Inspired by this post, Coach Rank 2009 is The Dagger's creatively named inaugural look at which conferences have the best coaches, and why. After we get through the major conferences, we'll rank them. The whole goal is to make you argue about something that's impossible to prove in any objective way. Sports! Let's do this!
Today, the ACC. To the tape:
THE UNINSPIRING AND/OR JUST PLAIN BAD
Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech: Since taking over at Georgia Tech, Hewitt's teams have either been really good (like in 2003-04, when they were NCAA runners-up) or really bad (like in 2008-09, when they went 11-17 and 2-14 in conference). Hewitt's boom or bust, it seems; whereas some coaches seem content grinding their team to 20 wins a year and an NCAA berth, even if that berth is short-lived, Hewitt's pattern has skewed to the less predictable. So is he as good coach or not? I'm going to with no: Hewitt's players occasionally seem lost, they don't always rebound well, and whatever successes Hewitt builds to in recruiting, he loses during the game. Another season like 2008-09 and it's impossible to envision Hewitt lasting much longer at Georgia Tech.
Sidney Lowe, N.C. State: Lowe has done little in three years to improve the situation at N.C. State; he's been in the hunt recruiting-wise, but has failed to pull off any major coups, and he appears to be firmly outside the John Wall picture at this point. (Good effort while it lasted, though.) N.C. State fans might disagree -- do State fans like Lowe? -- but 51-46 in three yeras (and 15-33 in the ACC) is not the stuff Jim Valvano highlights are made of.
Al Skinner, Boston College: Skinner falls decidedly on the uninspiring side of the column here. He's not demonstrably bad (though I suppose there have been plenty of in-game situations that would attest otherwise) and he recruits pretty well in an area dominated by the Big East. He has a few honors to his name. His teams have gone to the NCAA tournament fairly consistently. It's just that, I don't know ... do you really want to go to battle with Al Skinner? He's good, not great, and he's probably not winning you any titles anytime in the near future.
Frank Haith, Miami: In five years, Haith's teams have only made the NCAA tournament once, in 2007-08, but lately, Haith has bought himself a little time at Miami by recruiting really well, including by staying, somehow, at the top of John Wall's list. If he lands Wall, Haith immediately makes his program a contender; if not, well, at least he's in the same ballpark. We'll see.
THE GOOD SIGNS TRIO
Seth Greenberg, Virginia Tech: Other than Gary Williams, Seth Greenberg probably coaches "hardest," if that makes sense; during games, he has that maniacal sideline demeanor that at once both terrifies you and makes you laugh. Whether because of it or despite it, his teams have succeeded. The 2007-08 Hokies were an especially surprising bunch, upsetting teams on the road and getting into the NCAA tournament for the first time in over a decade. Still, the Hokies are the Hokies, and it takes more than histrionics and solid strategy to take down the North Carolinas and Dukes of the world. But of the conference's coaches, Greenberg is among its most viscerally impressive.
Leonard Hamilton, Florida State: Hamilton won ACC coach of the year in 2008-09, which makes sense: he coached his FSU team to a 10-6 record and fourth-place finish in the ACC, not to mention the Seminoles' win over North Carolina in the ACC tournament, for whatever that's worth. (North Carolina has a habit of not giving a crap about the ACC tournament.) Anyway, in seven years, Hamilton has been just OK, but his 2008-09 run showed a bit more coaching life than in years previous. Hamilton's next step is to keep that momentum going; if Florida can get serious about basketball, so can Florida State, right?
Oliver Purnell, Clemson: A quick glance at Purnell's record since arriving at Clemson is basically a 45-degree angle of improvement: no postseason, NIT first round, NIT second round, NIT runner-up, NCAA tournament, NCAA tournament. It's taken a little while, but Purnell has Clemson -- speaking of schools that barely care about basketball; Clemson feels more like an SEC school than an ACC one -- molding itself into a nice little program. Next stop: Revising in-game strategy a little bit. Purnell is too often sluggish to adapt to, say, a streaking guard; Purnell will keep the press on even when it's not working. Stuff like that. Good progress, though.
Tony Bennett, Virginia: Bennett's three years as the head coach at Washington State were quick and effortlessly successful. He took the Cougars -- never a storied program -- to the second round of the NCAA tournament in his first year, and then did one better in 2007-08, getting all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. That success earned him the requisite "hot young coach" cachet necessary to make a leap from the Pacific Northwest, which Bennett always seemed eager to do. Weirdly, he turned down the Indiana job in 2008, stayed a year, saw his Cougars settle on the NIT, and then took the vacant job at Virginia. Bennett's teams are characterized by slow pace and tough man-to-man defense, but as with any prodigious coaching rise, who knows if what's made to last?
Dino Gaudio, Wake Forest: I have a soft spot in my tempo-free-interested head for Dino Gaudio, who has openly admitted to using tempo free stats in his coaching. It's exciting, right? And it all seemed to be going so well last season, when Wake Forest was ranked No. 1 in the country and beating North Carolina and Duke and look for all the world like a title contender. And then ... not so much. By the end of the downslide, Wake Forest bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the first round, and the promise of midseason was over. What happened? Teams started to figure out Gaudio's defensive scheme -- which packed in near the hoop and pressured only the ball heavily -- and its novelty eventually wore off. More than anything, though, Wake Forest peaked too early, and if Gaudio wants to go from stat-junkie man-crush to ACC contender, his teams will have to learn the meaning of pace.
THE BRILLIANT OLD UNCLE WE TRY NOT TO LOOK AT ACROSS THE DINNER TABLE
Gary Williams, Maryland: Williams is a fascinating subject because a) he really is an amazing in-game coach, one of the best in the country and b) lately, his talent has been such that that skill hasn't mattered. Williams is desperate for talent. So desperate, in fact, he was willing to go toe-to-toe with Maryland officials over a questionable prospect he might never considered, were he not, you know, so desperate for talent. Williams is like a raw athlete: You can tell he's good, but he doesn't have any way, at this point, to actualize those gifts. He's got to get recruiting again. When he does -- if he does -- Maryland could be back at the top of the conference heap.
Another fascinating bit about Williams is the way he's treated by fans, and the way he will be treated in the future. Did his title make him bulletproof? If Maryland stopped going to NCAA tournaments forever, would Williams keep his job? Where's the balance there? Williams is the perfect test case for the balance between emotions and expectations. Plus, he sweats a lot, and that's kind of funny.
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke; Roy Williams, UNC: Duh. Not going to spend much time trying to parse out who the "better" coach is; Williams has had more recent success, but Coach K has been so, so good for so long. Either way, the last thing this needs to become is a Duke-UNC spitfest. The only thing worth knowing, for our purposes, is that these guys are two of the very best in the entire country, and that thanks to their prowess -- and the steep drop-off after their names are called -- the ACC will be top-heavy pretty much forever. Depressing? Yes. True? Mm-hmm.
COMPLETELY ARBITRARY GRADE THAT WILL LATER BE USED FOR AN ONLY SLIGHTLY ARBITRARY RANKING: C. For whatever reason, the ACC seems better than the sum of its coaches. Perhaps that's thanks to a lack of depth; perhaps we just fool ourselves every year; perhaps Duke and UNC are just that powerful. Whatever it is, this is a conference full of mediocre head men topped by two of the best in the world.