May 05, 2009
It's one of those thing I've been noodling for a while. Top to bottom, is the coaching in the Big Ten the country's best? If not, which conference tops it? And how do you define "coaching" in this case, anyway? No matter what I thought, I had trouble going the whole way with it. Not so for FanHouse's Matt Snyder yesterday:
With the additions of Tubby Smith, Thad Matta and John Beilein in the past few years -- not to mention Indiana snagging Tom Crean after the catastrophic mess left behind by Kelvin Sampson -- the collective pedigree of the Big Ten coaches is off the charts. You have the recruiting acumen of Matta, the zeal of Crean, the grind-it-out defense of Bo Ryan, the back-door-cutting of Bill Carmody, the national championship credibility of Smith, the nearly unparalleled resume of Tom Izzo, and Gene Keady's protoge (Matt Painter). Top to bottom, this is the strongest coaching conference in the nation.
At first, it seems a bit counterintuitive. I would be the first to argue that the Big Ten is not as good as the ACC or the Big East, and in recent years has struggled to keep pace with the Pac-10. So how are its coaches suddenly the best in the country, if the conference as a whole doesn't stack up?
It doesn't really work that way. The point Snyder is making -- one I'd agree with -- is that top-to-bottom, the Big Ten's schools have managed to land some really good coaches recently. Tubby Smith has proved to be a solid hire for Minnesota. Tom Crean will have Indiana back in the elite in no time. Matt Painter has proven more than capable in just a few years at Purdue. And even someone like Ed Carmody, whose Northwestern Wildcats are usually in the bottom of the league, deserves credit for the way his system maximizes the questionable talents of his players. (The lone demonstrably bad coach thus far? Iowa's Todd Lickliter, whose program is in shambles in year two at Iowa.)
Coaches get paid to produce results. The Big East remains better than the Big Ten. Same goes for the ACC. But in terms of potential, it's hard to imagine a more dense coaching environment than the one the Big Ten has slowly pieced together these past three years. Next up? Turning pedigree into postseason berths. Until then, we can reserve some enthusiasm.