Commentary

Indiana makes top hire in tame coaching carousel

Originally Published: April 17, 2008
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

If Bill Self had gone from Kansas to Oklahoma State, the dominoes could have rivaled the Roy Williams-to-North Carolina fallout from 2003.

[+] EnlargeTom Crean
AP Photo/Darron CummingsTom Crean was a perfect fit for the rebuilding job needed at Indiana.

But he didn't. And, unless there is a major job that becomes open again (i.e., someone splitting for the NBA in the spring), the coaching carousel will be rather tame compared to previous years.

The gem, without question so far, was Indiana. The chaotic state of the Hoosier Nation was calmed down by the coup-like hiring of Tom Crean of Marquette after Washington State's Tony Bennett said no thanks. But there was no domino off of Crean as his assistant Buzz Williams was promoted.

Through Wednesday's announcement of UMass' Travis Ford taking over at Oklahoma State, the job search was rather vanilla.

What did occur for the most part was this: A number of coaches realized they were comfortable in their current gigs and didn't need to chase the money. Bennett is atop that list. So, too, are Davidson's Bob McKillop and George Mason's Jim Larranaga. Both were offered higher-paying jobs but decided to stay put because of their recent success and their desire to stay within their current comfort zone.

Drake's Keno Davis could have done the same but chose to chase the money and the big-time conference dream after a one-year run, heading off to Providence.

It's still unclear if VCU's Anthony Grant was ever seriously offered the LSU or South Carolina jobs. But he never made it seem as if he wanted to be involved in any of the searches. Once again, that's another example of a coach who is pleased to be where he is currently employed rather than just chasing the next big gig.

The bottom line is that tournament access is the No. 1 priority for coaches, and in the case of McKillop, Grant and Larranaga, they'll have more of a shot to get into the Dance out of the Southern Conference and the CAA than they would going to a lower-level, albeit higher-paying, Big East or SEC job.

So, how did some of the more notable openings go?

Arkansas State
Getting John Brady was a coup for the Sun Belt program. Brady knows the South well. He didn't go there with a big-time ego, either. He wanted a job. He wanted to coach. And he didn't care where he landed. ASU came out ahead with this one.

California
The Bears hit a home run. It's not often that a school announces the hiring of a coach more than 60 years old, but no coach knows the Bay Area better than Mike Montgomery. Monty can share his wealth of Pac-10 knowledge as well as his recent NBA experience, even if he didn't win enough, with the players. The Bears should be an NCAA team next season. They were close this past season. The Bears made a play for Pitt's Jamie Dixon but then Monty swooped in late.

Detroit
Hiring Ray McCallum was a great save after Perry Watson had to retire. The most interesting thing is if McCallum gets his son, Ray Jr., in two years. He's considered one of the better prospects in the area. McCallum landed on his feet quite nicely after not being named interim coach at Indiana.

Indiana
Bennett was first. Crean was second. You can't go wrong at all with that as a 1-2. Crean is the perfect hire for this rebuilding job that needs a CEO.



LSU
As soon as the school hired Duke athletic director Joe Alleva, this had the look of a different search. Landing Trent Johnson from Stanford is a great get for this school. It changes the perception immediately since Johnson was used to recruiting high-end academic players. Of course, that won't be the only way to go at LSU with a much wider net available. But Johnson is clearly a quality coach with multiple Sweet 16 appearances at Nevada and Stanford.

Loyola Marymount
Hiring Billy Bayno could be considered a gamble since he's on the rebound from coaching at UNLV and then a stint in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers. But Bayno did get to the NCAA tournament with the Runnin' Rebels. He can get players. Expect LMU to be much more of a player in the WCC.

Marquette
Hiring Buzz Williams was a gamble. These kind of moves to bump up the assistant to keep everyone in the program and the incoming recruits happy can either work -- like Jamie Dixon of Pitt or Frank Martin this past season at Kansas State -- or they can implode -- like Jerry DeGregorio at Rhode Island.

Oklahoma State
Travis Ford might have been the third or fourth choice. But if he has the Cowboys playing at a frenetic pace, it should be a welcome change for the traditionally stodgy, defensive-minded program. Ford has been to only one NCAA tournament -- at Eastern Kentucky. He could never win those critical, late regular-season games the past two seasons to push UMass to the NCAAs.

Oregon State
Obviously hiring Craig Robinson from Brown was a gamble. Robinson was at Northwestern but really hasn't consistently recruited at this level. But seriously, no one wanted this job, so OSU had to take a risk. The Beavers were turned down by a number of coaches along the West Coast. Robinson is an impressive person and won at Brown. Give him a shot in Corvallis. All he has to do is win one game next season and he's done better than this past season.

Pepperdine
Tom Asbury was clearly a band-aid move to make sure the Waves stayed afloat before a pending transitional period. Asbury is on his second wind with the Waves after coming out of retirement.

Providence
Getting Drake's Keno Davis, the national coach of the year, after being turned down by three coaches saves face for PC athletic director Bob Driscoll. Davis has the right team next season to launch his 3-point offense. The key will be whether or not Davis can recruit well enough to keep the Friars afloat in 2009-10.

Rice
Nabbing Ben Braun on the rebound from Cal lends instant credibility to the Owls. Willis Wilson was one of those great guys who just couldn't get over the hump and take the Owls to the NCAAs. Braun has a winning record and has rebuilt Eastern Michigan and Cal. He should do the same at Rice.

San Francisco
The Dons did pull out solid name recognition with the hiring of Rex Walters. He'll have plenty of contacts. He works his tail off and he'll help strengthen what is already becoming a much more balanced league.

South Carolina
Darrin Horn got this gig after the hot run by Western Kentucky to the Sweet 16. The question is will Horn be like Bruce Pearl, taking a lower-profile team to a Sweet 16 and making a smooth transition? Or will he be more like Dan Monson, who struggled during the rebuilding phase at Minnesota after being in the Sweet 16 at his previous stop when Gonzaga was still considered to be Cinderella?

TCU
The hiring of Jim Christian from Kent State seemed to be a bit of a reach since it was out of market for him. But TCU is really a fish-out-of-water school in the Mountain West. This will be a given: Christian's teams work hard, and he'll be competitive. We'll see if anyone outside of Billy Tubbs can make the Horned Frogs relevant.

Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers couldn't go wrong with tabbing a former assistant coach in Texas' Ken McDonald. He has been a winner at each step of his apprenticeship. This was the right way to go for this kind of a stepping-stone program.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE