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Best and worst, from N.J. to Oregon, of coaching carousel


This was one of the more boring cycles in several years, which is probably a good thing. There were very few shocking firings, and none of the really big-time schools were among those going hunting. While there were no earth-shattering developments, there were plenty of hits and misses, savvy moves and head scratchers. Here, then, are the best, the worst and the most notable happenings of the 2010 coaching carousel. All aboard:

Worst process: With so few sexy jobs open, Oregon should have had its pick of prominent candidates. The school will open a new $227 million arena next season, it plays in a power conference, and most of all, it has access to Phil Knight's checkbook. Yet, the school went after high-end coaches it was never going to get (Tom Izzo, Jamie Dixon, Mark Few, Mike Anderson) and never called one with whom it had a legit chance (Tubby Smith). To be fair, the school was thrown for a loop when athletic director Mike Bellotti was forced out, leaving former athletic director Pat Kilkenny to head the search. Still, it was amateur hour all the way. The man whom Oregon hired, Dana Altman, built up a respectable record at Creighton, but he has no geographic ties to the Pacific Northwest. Plus, I'm pretty sure Oregon could have hired Altman six weeks ago without enduring the string of rejections.

Best process: Unlike Oregon, Clemson had no idea it was going to lose its coach when Oliver Purnell took the DePaul job on April 7. Also unlike Oregon, Clemson did not take two months to find a successor. Six days after Purnell's surprising departure, Clemson hired Wright State coach Brad Brownell. That name might not be recognizable to casual fans, but Brownell has built up a quality resume at UNC Wilmington and Wright State.

Best use of the interim tag: I stand by my criticism of Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky for firing Glen Miller in mid-December. (In-season firings are one of the worst trends in this sport, and they are especially disheartening when they happen in the Ivy League.) But I'll give Bilsky credit for installing Miller's interim replacement, Jerome Allen, as permanent coach in March. As a former standout player at Penn, Allen has credibility and an unmatched passion for the program, and by leading the Quakers to a 6-15 record (including an upset of Cornell) after Miller's 0-7 start, he demonstrated that he deserved a shot at the head job.

Worst use of the interim tag: Binghamton has needed to find a head coach since Kevin Broadus was suspended back in October, but instead of locking in a permanent replacement, the school decided to give Mark Macon a two-year contract extension without removing his interim tag. So is Macon the head coach or not? I guess it depends on what the meaning of the term interim is.

Riskiest hire:Fred Hoiberg was more than just a great player at Iowa State. He was a cultural icon, the Ames native who sank feather jump shots and went by the nickname "The Mayor." That qualifies him to be the guest speaker at a booster function but not necessarily a head coach in the Big 12. Hoiberg was most recently the vice president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he has zero coaching experience, of any kind, at any level. Maybe he'll turn out to be a brilliant hire, but for now it looks like Iowa State is trying to do the same thing Houston was when it hired Clyde Drexler in 1998. Drexler went 19-39 in two miserable seasons before resigning.

Most well-traveled assistant: Two years ago, Arizona hired Denver Nuggets assistant Mike Dunlap and installed him as associate head coach, which appeared to make him the designated successor to Lute Olson. When Olson suddenly retired that fall, Arizona offered to make Dunlap the interim head coach but he refused -- yet he remained on the bench as an assistant to Russ Pennell. When Pennell's interim stint was up the following spring, Arizona passed on Dunlap and hired Sean Miller, whereupon Dunlap was hired by Oregon as the putative successor to Ernie Kent. Déjà vu: Kent got canned, Dunlap got passed over, and now he is getting set to take a gig as an assistant to Steve Lavin at St. John's. (That hire should be made official this week.) It's a smart move on Lavin's part, but you have to wonder whether Dunlap is going to bother unpacking his bags this time.

Mid-major coaches staying put ... for now: Dayton's Brian Gregory was one of Iowa's top choices, but he refused to entertain any offers until his Flyers were through playing in the NIT. By the time Dayton's run ended with the championship on April 1, Iowa had grown impatient and pulled the trigger on Siena's Fran McCaffery. Even though Dayton had a disappointing season by failing to make the NCAA tournament, Gregory, who served as an assistant to Tom Izzo for six years, apparently still has a lot of cache in the marketplace.

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You also have to figure it's a matter of time before Brad Stevens leaves Butler for greener pastures, but the school did well to lock up Stevens for at least a little while with a 12-year contract. You could make the case that Stevens made a mistake by not cashing in on the team's success; after all, his stock will probably never be higher. The truth, however, is that there weren't any jobs worth leaving Butler for. Stevens is 33, and he already has one of the best gigs in America. He can afford to wait.

