Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Top Coaching Jobs - #5

With Indiana facing certain sanctions from the NCAA for the next several years, the Hooisers were still able to land Tom Crean. Roy Williams left the Kansas Jayhawks for North Carolina in 2003. Kansas was able to replace him with Bill Self, from Illinois, who just recently turned down Oklahoma State to stay at Kansas.

It makes you wonder, what are the Top 10 coaching jobs in college basketball? We here at Drinking the Forty consulted with some of the finest basketball experts in the country to find out. Hey, if ESPN can pull random people off the street and call them experts, then we can too.

Here is our Top 10, based on a program’s national persona, recent success, fan base, facilities, history and tradition, and potential for future success.


#5.) Kentucky Wildcats

Another storied program that is in a period of transition. Things had started to come unraveled in Lexington under coach Tubby Smith, who grew tired of the extreme expectations of the Big Blue and saw the writing on the wall. With Smith heading to Minnesota, he left the Kentucky program depleted and in need of a minor rebuilding job.

After a disastrous hiring search, Kentucky was able to make a great hire in Texas A&M coach Billy Gillespie. He immediately came in and instilled his defensive minded, tough, winning attitude and was able to salvage what was a very sub-par Kentucky team. Under Gillespie you could see the transformation taking place during the season, as he began to put his imprint on the program.

Kentucky is a program where 20 wins and tournament appearances aren’t enough. Over the last seven seasons the Wildcats have posted 169 wins and a .728 winning percentage. But that wasn’t enough for Big Blue. One of the most demanding and rabid fan bases in all of college basketball, the Wildcat faithful expects Final Four appearances and National Titles.

Under Adolph Rupp, the Kentucky Wildcats became one of the most successful and storied programs in the game. That tradition grew even more under the championship teams of Rick Pitino. With seven championships and 13 final four appearances, Kentucky is one of the most historic programs in college basketball. They are nationally known and respected.

But in the last several years, recruiting has been down, and Kentucky has fallen behind Tennessee and Florida in the SEC. Kentucky hasn’t been able to maintain the level reached by Rick Pitino, and Tubby Smith became burned out with the expectations and pressure that this Kentucky job brings. Whether it is warranted or not, there’s the Derby and Wildcat basketball in Kentucky, and that’s it. The scrutiny and pressure that comes with this job is second to none, and Billy Gillespie will have to work hard to please his critics.

Gillespie has a style of basketball that wins in the NCAA Tournament and is a proven recruiter. He’s young and highly motivated and is probably the type of hire that could end up getting the Kentucky program back on top. While the Kentucky program has been down the past few years, it won’t stay there for long. And that’s why they come in on our list at number five.

#6.) Indiana Hooisers
#7.) Florida Gators
#8) Michigan State Spartans
#9.) Connecticut Huskies
#10.) Arizona Wildcats

3 comments:

JPS said...

As a UK fan I disagree with a few of your points.

#1) while it is true that Tubby got tired of the pressure at UK, it was pressure that Tubby helped to bring upon himself. Never a enthusiastic or organized recruiter, Tubby seemed to take off the last few years and the results are a dramatic drop-off in talent, to the point that his above-average coaching couldn't mask the deficiencies when going up against elite competition. His refusal to address these issues, including shaking up his staff left a sour taste in many UK fans mouths (and remember, just a few years ago Tubby was by far the most popular person in the state.)

So although you later do refer to UK's drop-off in talent and the resulting problems that were handed to Gillispie, I think you've presented things a little out of order (ie mentioning the effect of Tubby's leaving before the cause)

#2) I think one thing you are underestimating when it comes to UK and the head coaching position is the magnitude and positive impact of the fan support. You mention the pressure (which comes from fan interest) but you don't mention that Kentucky at the same time has the most supportive, interested and loyal fan base anywhere. Kentucky every year leads the nation in attendance and follows their team better than any other fan base in the country.

It's been proven that UK's fan support is sustained no matter the coach and through good and bad times. The same can't be said for many of these other programs you've mentioned (along with some of the ones I'm sure you will mention as being ahead of UK.)

#3) You mention that UK's coaching search was 'disastrous'. While it wasn't as clean as could be, (given that UK's first choice was Billy Donovan and they had to wait until the NCAA tournament was over before he could make a decision), I don't see it as 'disastrous'. In fact Billy Gillispie was MY first choice so I was very happy with how things turned out.

FWIW, I hope you don't mention Rick Barnes (as some in the media have) but since this is a Texas blog I am interested in your understanding.

My understanding from following UK's coaching search at the time was that Donovan was UK's first choice and Gillispie was the fall-back. I had heard that Rick Barnes contacted UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhardt and they had dinner etc., but Barnes was never offered the job and frankly wasn't seriously considered by UK. The fact that Barnes later 'announced' that he was not interested in the UK job was more a publicity stunt on his part than anything reflective of reality.

Petrucelli's Kid said...

I can see your point on the Tubby arguement. However, the point that I tried to make is that while there was a bit of a drop off from a recruiting and talent stand point, I think that Tubby soured on the job and the fans soured on Tubby. I don't think Tubby was given as much respect as he deserved for what he did at Kentucky, and I don't think Kentucky fans were as accepting of the typical ebbs and flows that are going to happen with a program. I think what happened at Kentucky is similar to what you saw with Lloyd Carr at Michigan and Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee currently.

To address your second point, there will always be rumors about who was mentioned and who was included in job searches. Barnes probably wasn't heavily involved and wasn't heavily interested. I wasn't in the room, so I don't care to comment on the extent of either. What I will say, is Kentucky wasn't able to land their #1 choice, and the choice they did end up with in Gillespie, while a great hire and an up and comer in the coaching world, it wasn't that HUGE headline grabbing hire that you would expect, from perhaps a Roy Williams at North Carolina type hire.

Petrucelli's Kid said...

Oh, I realized I didn't address your comment about the fan base. I'm not dissing the fan base. I would put it up there with any fan base in the country.

What put Kentucky at #5 didn't have much to do with the fan base. However, Kentucky has a fan base with extremely high expectations, which is the case at many top programs. The situation with Tubby Smith was original and very unusual for a coach to bow out for a less pressured job.

Whether UK fans like it or not, it speaks to the pressure cooker that Lexington has become. When things are good, then the job will be great, but when things are not great, it could get ugly.