Bruce Pearl, Steve Wojciechowski among best hires of college basketball offseason
Assessing a new coaching hire is similar to grading the recruiting classes these men will bring in: It typically takes years to get an accurate measure of the good, the bad and the ugly.
But first impressions count. Here's a look at the more high-profile coaching hires of the college basketball offseason, in alphabetical order by school, and a rating of each according to the very scientific system of zero-to-three Pete Bells – the fictional coach portrayed by Nick Nolte in the 1994 classic Blue Chips – with three Pete Bells being the highest achievable score.
Auburn: Bruce Pearl
When a school does as well as it can hope to do in its search for a coach, that search is a success. So it is at Auburn, which is desperate enough for Pearl's energy, acumen and brand name that it can hope his NCAA transgression days are behind him. Pearl should be able to parlay his TV profile and track record (.704 winning percentage at Tennessee, six NCAA tournament berths including one Elite Eight trip) into recruiting advantages, and it's not like climbing into the upper echelon of the SEC should be all that tough.
Boston College: Jim Christian
Christian played at Rhode Island and Boston University, but a three-year stint as a Pittsburgh assistant in the late 1990s counts as his only East Coast experience in his quarter-century of coaching. For one of the toughest jobs in an increasingly daunting ACC, Boston College hired a coach who hasn't led a team to the NCAA tournament since 2008 and is just two seasons removed from fleeing TCU. At this moment, it's tough to see the hire creating enough juice to get the program humming.
Bowling Green: Chris Jans
If you're going to build a mid-major program into a monster, hire a guy who has lived that process step-by-step. As a right-hand man to Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, Jans became intimately familiar with what it took to turn the Shockers into a Final Four-caliber outfit. With Bowling Green benefactor Bill Frack adding $20 million to the basketball coffers over time, Jans should have the resources to push for the program's first NCAA berth since 1968.
California: Cuonzo Martin
Martin has one NCAA tournament appearance and zero connections to the West Coast, and now he plunges into a Pac-12 that has tremendous talent on the court and on the sidelines. There's something tenuous about a school finding a coach only because he was desperate to leave his previous job, especially when that coach's track record isn't overwhelming. Martin can find success if he works fast to build recruiting connections locally and in Southern California, but the emphasis is on fast.
Houston: Kelvin Sampson
Neither the battle for a league title nor for the coveted in-state talent were getting any easier, and prying Sampson out of the NBA – where he'd been mentioned as a head coaching candidate – was a coup. As with Pearl, the potential benefits outweighed the worries about past NCAA rules indiscretions. Sampson is starting farther behind than he expected after the team's top two scorers from 2013-14, TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House, transferred away. But Houston hardly could have done better in its search.
Marquette: Steve Wojciechowski
A smart play by both the school and the coach it hired. There's enough infrastructure at Marquette – according to the latest U.S. Department of Education figures, it spent more on basketball in 2012-13 than North Carolina – to afford a first-time head coach room for error. Likewise, Wojciechowski picked a spot in which his Duke pedigree and experience translates well. It was better for Marquette to take a calculated risk on Wojciechowski, authentically energized for his first job, than hand it to a candidate like Cuonzo Martin, who met with decision-makers but only was looking for the next place to land.
Missouri: Kim Anderson
Fair enough, to take a chance on a former player and assistant with the idea that he may be the next Bo Ryan. Anderson is fresh off winning nearly 75 percent of his games at Central Missouri and took home a a Division II national championship this spring. The background with the school won't count for much, though, if the wins don't follow. Retaining associate head coach Tim Fuller was a solid first step. Restocking a roster hit by the early NBA departures of Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson is the next one.
Oregon State: Wayne Tinkle
Tinkle, Montana's head coach until Oregon State made his hire official on Monday night, makes some sense for the Beavers: He has head coaching experience and is a fairly local candidate. Tinkle is no high-stakes risk. He isn't an unproven assistant or a fledgling head coach from the other side of the country, like Oregon State's previous two hires. But he's also just another Big Sky coach taking on one of the most difficult jobs on the West Coast. It was just another hire, really, offering little to complain about or celebrate for now.
South Florida: Orlando Antigua
The program has made one NCAA tournament since 1992 and posted losing records in three of the last four years under the departed Stan Heath. It's a classic leap-of-faith hire: A 41-year-old first-time head coach with energy and an apprenticeship at Kentucky under John Calipari to boot. Antigua will have local talent to pursue; there were five top 35 prospects from Florida in the Class of 2014, per Rivals.com. How will he be as a bench coach? Who knows. That's the leap-of-faith part.
Tennessee: Donnie Tyndall
Tennessee spent less on basketball in 2012-13 than DePaul did, according to Department of Education figures (just $4.8 million compared to $6.3 million for DePaul.) That's not the commitment befitting a top job in the SEC, let alone the country. But Tyndall has the personality and the ties to the Southeast to overcome that, and he can coach, coming off 27- and 29-win seasons at Southern Miss. His rapid work luring recruits and transfers should be an auspicious sign that he can roll up his sleeves and get work done when needed.
Tulsa: Frank Haith
First Haith ran fast from Miami, where he encountered some pretty significant NCAA troubles, and then he ran fast from Missouri, where he was losing his top players and the heat was soon to follow after two NCAA first-round losses and an NIT bid in his three seasons. There's not a lot to suggest he's a terrific coach, but at least Tulsa can point to his career .614 winning percentage at two big-conference schools and ask how much better it could have done. This is another tenuous dynamic of a coach landing somewhere just because he wanted to leave somewhere else, but that doesn't prevent success.
Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams
New athletic director Whit Babcock evidently wanted to win, and in a hurry. Williams is a winner – Marquette won 67 percent of its games and went to five NCAA tournaments on his watch – but his folksy, self-effacing demeanor belies a cutthroat approach. He flipped two of his top commitments at Marquette, guard Ahmed Hill and forward Satchel Pierce, to the Hokies posthaste. Ultimately, Williams got the escape from Milwaukee he coveted, and Virginia Tech got the big-name coach it needed for ACC relevancy.
Wake Forest: Danny Manning
It's certainly in the running for Most Difficult Job In The ACC honors, and now that job is in the hands of a guy with two whole seasons of head coaching experience and 38 career wins. So there's a lot of uncertainty on both sides of the Wake Forest-Manning marriage. Still, the Demon Deacons have a fair amount of recent success – seven NCAA tournament appearances between 2001 and 2010 – and Manning has a name to trade on.
Washington State: Ernie Kent
Kent won 235 games from 1997-2010 at Oregon and made five NCAA tournament berths. He hadn't coached since he parted ways with the school, and he'll be 60 years old next January. Basically, Kent was dredged off the scrap heap by his friend, Bill Moos, who was the athletic director during Kent's time at Oregon and now holds the same position at Washington State. On the one hand, it's a pure retread hire lacking any imagination. On the other hand, it's Washington State, and the last veteran guy the school hired, Dick Bennett, started a revitalization that produced two NCAA tournament bids under his son, Tony.