• The NCAA tournament stage can cash a mid-major coach's big payday. Plus, a check-in on the Power 5 openings.
By Pete Thamel
March 13, 2017

Prior to the start of the 2013 NCAA tournament, only hardcore basketball fans had heard of Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield. And those who did likely knew him as the coach who married a super model.

After back-to-back swashbuckling upsets of No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State in the opening weekend of that NCAA tournament, Enfield found himself coaching at Southern California. Not bad for a guy who didn’t even win the Atlantic Sun regular season title that year.

No time on the calendar can change a college basketball coach’s job paradigm quicker than March. Brad Stevens isn’t coaching the Celtics today without Butler’s NCAA success in 2010 and 2011. In recent years, coaches like UAB’s Jerod Haase (Stanford), Ohio’s John Groce (Illinois) and Murray State’s Billy Kennedy (Texas A&M) all furthered their careers after pulling stunning first round upsets.

As we continue to monitor the entire coaching carousel—see below for updates on the major jobs—we’ll start by identifying a few lower-profile coaches who could follow the Enfield model and parlay a sun-kissed tournament run into a bigger job.

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Kevin Keatts, UNC Wilmington
Record: 72-27 in three seasons

Keatts, 44, has won a share of the Colonial Athletic Association title in all three of his seasons and has the Seahawks in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. UNCW led Duke at halftime of their first-round NCAA game last season and the No. 12 Seahawks have emerged as the trendy upset pick over No. 5 Virginia in the first round this year. It would be surprising if Keatts doesn’t have a high-profile job next season, as he’s the hottest of the mid-major coaches.

Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee
Record at MTSU: 306-179 in 15 seasons

It will almost be an upset if people don’t pick Middle Tennessee to beat Minnesota in the first round, especially after Middle throttled Michigan State in the first round last season. Davis, 57, isn’t exactly a young gun. He was the head coach at Idaho all the way back in 1988. But another NCAA win could land him at a place like LSU if they whiff on high-profile candidates.

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Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State
Record at ETSU: 51-19 in two seasons

Forbes, 51, is a tireless recruiter who built his reputation on finds like luring Paul Millsap to Louisiana Tech when he was an assistant there. He also went 61-6 as a junior college coach at Northwest Florida State, a job he took in part because of a one-year NCAA show-cause penalty that could scare off some schools. No. 13 East Tennessee is talented enough to upset No. 4 Florida, which would make Forbes a hot name.

John Becker, Vermont
Record at Vermont: 139-68 in six seasons

Becker, 48, has won 20 games in each of his six seasons in Burlington. None has been as impressive as this one, as the No. 13 Catamounts (29-5) bring the country’s longest win streak (21). That includes an undefeated run through the America East this season, as Vermont’s last loss came at Butler on Dec. 21. This is Becker’s second NCAA appearance, and a victory over No. 4 Purdue would only enhance his marketability.

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Pat Kelsey, Winthrop
Record at Winthrop: 102-58

Kelsey, 41, may be best known for his heartfelt and impassioned speech prodding political leaders to step up in the wake of the Newtown shootings in 2012. This is the first trip for Kelsey to the NCAA tournament as a head coach, and the No. 13 Eagles drew a tough match-up with No. 4 Butler. Kelsey’s no-nonsense style and ties to the late Skip Prosser could be attractive to the right athletic director.

Eric Musselman, Nevada
Record at Nevada: 52-20

Musselman, 52, is a two-time NBA head coach, so he’s not exactly an unfamiliar name. He’s quickly turned Nevada into a power, including a Mountain West title this year and a 28-6 record. He’s a former LSU assistant, which has fueled speculation that he could end up there if the Tigers whiff on their high-profile targets. There’s a dearth of West Coast jobs this year, but that could change if Cal’s Cuonzo Martin leaves Berkeley.

