr is back in the coaching business, for the first time on a college bench with Tulane.
Of course there will be plenty of hot seats, starting with UCLA‘s Steve Alford. Illinois head coach John Groce is likely to be under pressure as well. Last season, a slew of injuries destroyed any kind of chemistry the team was developing, and the Fighting Illini attempt to return to relevance failed before it even got underway. Injuries might excuse such a disaster, but he will have to prove he is the right choice.
Another coach not living up to expectations is Richard Pitino, who does not seem to be quite at his father level and very much in danger of losing his job in Minnesota. After a decent first season, closed with the NIT title, Pitino Jr never succeeded in turning his players into a coherent team, with poor results in the Big 10. Finally, LSU bench might be available in the near future. Ben Simmons, the biggest talent in Baton Rouge since Shaquille O’Neal, was not enough to go back to winning. And now Johnny Jones is under scrutiny and must get his ticket for the 2017 tournament, especially considering the level of competition in the conference is not prohibitive.