Missouri, Marquette, Houston top list of best jobs to come open this offseason
As of Monday afternoon, five head coaching jobs in Division I remain open. Filling the two best available gigs – Missouri and Tennessee – might have a ripple effect that creates more vacancies elsewhere.
But before that happens, here's a ranking of the best jobs that have come open this offseason – whether they've been filled or not. You can decide how lucky your new coach – or eventual coach-to-be – really is.
Men's basketball expenses at Mizzou totaled just $6.35 million in 2012-13, according to U.S. Department of Education figures. The SEC teams the Tigers are chasing, Kentucky and Florida, spent $13.6 million and $8.2 million, by comparison. Even if football drives everything, there is enough of a basketball history and culture that the program is more than an afterthought. If whomever the Tigers hire builds intelligently off a recruiting base that can touch Illinois, Texas and the southeast, Missouri can win a winnable SEC.
The caveats here: It's a job in a conference without football, which makes the long term forecast a bit more tenuous. And there's no permanent athletic director on hand at the moment. But Steve Wojciechowski left Duke for a program that spent more money on hoops ($10.7 million) in 2012-13 than Indiana or North Carolina. The resources and facilities are unquestioned. And the Big East is a winnable league every year.
Things got much more difficult for Kelvin Sampson when the program's two best players – TaShawn Thomas and Daniel House – decided to transfer. That certainly makes the job less valuable in the very short range. Still, the home-state recruiting base is teeming with talent, making a reload fairly feasible for a coach with something to prove. The facilities upgrades are on the way. The American Athletic Conference will be a bit hostile with Connecticut, SMU, Cincinnati and Memphis, but it's not terrifying, either.
It's a what-you-make-of-it job. The Pac-12 will be a terrific challenge for Cuonzo Martin in the immediate future; nearly every team should be dangerous next season and the coaching is top-shelf almost throughout. But every conference has heavyweights. The Pac-12 only has two (Arizona and UCLA) to deal with. The nearby Oakland Soldiers AAU program can offer a convenient pipeline to talent, and there's more talent in Southern California than any one school can take.
The Volunteers get demerits for unrest in the athletic department, as this will be the sixth new hire for athletics director, football coach or men's basketball coach since 2008. And also for a fan base that tried to run Cuonzo Martin out of town via a petition, just before he took his team to the Sweet 16 last month. And for just $4.8 million in men's basketball expenses in 2012-13, which means a state school with almost 20,000 undergrads spent significantly less than DePaul ($6.3 million). But getting to the NCAA tournament regularly shouldn't be a chore and, again, the SEC is a two-horse league at the moment.
6. Wake Forest
The expectations should be relative. It's not whether new coach Danny Manning has the tools in order to win an NCAA championship. Or maybe even an ACC title in a ridiculously top-heavy league that will include Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina and Louisville. (The Demon Deacons haven't won the league tournament since 1996.) Even in a basketball-mad region, the job may have inherent limitations. But in the 15 seasons from 1991-2005, Wake Forest made 12 NCAA tournaments. Consistent .500 or better league finishes, and therefore postseason bids, should be attainable.
Since 1996, the Hokies have made exactly one NCAA tournament. There is basically no culture for basketball and no track record that the program can achieve success regularly. The refurbished ACC makes that chore even more difficult. On the other hand, the new athletic director (Whit Babcock) comes from Cincinnati and therefore knows basketball success, and the new coach is Buzz Williams, who should have unflinching support and free rein to build the kind of solid teams he had at Marquette. Recruiting the D.C./Baltimore corridor is feasible. Williams will make the job, not the other way around.
The upward trajectory really is limited to the 2014 invite to the NCAA tournament, which was the first for the program since 2003. Living off history as a launching pad for the likes of Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith and Bill Self en route to better gigs is no way to live at all. But at least there's history. The program should be able to mine the leftovers of Texas recruiting, if not compete for players with second- or third-tier Big 12 and SEC schools. The move to the American Athletic Conference means a slightly higher profile, though new coach Frank Haith probably needs to finish in the top third of that conference every year to guarantee NCAA tournament berths.
It seems like madness to suggest an ACC program with history somehow pales in comparison to Tulsa. But Boston College spends only a little more on basketball ($4.5 million) in 2012-13 than did Tulsa ($3.9 million), and the gap might close. Success can be had in Chestnut Hill. But, as mentioned, the ACC is preposterously tough. The team just down the road, Connecticut, just won another national title to look like a much more viable option for nearby talent. Right now, it looks like new coach Jim Christian will scrape just to finish .500 in the league, and that's a rough spot to be in.
The job isn't good just because Bruce Pearl took it. It might eventually get there thanks to the former Tennessee coach, but as Pearl himself reiterated to SI.com's Stewart Mandel recently, not even he considers it a top 5 job in the SEC. Both Pearl's energy and the campus' proximity to the Atlanta area should provide conduits to talent. But the program never, ever will be a primary consideration for anyone. Not as long as the school fields a football team, anyway. That may be true of any SEC program save the ones in Lexington and Gainesville, but Pearl started at a place that hasn't seen the NCAA tournament since 2003. He's working with much less than nearly any other coach taking over a program this spring. Just outside the top 10: South Florida, Ohio, Washington State, UNC-Wilmington