Mitch Henderson, Princeton
Record at Princeton: 119-59

Henderson, 41, is making his NCAA tournament debut as a head coach. Princeton won the first-ever Ivy League Tournament after dominating the Ivy League with a 14-0 regular-season record. None of the jobs open so far in this cycle would appear to fit Henderson, as a place like LSU or N.C. State isn’t exactly going to poach the Princeton coach. But if Henderson’s scrappy crew can create some backdoor magic—he’s the focus of the iconic image of Princeton’s UCLA upset in 1996—it could open doors for him in the future. No. 5 Notre Dame is a tough match-up for Princeton, as the Irish deserved a higher seed.

Quick Coaching Carousel Updates

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

What jobs are still expected to open?

There’d been plenty of speculation about the jobs at Clemson and Georgia both opening this year. Georgia essentially announced the return of Mark Fox in a statement. The overwhelming feeling from Clemson is that the Tigers aren’t going to make a change from Brad Brownell. Clemson won three of its final four games and the administration there feels strongly about allowing Brownell to recruit to the recent facility upgrades. Duquesne is still expected to open this week.

What will Tom Crean do?

This is still the most intriguing question on the landscape. If Crean decides to move semi-laterally, the most logical landing spot would be Missouri. (The Tigers covet an established brand-name head coach and there’s enough history and infrastructure to win there). There’s no singular job that dictates the coaching market right now. That’s something that would change if Crean decided to leave Indiana. Crean has won two outright Big Ten titles in the past five seasons, which should be good enough to be beloved. But there’s always been a strange dynamic between Crean and Indiana, as good enough is never quiet good enough. Ultimately, if he left, it would be for a place where he’s truly wanted and appreciated by the fan base and administration. We’ll find out more after Indiana’s NIT run, which begins at Georgia Tech on Tuesday.

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Any updates at the open jobs?

South Florida: The usual names are lingering around this job, including Brian Gregory, Kevin Willard, Anthony Grant and Mark Gottfried. One intriguing name that’s popped up recently is Akron coach Keith Dambrot, one of the country’s most underrated coaches. Dambrot is 324-172 in 15 seasons as a head coach, all of which have been in the MAC. That would be a savvy hire by Mark Harlan.

Illinois: The buzz name here is still Martin, the Cal coach who has long been speculated as likely to move in this market. (Missouri could also hold strong interest.) If it’s not Martin, there’s a giant aura of mystery around who could be the next Illini coach. Scott Drew is another name that could emerge here. Yahoo Sports reported that former NBA coach Monty Williams turned down interest, a sign that the Illini are aiming high.

LSU: There will be big names attached to this job as well. Hard to believe the Buzz Williams noise, as he can likely wait out a true blue blood now that he’s brought Virginia Tech to the NCAA tournament. Don’t be surprised if they attempt to empty the bank for a run at Scott Drew or Gregg Marshall. If those fail, Davis from MTSU or Forbes could end up being a fit.

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NC State: Don’t expect the Wolfpack to end up with a Power 5 coach, as the expectation is that they may end up with one of the potential NCAA tournament risers from the list above. Athletic director Debbie Yow is viewed as a deterrent for high-profile names like Dayton’s Archie Miller or Marshall. This search has been fairly quiet so far. VCU’s Will Wade, Butler’s Chris Holtmann or Keatts making the most sense.

UMass: Vermont’s Becker, Towson’s Pat Skerry and Monmouth’s King Rice are the most logical head coaching options for this spot. Miami assistant Chris Caputo and Boston Celtics assistant Micah Shrewsberry (formerly of Butler and Purdue) are also expected to draw interest. A name that could also gain some traction is St. Bonaventure’s Mark Schmidt, as he has family roots in the state from attending Bishop Feehan High School and Boston College. Florida Gulf Coast’s Joe Dooley is a proven winner and could draw interest as well.

Missouri: There’s a strong desire here for someone with experience and recruiting chops after Kim Anderson’s disastrous tenure. The same high-profile names here have come up other places—Crean, Martin, Marshall and Drew being among them. Missouri has the resources and desire to be excellent in basketball. They want an established coach to get them there. (There’s no chance for Washington’s Lorenzo Romar bouncing here). 

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