Commentary

Catching up on the coaching carousel

Originally Published: April 8, 2009
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Athletic directors aren't hesitating to look outside the region to make a hire. Partially influenced by coaching search firms and also by the effort to do something unpredictable, their choices led the coaching carousel to take some sharp, dramatic turns in the past three weeks.

Here's a look at some of the most significant hires to date with only one major opening left at this point in Xavier:

Alabama

Out: Mark Gottfried

In: VCU's Anthony Grant

The move: Grant made sense. He coached in the SEC at Florida and was instrumental in recruiting the '04s, the players who were at the core of winning the 2006 and '07 national titles.

First 100 days: Grant will learn quickly the lay of the land in recruiting in the Deep South. Florida was a national recruiting destination. The Tide deal mostly in the region. To quote a head coach in the area, "It's different in the Deep South, it just is."

Must-do list: Grant has to ensure that rising sophomore forward JaMychal Green is content. Green isn't ready for the NBA. But you can't ever guarantee a player won't transfer or be unhappy with a coaching change. If Green stays, the Tide should be a contender in the SEC West.

Arizona

Out: Russ Pennell

In: Xavier's Sean Miller

The move: Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood was in a must-get mode. He raised the price tag to get Miller. He had to. He couldn't afford to let another big name slip away. And here's something that Livengood didn't say at the news conference Tuesday. He made it clear that the only other candidate contacted by him was USC's Tim Floyd. What he didn't say is how the intermediaries, and in this case it was Nike's Martin Newton at times, made inquiries on behalf of Arizona. Gonzaga's Mark Few was contacted. John Calipari of Memphis/Kentucky was contacted. Pitt's Jamie Dixon was checked on to see his interest. Miller has proved to be an outstanding coach. Now that the process is over, Arizona will be fine long term. But he wasn't the first choice. Miller will have to deal with losing, something he hasn't had to do in his career. That will be an adjustment for someone as competitive as Miller. Recruiting will also be an adjustment. This is a whole new arena for Miller with the West Coast being Arizona's most fertile recruiting ground. He's also rebuilding an elite program from scratch.

First 100 days: Arizona needs players. The Wildcats might be down to three of their top six scorers and not much of a bench. Finding enough players to play five-on-five in practice could be an issue. Coaching changes could lead to some players at other programs being available. But Miller will have to balance the short-term fix against players who work in the program long term.

Must-do list: Contact Indiana's Tom Crean to get his blueprint for how to rebuild, restructure and reinvent an elite program.

Georgia

Out: Dennis Felton/Pete Herrmann

In: Nevada's Mark Fox

The move: This was a classic search firm hire: looking for someone who is out of the box. Fox has done a marvelous job of keeping Nevada as one of the top teams in the WAC. He picked up where Trent Johnson left off and ensured the Wolf Pack remained elite in the conference.

First 100 days: This will be a familiar refrain at Alabama, Georgia, Arizona and Virginia, where the new coach will have to get a grasp of a completely new recruiting area. The Atlanta area is a fertile recruiting ground and Fox will have to build relationships rather quickly. The problem is Atlanta is so good that plenty of other schools come into the state to grab the top talent and the Bulldogs' rival across the way at Georgia Tech has already established strong ties in the Atlanta market.

Must-do list: Rising sophomore forward Howard Thompkins has to stay. He averaged a dozen points a game and in the upset at Kentucky, Thompkins scored 19 points and grabbed 11 boards.

Kentucky

Out: Billy Gillispie

In: Memphis' John Calipari

The move: Home run hire. Getting Calipari worked out perfectly for Kentucky. The Wildcats had to toss out nearly $32 million to get him but it might prove to be worth every cent if he can deliver championship-level teams for this title-starved Kentucky Nation.

First 100 days: Calipari is already making moves in locking up former Memphis (and one-time UAB) commit DeMarcus Cousins to go to Kentucky. The Wildcats will likely work on others out there, possibly Xavier Henry, a Memphis signee. Calipari did some of his best recruiting work last year in securing one-time Nebraska signee Roburt Sallie late in the recruiting calendar. Sallie ended up winning the first-round NCAA game against Cal State-Northridge with a school-record 35 points.

