- From Buzz Williams to Fred Hoiberg to Mark Fox, plenty of coaches have been on the move this offseason. Here's what to know for each.
College basketball is a sport driven by its coaches. Coaches wield extraordinary power in recruiting and within athletics departments. If you have the right coach, you can make it to the Final Four—even if you’re Butler or Loyola. A number of high-profile schools and coaches made moves this offseason, which will undeniably change the college basketball landscape as the countdown to the start of the 2019–20 season ticks down.
Last year, the most noteworthy hires included Penny Hardaway at Memphis, Chris Mack at Louisville, Tom Crean at Georgia and Dan Hurley at UConn. Here are the major coaching moves of this year’s cycle, grouped by the nature of the hire:
Power conference promotions
UCLA: Mick Cronin replaces Steve Alford
After a drawn-out, highly public coaching search, UCLA pried Cronin away from his hometown school at Cincinnati. Cronin’s Bearcats went to the NCAA tournament in each of the past nine seasons, but only advanced past the first weekend once. Under Cronin, Cincinnati was a tough, defensive-minded team that slowed the pace and made it difficult for opponents to score. Cronin now has more resources and brand recognition to recruit with at UCLA, which could portend somewhat of an increased pace offensively, though Cronin will likely still rely on physicality and defense, at least at the beginning of his tenure. UCLA expects Cronin to win big in Westwood, especially in a Pac-12 that’s been down in recent seasons.
Texas A&M: Buzz Williams replaces Billy Kennedy
Fresh off leading Virginia Tech to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, Buzz Williams returns to his home state of Texas to coach Texas A&M, where he was an assistant from 2004–06. The Hokies improved in KenPom in each of Williams's five seasons at Virginia Tech, going from No. 175 in the country in 2014–15 to No. 13 this past season. In his last 11 seasons (six at Marquette before five at Virginia Tech), Williams has taken his teams to eight NCAA tournaments and four Sweet 16s (and an Elite Eight in 2012–13). The Aggies aren’t that far off from contending after Sweet 16 trips in both 2018 and 2016, and Williams should supercharge the program.
The elite mid-major up-and-comers
Alabama: Nate Oats replaces Avery Johnson
Nate Oats comes to Tuscaloosa after building Buffalo into a mid-major power in the MAC. After taking over for Bobby Hurley as the Bulls head coach ahead of the 2015–16 season, Oats got Buffalo to three NCAA tournaments in four years and won March Madness games in each of the past two seasons. Oats’s Buffalo teams didn’t have the look of a typical mid-major; they didn’t shoot the ball great from three, and they routinely had one of the fastest adjusted tempos in the country, finishing No. 11 in the country this past season, according to kenpom.com. The 44-year-old Oats is not afraid of the moment and will bring a distinct swagger to an Alabama program that’s had talent, but not a ton of success the past several years.
Arkansas: Eric Musselman replaces Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson had his moments in Fayetteville, but five NCAA tournament games in eight years didn’t cut it. In 2015, Musselman inherited a Nevada program coming a 9–22 season in 2014–15 and turned it into a consistent winner and a prime destination for talented transfers. In his final three years in Reno, Musselman led the Wolf Pack to an 86–20 record and three straight trips to the Big Dance, including a Sweet 16 run in 2018. Nevada posted some of the country’s most efficient and turnover-free offenses under the high-energy Musselman. Musselman also previously held NBA head coaching positions with the Golden State Warriors (2002–04) and Sacramento Kings (2006–07).
The “it’s worked before” hires
Nebraska: Fred Hoiberg replaces Tim Miles
Fred Hoiberg was a highly successful college coach in the Midwest at Iowa State, and Nebraska now hopes Hoiberg can recreate that success at a Nebraska program that has never won an NCAA tournament game. Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams, which won four NCAA tourney games during Hoiberg’s five-year tenure, boasted top-24 offenses in each of his final four seasons in Ames, and the Cyclones’ offense was top 12 in the final three. Hoiberg will need to re-establish himself as a recruiter after three-plus seasons in the NBA with the Bulls, but expect him to bring an up-tempo, free-flowing offensive style to the Cornhuskers.
