These coaches have earned their keep
Coach of the Year awards are odd things and mean different things to different people.
Does the Coach of the Year award go to the best coach? If so, guys like Bob Knight, Lute Olson, Mike Krzyzewski, Gary Williams, Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim would win those awards almost annually.
Does it go to the guy that has exceeded expectations and brought a bottom dweller into respectability? Does it go to the guy that has met high expectations and has put together a talented team and coached it well (which is no small feat)?
Like identifying NCAA Tournament-worthy teams, or recognizing quality players, I cannot define my Coaches of the Year, or put them in a neat little box. I just know a great coaching job when I see it.
Here are the coaches that I believe have done remarkable jobs this season:
ACC: This has been a league of outstanding coaches and really solid coaching jobs this season.
Mike Krzyzewski has done one of his best coaching jobs in bringing along his Duke team and molding it into a contender. The energy Krzyzewski has expended in coaching this team has been astonishing, and the result has been impressive.
Similarly, Roy Williams has taken a group of extraordinarily talented players, and has gotten them to play harder together than ever, and has injected more of a blue collar attitude into North Carolina than this group has shown.
Wake Forest's Skip Prosser has played a brutal schedule, with the weight of unreasonably high expectations upon him and his players, and has handled it beautifully. When Wake was whipped at Illinois, Prosser rolled up his sleeves and went back to work and used the setback to spring forward. No coach in the ACC has challenged his team more than Prosser, and he has gotten his team to respond.
While I would be justified in choosing any of those three as the ACC Coach of the Year, the most eye-popping coaching jobs have been done by the newcomers, Seth Greenberg of Virginia Tech and Frank Haith of Miami.
No reasonable basketball person thought that either team would come into the ACC and garner anything close to a .500 record or better. Greenberg and Haith have both made their teams believe, and they have gotten them to compete without fear.
Haith has great guards in Robert Hite, Guillermo Diaz and Anthony Harris, and the Hurricanes can really get the ball off the offensive glass. But, my ACC Coach of the Year award goes to Seth Greenberg.
Coming into the ACC from the Big East, where the Hokies were barely competitive for significant wins, and doing so without Bryant Matthews, was a daunting task for Virginia Tech. I saw Virginia Tech get better and better toward the end of the season and in the Big East Tournament last year, but the loss of Matthews seemed like a killer heading into a new and powerful league.
Greenberg would have none of that, and after losses to VMI, St. John's, Mississippi State, and a 34-point "Welcome to the ACC" tail-kicking from North Carolina, he would not allow his kids to settle for less. Virginia Tech showed some real onions at Duke, and Greenburg challenged the ACC powers without trepidation, winning games against Duke, NC State, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Miami.
Without a strong finish, Virginia Tech may not wind up with enough wins out of conference to make the NCAA Tournament, but they have shown enough determination and resilience to gain the respect of the league. Greenberg is the reason why.
ACC Coach of the Year: Seth Greenburg, Virginia Tech. Runner-Up: Frank Haith, Miami. High Honorable Mention: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke; Roy Williams, North Carolina; Skip Prosser, Wake Forest.
Atlantic 10: Brian Gregory of Dayton has done a nice job in his second year at the Flyer helm, which is usually a rough ride because of recruiting. Gregory is a rising star in the coaching business.
Phil Martelli of St. Joseph's put together a brutal schedule expecting Delonte West to be his best player, but West bolted to the NBA and Martelli still had to play that schedule. He has done an admirable job under difficult circumstances.
However, my Coach of the Year in the Atlantic 10 is George Washington's Karl Hobbs. GW is a very good team, and settled down after a season-opening loss at Wake Forest to beat Maryland and Michigan State and play well most nights in the Atlantic 10.
Hobbs has assembled talent, and has that talent playing hard. He is creating an atmosphere similar to the one he worked in at UConn, where his players aggressively compete and play to win. While the Atlantic 10 is not a great conference this year, it still has its coaching challenges, and Hobbs has done a terrific job at GW.
Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year: Karl Hobbs, George Washington. Runner-Up: Brian Gregory, Dayton. High Honorable Mention: Phil Martelli, St. Joseph's.
Big Ten: Dan Monson of Minnesota has been steady and unwavering in the face of great adversity at the U. Monson created none of that adversity, he just has to deal with it and with the short memories of those around him. If you will recall, I said here in November that Monson is a very good coach, and will have Minnesota competitive despite the restrictions his program has been under. Of course, it does not take a genius to see that Monson can coach.
Tom Izzo has been a coach of consistent excellence, so much so that it has become commonplace to see his teams among 20-game winners and contenders. Thad Matta has done a great job at Ohio State under difficult circumstances.