Must-do list: Calipari won't stop Jodie Meeks or Patrick Patterson from declaring or leaving for the NBA. But a return to the NCAA tournament next season after a one-year hiatus might hinge on whether Meeks and/or Patterson return.

Memphis

Out: John Calipari

In: Memphis assistant Josh Pastner

The move: Stunning. If Houston coach Tom Penders ever retired, then Pastner would have been a perfect choice for the Cougars because of his ties to his hometown and recruiting within the state. At least one former Calipari assistant said that following Calipari is one of the toughest things to do in the sport. The reason is that Calipari essentially runs the athletic department and once he leaves there is a sea change in the administration where members of the staff will look to resume power. Pastner is a good foot soldier and will do what he's told. He is an eternal optimist and is extremely well-liked. But following Calipari is almost impossible.

First 100 days: Pastner can recruit. That's not the question. The issue will be how he handles coaching in an intense situation. So the onus is on him to hire an experienced staff. He must get an older, wiser bench coach to help him during key situations. He'll also have to be diligent on scheduling. Calipari was relentless in pursuing big-time nonconference games. Pastner will have to do the same.

Must-do list: Pastner won't be expected to keep the recruits. The key will be to ensure that the returning players don't bolt. Memphis still could be a top-25 team if no one outside of Tyreke Evans leaves (likely for the NBA). Pastner has to ensure that the returnees want to play for him and don't look to sit out somewhere else.

Virginia

Out: Dave Leitao

In: Washington State's Tony Bennett

The move: Bennett is one of the top young coaches in the game. He was the national coach of the year two years ago after following his father, Dick, to lead the Cougars out of the abyss. But this was completely out of left field. Bennett wasn't a name on the radar until hours before the story broke. He did play in Charlotte for the old Hornets, but it's still a different recruiting world.

First 100 days: Bennett has to quickly build relationships in the region. It might be too late to land 2011 Virginia native James McAdoo, but the Cavaliers must try. North Carolina and Duke have done a great job of raiding the state for years. Bennett must make attempts to keep some of the top players in state.

Must-do list: Bennett said he felt good that Sylven Landesberg would return for his sophomore season. He must for the Cavs to have a smooth transition to Bennett, who needs a player like Landesberg to ensure UVa continues to move upward next season.

VCU

Out: Anthony Grant

In: Florida assistant Shaka Smart

The move: This shows the power of Florida coach Billy Donovan. He can essentially get anyone a job. Smart is the first VCU hire in awhile who didn't come with much star power. Grant was a big name in the game with his work at Florida. Jeff Capel had a recognizable name from his time at Duke. Smart comes in as a relative unknown.

First 100 days: Smart will have to prove he can run a program. He wasn't the top assistant at Florida and hasn't been in that type of position. There are a lot of key decisions forthcoming for a program that expects Colonial Athletic Association titles. VCU is also savvy to playing the scheduling game quite well.

Must-do list: Smart has to make sure forward Larry Sanders stays. If he doesn't declare for the NBA draft, Sanders has the potential to be a star. The Rams lose senior guard Eric Maynor, but they would have an anchor in Sanders if he stays.

Washington State

Out: Tony Bennett

In: Portland State's Ken Bone

The move: Bone made sense. He's a Northwest guy who wanted to be at Washington State. He led Portland State to two consecutive Big Sky tournament titles and has NCAA tournament experience. The Cougars needed to ensure that they found someone who wanted to be in Pullman. Trying to convince other coaches to interview and see if they'd want to go to Washington State never worked.

First 100 days: Bone might need to tweak his system with the current Cougs and can get that done through workouts over the next month. He won't have to change his recruiting style or contacts since he's from the area.

Must-do list: Keep Klay Thompson. Thompson was one of the top freshmen in the country. He's not NBA-ready, but Bone has to make sure that Thompson doesn't leave and sit out somewhere else. The Cougs can't afford to take a major step back and they might if Thompson were to bolt on Bone.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com