Nevada: Steve Alford replacing Eric Musselman
The Wolf Pack turned to Steve Alford after Musselman took the job at Arkansas. Before coaching at UCLA for six years, Alford spent six seasons as the head coach at New Mexico (from 2007–13), so he knows the Mountain West well. He's been to 11 NCAA tournaments as a head coach and is a proven recruiter, so Nevada should remain in win-now mode despite losing Musselman. At New Mexico, Alford’s teams won by playing a defense-first style with a controlled pace. At UCLA, with the athletes to run, the Bruins got up-and-down more often under Alford (especially in 2016–17 with Lonzo Ball at point guard). At Nevada, the style will likely be some mix of the two approaches.
The other mid-major up-and-comers
Cincinnati: John Brannen replaces Mick Cronin
After Cronin left for UCLA, Cincinnati tabbed Northern Kentucky’s John Brannen as the next head coach of the Bearcats. Brannen, a former Alabama assistant, took the Norse to their first-ever NCAA tournament in 2016–17 and then again this past season, where they fell to national finalist Texas Tech in the first round by 15. The 45-year-old Brannen, whose Northern Kentucky teams shared the ball well and controlled the defensive glass, should bring a faster offensive tempo to a Cincinnati program trying to advance past the first weekend of the tournament after doing so just once in the last 13 seasons.
UNLV: T.J. Otzelberger replaces Marvin Menzies
Otzelberger comes to Las Vegas from after three seasons as South Dakota State’s head coach. The Jackrabbits made the NCAA tournament in two of those three seasons, and posted top-50 offenses in the country the past two seasons, per KenPom. Otzelberger’s SDSU teams also shot, and made, a ton of threes while playing a fast-paced style; the Jackrabbits finished third in the country with 84.5 points per game this past season. At UNLV, he’ll have some work to do to rebuild a once-storied program that hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2013.
Virginia Tech: Mike Young replaces Buzz Williams
With Buzz Williams off to College Station, the Hokies convinced 55-year-old Mike Young to leave Wofford after 17 seasons as the Terriers’ head coach. This past season, Young led Wofford to its best season ever, which included a 30–5 record and an NCAA tournament win over Seton Hall. Wofford wasn’t just good for a mid-major, it was legitimately good—the Terriers were a top-20 KenPom team that averaged more than 80 points per game and took Kentucky to the brink in the NCAA tournament’s second round. Young built Wofford around three-point shooting, and it’s logical to think he’ll do the same in Blacksburg.
Washington State: Kyle Smith replaces Ernie Kent
Kyle Smith comes to Washington State after three seasons at San Francisco. The Dons went 21–10 this past season, including a win over Stanford. Under Smith, San Francisco was built around turnover-free, highly efficient offense and a defense that guarded the three-point line as well as just about anybody. He’ll have his hands full at a Washington State program that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2008.
The wild card
Vanderbilt: Jerry Stackhouse replaces Bryce Drew
Vanderbilt turned to Jerry Stackhouse after Bryce Drew and the Commodores went winless in the SEC this past season. Stackhouse has never coached at the college level before, so it’s unclear exactly what he’ll bring from an X’s and O’s perspective, but it’s a safe bet to assume he’ll leverage his experience as an NBA assistant (most recently with the Grizzlies) to try to appeal to recruits in a similar way as Penny Hardaway has done at Memphis. Stackhouse played collegiately at North Carolina, and he won the NBA D-League Coach of the Year in 2017 with Raptors 905.
The in-house promotion
Temple: Aaron McKie replaces Fran Dunphy
Temple is promoting Aaron McKie after an awkward breakup with longtime head coach Fran Dunphy. McKie brings deep Philly ties to the job—he was born in Philadelphia, played at Temple and for the 76ers and served as an assistant for the 76ers for five seasons before spending the last five seasons as an assistant at Temple. While the ending with Dunphy wasn’t ideal, McKie was a no-brainer and a perfect fit for this job, even as a first-time head coach.
California: Mark Fox replaces Wyking Jones
This one kind of came out of nowhere. Originally, it was reported that Cal would retain Wyking Jones for a third season, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Cal hired Mark Fox, who didn’t coach this past season after spending the previous nine seasons as the head coach at Georgia. Fox made two NCAA tournaments during his tenure in Athens and never won an tourney game. When names like Jason Kidd, Eric Musselman and UC Irvine’s Russell Turner came up on Cal’s initial short list, ending up with Fox is a bit puzzling given that his profile doesn’t align with any of those candidates. There’s basically nowhere to go but up, at least.