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Grading college basketball’s coaching hires

This post will be updated throughout the next few weeks, as programs look to fill voids at their head coaching position. While there are a lot of teams and conferences out there, this article will grade college basketball’s coaching hires in the AAC (select programs), ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big XII, SEC and Pac-12.

Louisville Cardinals: Chris Mack

Chris Mack has made the tough decision to leave his alma mater to go to a school that is currently under investigation by the FBI. Mack posted a 215-97 record while at Xavier and was the program’s all-time winningest coach. He made the tournament in eight out of his nine years as the head coach of the Musketeers, which includes three Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight appearances.

He is a great offensive coach and really excels at drawing up good offensive plays out of timeouts. This season he used those skills to lead Xavier to the eighth most efficient offense in the country. Defensive coaching is not his forte, which will seem odd at a place like Louisville, but he did implement a variety of defenses (including a 1-3-1 zone that was tough to deal with) to try to change things up on opponents.

With everything going on at Louisville right now, they hit a home run with this hire. Mack is a top 10 offensive coach in the country and can recruit well. If Mack doesn’t succeed at Louisville, it is likely more due to what sanctions are given to them than Mack’s coaching ability. To top it all off, Louisville is only paying him $4 million in annual salary. With a program in its current state, many thought the price tag would be almost double that.

Grade: A

Pittsburgh Panthers: Jeff Capel III

Grading college basketball's coaching hires
Jeff Capel (Photo by

Pittsburgh is another program in an interesting situation, but it is mostly their own doing. After Jamie Dixon left to take the job at TCU, they replaced him with Kevin Stallings, a coach that underachieved given his talent at Vanderbilt. Stallings depleted all the talent in Pitt’s program and coached them to a 0-18 ACC record this season (0-19 if you include the ACC Tournament). They reportedly had the job turned down by a few coaches that normally would have taken the job in a heartbeat.

Jeff Capel will be another Duke assistant leaving the program for a head coaching job. He was formerly a head coach at VCU and Oklahoma. He has made three NCAA Tournaments in his time and even an Elite Eight with Blake Griffin leading the Sooners. Unfortunately, the program was found to have committed major NCAA infractions while he was in charge. He reportedly didn’t know about the violations happening but was still fired. As a head coach, he has recruited players like Blake Griffin, Willie Warren, Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders.

Capel has been credited with helping Duke get some of the country’s top prospect since he joined the staff in 2011. Recruiting is his major calling card. He has filled in for Coach K on occasion, who has had a few issues with his health over the last few seasons.

It seems like, over the past several years, Capel hasn’t been talked about as a major candidate for jobs. That is probably due to the NCAA infractions that happened under his watch and the bad season he had in his last year at Oklahoma with some talented players on his roster. Pittsburgh, who doesn’t have much talent, will need his recruiting abilities and decided to take the risk.

Grade: C

UConn Huskies: Dan Hurley

Hurley has been the coach of Rhode Island since the 2012-2013 season. Before that, he was at Wagner as the head coach for two seasons. In his last season at Wagner, he posted a 25-6 record but was unable to make the NCAA Tournament. At Rhode Island, he went from an 8-21 record in year one to a 26-8 record in his final season. He has made two straight NCAA Tournaments, but the Rams were bounced in the second round each year.

UConn fired Kevin Ollie after winning a championship only four seasons ago. He was unable to find sustained success and was fired due to a pending investigation. The program isn’t in the best shape at the moment and is stuck in a lackluster AAC. Hurley should be able to find some decent success at UConn, but bringing the program back to national prominence probably isn’t in the cards.

Grade: B

Memphis Tigers: Penny Hardaway

Memphis firing Tubby Smith after a 20 win season seemed like it was a bit too soon, but they wanted Hardaway the whole time. While he was an iconic player in the NBA and for Memphis, he has no coaching experience in his background.

Hardaway should be a good recruiter, as some recruits will recognize him and he will be able to relate to the situation they are in. The program should have more interest in it, but it is hard to tell how a coach will do in his first go at it. This is probably too good of a job for a first-time coach (he hasn’t even been an assistant yet at the college level).

Grade: C

Georgia Bulldogs: Tom Crean

Grading college basketball's coaching hires
Tom Crean (Photo by

Tom Crean spent one year at ESPN and is now back in the college game. He is 356-231 overall in his two coaching jobs at Marquette and Indiana. This includes one Final Four and three Sweet Sixteen finishes. Crean was one of the most experienced and accomplished coaches on the market, even though he was fired by Indiana.

He is a great offensive coach, with his last two seasons at Indiana ranking in the top ten in efficiency in the country. Crean also is a solid recruiter and will get some talent to Athens.

Mark Fox had the program in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid at the end of the season, but they came up a bit short. The team was based on one great player in Yante Maten, who is now gone. Crean will have to turn around a program in a conference that is currently really strong in basketball.

Grade: B+

Ole Miss Rebels: Kermit Davis

Davis may not be as known as other coaches on this list, but he has a lot of experience as a head coach. He has had stops at Idaho, Texas A&M and Middle Tennessee with a record of 403-238. He has recently led Middle Tennessee to three NCAA Tournaments in six years, with two of those resulting in round one wins.

Ole Miss parted ways mutually with Andy Kennedy, who made two NCAA Tournaments and several NITs. The Rebels do have some players returning, but they went 12-20 this past season. Davis was given a long time (he started coaching there in 2002) to get the Blue Raiders on track and likely won’t get as much time at Ole Miss, with the SEC have so many good teams and coaches.

Grade: C-

Xavier Musketeers: Travis Steele

Mack leaving Xavier, his alma mater, was a surprise. In the last thirty years or so Xavier has done a great job of targeting and hiring coaches, which has helped lead the programs to new heights in the 21st century. It is hard to replace a Xavier legend, but they have found a guy who should keep the Xavier tradition alive.

Steele was one of Mack’s assistants and had been with the program for ten years. A lot of the current and former players publicly vouched for Steele to be the next head coach on Twitter. He is great at drawing up plays and recruiting.

He has no head coaching experience, but neither did Mack or Sean Miller when they were hired for the same job. While it was reported that a lot of big-time division one coaches were interested, Steele is a good fit and should be able to keep the program steady.

Grade: B+


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