Despite other outstanding jobs, there is no question that Bruce Weber of Illinois is the Big Ten Coach of the Year. Weber has taken a talented and experienced group of players, and he has made them better. Illinois is a true "team," and that does not happen without real coaching and leadership.
Weber brought in a new style, worked with his players to embrace that style, and developed trust among the players and between the players and the coaching staff. Illinois is having an extraordinary and special year, in large measure because of the coaching job that Weber has done.
Big Ten Coach of the Year: Bruce Weber, Illinois. Runner-Up: Dan Monson, Minnesota. High Honorable Mention: Thad Matta, Ohio State; Tom Izzo, Michigan State.
Big East: Jim Calhoun of UConn has done a masterful job of reinventing his team and helping mold a young point guard into a fearless leader on the floor.
Jay Wright of Villanova has taken his team to the brink of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999 and has stuck with his players despite some struggles early in their careers.
John Thompson III has made Georgetown competitive again and has restored some real pride back into the program. Georgetown will now be a player in the Big East.
No coach, however, can rival the accomplishments of Al Skinner this season. Last year, Skinner had his team in a position to beat Georgia Tech in the NCAA Tournament, but let it slip late. This year, there has been no team that has displayed better mental toughness than BC.
Skinner continues to find and develop really good "players," instead of recruiting highly touted "prospects." This is not new. While Skinner now has Jared Dudley and Craig Smith, both of whom were under-recruited and overlooked, he has done this before at Rhode Island.
It was Skinner that brought in Tyson Wheeler, Cuttino Mobley, Antonio Reynolds-Dean, Luther Clay, and Preston Murphy ....the team that Jim Harrick inherited and took within one play of the Final Four. Skinner can coach, and is the Big East Coach of the Year.
Big East Coach of the Year: Al Skinner, Boston College. Runner-Up: Jim Calhoun, UConn. High Honorable Mention: John Thompson, III, Georgetown; Jay Wright, Villanova.
Big 12: There is no discussion this year as to which coach takes home the hardware.
Bob Knight of Texas Tech has shown conclusively why he is among the greatest coaches of our time in any sport. Knight has taken a team that many expected to struggle and has made it a contender for the Big 12 crown.
With good players, but not great talent, and after having lost a great scorer in Andre Emmett, Knight has put on clinics in motion offense and how to attack a zone. His teams have always been able to score, but this team has done it with a greater efficiency than most thought possible.
Texas Tech trails only Oklahoma State in scoring and shoots a very good percentage from the floor because Knight has taught his team how to play, rather than to run plays. Though not great defensively or on the glass, his team is fundamentally sound, and does not make mistakes that will beat themselves.
Knight has done one of the best coaching jobs in America, let alone the Big 12.
Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bob Knight, Texas Tech. Runner-Up: Billy Gillispie, Texas A&M. High Honorable Mention: Rick Barnes, Texas; Wayne Morgan, Iowa State.
Conference USA: Tom Penders of Houston has done a great job of managing a difficult situation, and has made the Cougars competitive in a very short period of time.
While he has great talent at his disposal, and struggled early, John Calipari of Memphis has done a nice turnaround job with the Tigers.
Dave Leitao of DePaul has done a solid job again this season, and Rick Pitino of Louisville and Bob Huggins of Cincinnati have done exemplary jobs as well.
However, my Coach of the Year in C-USA is Charlotte's Bobby Lutz. It amazes me that Lutz seems to toil in relative anonymity when he routinely takes his teams to the NCAA Tournament, and does so with too few resources at his disposal. Lutz is a master at changing defenses, keeping you off balance, and he allows his team a disarming freedom to make plays without fear of failure.
A fierce competitor, Lutz infuses his team with that attitude and fights like a man possessed on the sidelines. Lutz can coach with anyone in America and win.
Conference USA Coach of the Year: Bobby Lutz, Charlotte. Runner-Up: Tom Penders, Houston. High Honorable Mention: Rick Pitino, Louisville, Dave Leitao, DePaul.
SEC: While Tubby Smith of Kentucky has his team atop the standings yet again, despite youth and inexperience, this award comes down to a choice between Alabama's Mark Gottfried and Florida's Billy Donovan.
Gottfried has put together a terrific group of talented players that were young last year, while Donovan is dealing with youth this year. Both have done outstanding jobs. Because of the youth and inconsistency Donovan has battled, and the manner in which he has brought this team along, my Coach of the Year in the SEC is Billy Donovan.
His team is tougher than I thought it could be and plays harder together than I thought a young team would.