Mid-major coach staying put ... for good: Heading into this year's cycle, I would have put the chances that Mark Few would retire as the coach at Gonzaga at 80 percent. Now I'll upgrade it to 99 percent. Few was born and raised in Oregon and he went to the University of Oregon, yet he still turned down his alma mater. Few is at a school that truly cares about winning (Gonzaga flies to games on chartered airplanes while much of the Pac-10 flies commercial), he makes a nice chunk of change in a town with moderate cost of living, he can spend lots of quality time with his wife and four young children, and he can go to the NCAA tournament every year. Why would he want to leave?

Incidentally, this is why Few's assistant, Leon Rice, was smart to take the Boise State job. Rice would have gotten the head job if Few left, but Rice wisely recognized that is probably never going to happen.

Best buyout: Many people thought it would be a no-brainer that Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt would take the St. John's job. After all, Hewitt is a New York native, he has been feeling the heat in Atlanta for several years, and he is losing his best players to the NBA draft. Hewitt did not want to leave Georgia Tech largely because he has three daughters (the oldest of whom is a sophomore in high school) who very much did not want to be uprooted. But he also had another reason to stay put: a $7 million buyout if Georgia Tech were to fire him. Now that he's staying put, I'm not sure what worries Hewitt more -- that Georgia Tech might fire him, or that it might not.

Worst firing: Holy Cross. It might be more apt to name this category Worst Athletic Director, in which case the answer would be Dick Regan. It's one thing to be impatient, it's quite another to fire your coach after one season, even if the team's record during that season was 9-22. Yet, that's what Regan did to Sean Kearney after some of Kearney's players went to Regan to complain about him. Instead of standing by the man he hired, Regan made like a jellyfish. If he had any integrity, Regan would have either stuck by Kearney or handed in his own resignation letter for doing such a poor job of hiring a coach. Kearney worked for more than two decades building up his reputation as an assistant at Providence, Delaware and Notre Dame, and now Regan has sullied that reputation while being able to hold on to his own job. Where's the justice in that?

Second-worst firing: You'd think a coach who goes 61-31 in three seasons and reaches the second round of the NCAA tournament would at least be able to survive another year. Not so for Wake Forest's Dino Gaudio. When I heard that Gaudio had been fired, I assumed there had to be a reason other than his teams' on-court performance, but nothing has emerged. Wake athletic director Ron Wellman pointed to the Deacons' poor play in February and March, but that does not pass muster. Gaudio was given the job immediately after Skip Prosser died suddenly in the summer of 2007. Prosser is fondly remembered in Winston-Salem, yet it's worth noting that his teams did not even make the NCAA tournament in his last two seasons. By Wellman's standards, shall we assume that if Prosser was alive, he would no longer be the coach at Wake Forest?

Worst state: What's the state of New Jersey? Tumultuous. You'd think Tony Soprano was running things the way Bobby Gonzalez and Fred Hill imploded at Seton Hall and Rutgers, respectively. Just goes to show that if you're going to tick people off, you better win a lot of games.

Best job beating the posse out of town:Greg McDermott's days at Iowa State appeared to be numbered. He was fortunate to keep his job after the Cyclones went 4-12 in the Big 12 this season, and since he was losing his top three scorers, next year was looking like it was going to be pretty ugly. McDermott made a smart move, then, by taking the Creighton job that was vacated when Dana Altman left for Oregon. Creighton is an excellent job in a terrific league (Missouri Valley) with which McDermott is very familiar, having coached for five years at Northern Iowa. Plus, it's always better to follow someone who left for another job than someone who was fired. You've got a better chance of winning right away.

Most Butler-esque hire: If you're a mid-major school and you have some success, you're going to lose your head coach. The best mid-majors develop a culture of winning that goes beyond the guy in the head chair, so when the job comes open they have an assistant ready to slide in. That's what Gonzaga did with Few when Dan Monson left, it's what Butler did with Stevens when Todd Lickliter left, it's what Xavier did with Chris Mack when Miller left, and this year that's what Siena did with Mitch Buonaguro after Fran McCaffrey left for Iowa (where, ironically, he replaced the fired Lickliter). Not only did Buonaguro, 56, work for McCaffrey for six years as an assistant, he was also a head coach at Fairfield from 1985-91. I hope he succeeds, if only so more schools will give lesser-known assistants a chance instead of trying to make a splash with so-called big-name hires.