Good and bad coaching hires
Sometimes it takes years for an athletic director to make a significant impact on the school that hires him.
Kirby Hocutt didn’t even need a week.
On just his third day on the job at Texas Tech, Hocutt announced that Billy Gillispie had accepted an offer to become the Red Raiders’ basketball coach. Of all the offseason hires, this is the best one to date.
Gillispie is a native Texan with tremendous recruiting ties in the Lone Star State. He’s proven to be one of the best coaches in history in turning around struggling programs, and more than anything, he coveted the job. While Texas Tech may seem like a tough situation to some, Gillispie has been telling acquaintances for years that the program is a sleeping giant because of its facilities and the potential of a strong home-court advantage.
For those reasons, it may seem extreme to lavish too much praise on Hocutt for hiring Gillispie. The choice, after all, was obvious. Gillispie and Texas Tech are a perfect fit.
Still, sometimes people in leadership positions are so egotistical that they become sassy and reckless. Instead of making the easy, logical hire, they’ll go against conventional wisdom just because picking the popular choice makes them feel weak.
For example, Hocutt’s former school, Miami, is becoming a national laughingstock because it refuses to contact Kansas State’s Frank Martin about its vacant coaching position. Martin is from Miami, has tremendous support in the community and is a proven winner. And he desperately wants the job. Just as Gillispie was a perfect fit for Texas Tech, Miami won’t find a coach better than Martin willing to accept the job.
Miami, though, continues to ignore Martin, further damaging the perception of a program with an already-shaky reputation.
Too bad Hocutt isn’t still there to make the hire for the Hurricanes. Instead he’s busy racking up brownie points in Lubbock. As strong as his image is now, chances are good that Gillispie soon will make him look even better.
Here’s a list of other coaches who seem to be good hires for their respective schools. And, as always, we’ve included a few bad hires, too.
Lon Kruger, Oklahoma: Sooners fans may have been a bit underwhelmed when the school announced it had plucked Kruger away from UNLV. Still, as much as this is a good hire, it’s also a “safe” hire. Oklahoma’s program is in bad shape. The Sooners couldn’t afford to take a chance on an up-and-comer this time. Kruger has been a winner everywhere he has been – and he’ll win at Oklahoma, too. The question: On what level? And how fast?
Archie Miller, Dayton: There are some people in college basketball circles who believe Miller eventually could become a better coach than his older brother, Sean, who just completed his second season at Arizona. Archie – who has worked under Thad Matta, Herb Sendek and, most recently, his brother – is 32 and full of enthusiasm. He’ll be embraced at Dayton, where fans do an excellent job of supporting the program.
Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee: The longtime Purdue assistant spent the past three seasons as Missouri State’s coach. His team improved each season and most recently won the Missouri Valley regular-season title. Martin is an excellent defensive coach. The biggest question marks surround his ability to recruit at the SEC level. Still, any coach who walks into a situation as difficult as the one at Tennessee has to be brimming with confidence. The guess here is that Martin will do fine.
Dave Rice, UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels have reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament just once since Jerry Tarkanian was fired in 1991. With the departures of BYU and Utah to other conferences, UNLV has a chance to become the top team in the Mountain West. Rice is a UNLV alum who served as a Runnin’ Rebels assistant from 1994-2004. He spent the past six seasons at BYU.
Larry Shyatt, Wyoming: This is actually Shyatt’s second stint as the Cowboys’ coach. He led Wyoming to a 19-9 record in 1997-98. He left after that season for Clemson, where he was the coach for five years before being fired and then joining Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida. The Gators won back-to-back national titles during his tenure and advanced to the Elite Eight this past season.
Pat Knight, Lamar: The son of the legendary Bob Knight was in a rather difficult situation at Texas Tech because he never had been a Division I head coach before. It’s never easy to “learn on the go,” especially in the Big 12. Located in Beaumont, Texas, Lamar is the perfect-sized school for Knight to develop and grow as a coach. The next time he hits the big time, he’ll be ready.
Rodney Terry, Fresno State: The former Texas assistant was bound to get a head-coaching job eventually. Year after year, his name was mentioned for various openings throughout the country. There’s a reason for that. Terry is an excellent recruiter who has been a vital part of Texas’ success the past nine seasons. He was one of two strong finalists for the job along with standout Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals.
Willis Wilson, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi: Before he joined Josh Pastner’s staff at Memphis two years ago, Wilson spent 16 seasons as coach at Rice. His recruiting ties in Texas will pay huge dividends.
Frank Haith, Missouri: Haith may end up doing a nice job in Columbia. Still, to this point, he has done nothing to justify his hiring. Miami reached the NCAA tournament just once during Haith’s seven seasons. The buzz in Florida was that he likely would’ve been fired if the Hurricanes failed to receive a bid next season. For a school that was willing to pay its coach more than $2 million, Missouri could’ve done much better. This is an excellent job that would’ve attracted more accomplished candidates.
Mike Anderson, Arkansas: Speaking of attractive jobs, there may not have been a better opening this offseason than the one at Arkansas. The Razorbacks pay well, have excellent facilities and passionate fans, and the school is in fertile recruiting ground. Is Anderson a terrible hire? Absolutely not. He did a nice job at Missouri but, other than one Elite Eight run in 2009, his success there certainly wasn’t overwhelming. The Tigers finished fifth or worse in the Big 12 in four of Anderson’s five seasons, they were dominated by rival Kansas and they struggled to fill the arena. Anderson hasn’t accomplished enough to be a $2 million coach. Not yet, at least.
Mark Gottfried, North Carolina State: Before it hired Gottfried, North Carolina State was spurned by Arizona’s Sean Miller, Memphis’ Josh Pastner, VCU’s Shaka Smart, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall – and maybe some others. Gottfried led Alabama to its first No. 1 ranking during the 2002-03 season, but he hasn’t exactly been in high demand since resigning amid criticism in the middle of the 2008-09 campaign. Gottfried spent the past two seasons working as an analyst for ESPN.
Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech: In his seven seasons at the school, Gregory led Dayton to two NCAA tournament appearances. In the past two seasons, the Flyers finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in the Atlantic 10. When did that become good enough to get a head-coaching job in the ACC?
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah: No offense to Krystkowiak, but Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett would’ve been the perfect fit for this job. Bennett has excellent West Coast recruiting ties and would’ve lured some of the top overseas prospects to Utah. Krystkowiak, who had been a New Jersey Nets assistant, led Montana to the NCAA tournament in his only two seasons as a college head coach. He’s a good game tactician, but he’ll need to prove himself as a recruiter.
Whomever Miami hires: Because apparently it’s not going to be Kansas State’s Frank Martin, who should be the slam-dunk choice for this position. And the Hurricanes wonder why they don’t get much support.