SEC Coach of the Year: Billy Donovan, Florida. Runner-Up: Mark Gottfried, Alabama. High Honorable Mention: Tubby Smith, Kentucky, Dave Odom, South Carolina.
Pac-10: Oregon State's Jay John has brought the Beaver program further than thought possible this year, and OSU has been very competitive.
Lorenzo Romar of Washington made a late run last year to make the NCAA Tournament, but this year has done it with a bullseye on his back.
But Lute Olson of Arizona has done another remarkable job, bringing an Arizona team along and making its talented parts play together heading toward March. Olson has, in his words, the best defensive team he has had in his 22 years in the desert and one of the three best shooters in America in Salim Stoudamire. The Hall of Famer's management of the temperamental Stoudamire has been key to Arizona's run.
Pac-10 Coach of the Year: Lute Olson, Arizona. Runner-Up: Lorenzo Romar, Washington and Jay John, Oregon State.
|Mountain West||Ray Giacoletti, Utah||The Ute program had Andrew Bogut when Giacoletti arrived, but Utah clearly needed some attention and toughness. Giacoletti has brought that. This guy is a top flight coach, and he does things the right way. Except for the red suit.|
|West Coast||Randy Bennett, St. Mary's||Mark Few of Gonzaga has had a stranglehold on this award, and rightfully so, because every time the Zags get clipped, it's a "storm the court" event. Bennett has done a great job to bring this program back and has an outstanding team that plays the right way. Bennett can coach anywhere.|
|Big West||Bob Thomason, Pacific||The Tigers are very skilled and speak a variety of languages. If you watch Pacific play, and I have, you will see a well-drilled team that works hard together. That just doesn't happen. Thomason makes it happen. Win or lose in the Tournament, this team is NCAA worthy.|
|WAC||Mark Fox, Nevada||Despite injuries and the loss of a player expected to carry a load, Fox has guided Nevada to a terrific season. In his first year, he has built trust among his players and has continued a level of accountability that some thought would leave with Kirk Snyder, Todd Okeson and Garry Hill-Thomas. Fox has brought Nick Fazekas along and has made him into an elite college player.|
|America East||Tom Brennan, Vermont||In his last year, Brennan has brought the state of Vermont a special team and a special year. Notwithstanding the Committee's charge to take the 34 best teams, Vermont has accomplished a lot in entering the discussion. Taylor Coppenrath is among the best and toughest players in the country, and T.J. Sorrentine is a winner. Brennan couldn't have picked a better group to carry him out, or to carry him into the NCAA Tournament.|
|MAAC||Joe Mihalec, Niagara||Despite losing solid players from last season, Mihalec has his team in a position to garner an NCAA bid. He deserves it. Mihalec is a really good coach, and he has done a remarkable job at Niagara. Plus, Juan Mendez can play anywhere.|
|Southern||Bob McKillop, Davidson||McKillop has been among the finest coaches in the country for some time now, but seems to work under the radar because he is at a small school and is not a self-promoter. McKillop can coach, and has guided Davidson to a great run in the SoCon. The Wildcats need to win the Tournament to get a bid, but no upset could erase a great year and a great coaching job by McKillop.|
|The Salukis have tough kids who know how to play and play with passion. That makes a coach look good. Lowery looks good because he understands how to let kids play and still give them guidance. He has a good team that will beat someone in the NCAA Tournament.|
|Patriot League||Ralph Willard, Holy Cross||It amazes me that Willard has not been grabbed up by some major school. He is the real deal and knows how to coach. Again he has put Holy Cross in a position to win the automatic bid for the Patrioit League. He is just so solid.|
|Ivy League||Fran Dunphy, Penn||Like Willard, it is simply mind-boggling that someone doesn't swoop in and steal Dunphy away from the Ivy League. Another great job in a league full of adversity and challenge.|
|Ohio Valley||Mike Sutton, Tennessee Tech||Sutton, a former assistant to Tubby Smith at Kentucky, has done a nice job of teaching his players how to win in a tough league. Tennessee Tech has a good chance to take the Ohio Valley crown.|
|Horizon||Tod Kowalczyk, Wisconsin-GB||While Bruce Pearl of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has done a great job, Kowalczyk has built the Green Bay program into a challenger to Pearl's program. Wisconsin-Milwaukee may win the bid, but Wisconsin-Green Bay has had a very good season as a challenger.|
|Mid-Continent||Scott Sutton, Oral Roberts||The son of Eddie Sutton has learned well at his father's feet. Behind Caleb Green and Ken Tutt, Sutton has a team that can play with the big boys -- and win.|
Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to Insider.