Winners and losers in college basketball's coaching carousel

Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson speaks during a news conference at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Tulsa, Okla. Houston plays Ohio State on Sunday. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson speaks during a news conference at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Tulsa, Okla. Houston plays Ohio State on Sunday. (AP)

The biggest news during the 2019 spin of the college basketball coaching carousel was what didn’t happen.

The coaches in crisis who didn’t get fired. The sought-after coaches who didn’t leave. The outcast Hall of Famer who didn’t get back in.

As of this writing, Will “Strong-Ass Offer” Wade is still the coach at LSU, Sean Miller is still the coach at Arizona and Bill Self is still the coach at Kansas. Neither the federal investigation of college basketball nor the NCAA — and least of all the schools that employ them — have done anything to date to change that. No matter how much smoke hovers over their programs.

Meanwhile, the hot seat never turned into a fireable blaze for Danny Manning at Wake Forest, Josh Pastner at Georgia Tech, Pat Chambers at Penn State, Jim Christian at Boston College and Dave Leitao at DePaul. Chambers has gone eight seasons without an NCAA tournament bid at Penn State. Christian has gone five at BC. Pastner has gone three at Tech, with an ongoing NCAA investigation mixed in. Manning has made one NCAA tourney in five seasons at Wake, and lost in a play-in game. But they’ll all be back for more in 2019-20.

Then there were the guys who didn’t take jobs in either more powerful conferences or more tradition-rich programs. Kelvin Sampson is still at Houston, not at Arkansas. UCLA’s bungled search kept Jamie Dixon at TCU and Rick Barnes at Tennessee. St. John’s failed to steal Porter Moser from Loyola Chicago or Ryan Odom from UMBC or Tim Cluess from Iona, among other Red Storm indignities.

And Rick Pitino remains in Euro-limbo, unable to find a re-entry point in college basketball for the second straight spring. His baggage is a lot for an athletic director to place on a university president’s desk, and there could be more hits coming if the NCAA drops a major show-cause penalty on Pitino for the latest round of problems at Louisville. But it also would be a farce if Pitino is the only head coach fired in the scandal that has dogged the sport since September 2017, but as of now that remains the case.

With that, let’s move on to the biggest winners and losers in the hiring-firing cycle:

Biggest single winner: Houston

The Cougars kept Sampson, who just authored a 33-4 season that reached the Sweet 16 — by any measurement Houston’s best year since the Phi Slama Jama days. Arkansas appeared poised to snatch Sampson, but mega-booster Tilman Fertitta opened his checkbook to prevent that from happening.

Runner-up: Nebraska

Tim Miles deserved better treatment on his way out the door in Lincoln, but replacing him with Fred Hoiberg could prove a master stroke by the Cornhuskers. Hoiberg won 23 or more games in each of his final four seasons at Iowa State, won the Big 12 tournament twice and won at least one game in three of his four NCAA tourney appearances.

Coach who won big: Mike Young

In moving from Wofford to Virginia Tech, Young becomes the first coach since 2003 to go directly from the Southern Conference to a Power Five job. And it’s not a basement-level P5 job like the last guy, when Ed DeChellis left East Tennessee State for Penn State. Virginia Tech has hoisted itself up from the bottom of the ACC, with four straight 20-win seasons and three straight NCAA bids. (Depending on transfer portal permutations in the coming days, roster churn could jeopardize that upper-echelon standing.)

Conference that won big: The SEC

Barnes is still at Tennessee. Buzz Williams arrives from Virginia Tech as the most accomplished hire in Texas A&M basketball history. Alabama and Arkansas scooped up coveted coaches from lower leagues in Nate Oats (via Buffalo) and Eric Musselman (via Nevada), respectively. The Jerry Stackhouse hire at Vanderbilt is very much wait-and-see, but Vandy does distinguish itself by being the only Power Five program to hire an African-American head coach in 2019.

Low-key winners: Washington State and Cincinnati

Hiring Kyle Smith and John Brannen may not be short-term splashy, but the long-term ripples should be positive. Smith has produced the highest rankings of the 20-year Ken Pomeroy Era for both San Francisco (No. 67 this year) and Columbia (No. 113 in 2016), so he knows how to make the most out of a tough job — and Wazzu certainly is a tough job. Brannen took recent Division II import Northern Kentucky to its first two NCAA tournament berths, in 2017 and ’19, and now will move just north of the Ohio River. His work at NKU was done largely with talent from Ohio and Kentucky, areas that will translate easily to Cincinnati recruiting.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 10: Mick Cronin speaks to the media after he was introduced as the new UCLA Mens Head Basketball Coach at Pauley Pavilion on April 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Mick Cronin speaks to the media after he was introduced as the new UCLA Mens Head Basketball Coach at Pauley Pavilion on April 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

Winningest loser: UCLA

The Bruins’ search to replace Steve Alford was meandering, embarrassing and at times delusional. Yet the Bruins came out of it better than they deserve by hiring Mick Cronin from Cincinnati. His NCAA tournament record won’t remind anyone of John Wooden’s — 6-11, with just one Sweet 16 — but he gets to the tournament. Cronin’s Bearcats earned nine straight NCAA bids, while UCLA missed three of the last nine Big Dances.

At the very least, UCLA will win 20-plus games every year. That’s not a terrible place to start. Perhaps this brutal coaching search modernized fan expectations, jolting them out of the 1970s and getting them in touch with modern reality.

Biggest loser: Power Five diversity

With four African American coaches leaving and one arriving, the number of minority head coaches in the five richest and most powerful conferences in the country is currently eight out of 65 jobs. That’s 12.3 percent.

If you think that’s a really low percentage, you’re right. Even football, which traditionally has lagged behind basketball in hiring diversity, is doing better at 12 out of 65 (18.5 percent).

Beyond Stackhouse, the most prominent minority hires were Mike Anderson on the rebound at St John’s, Ron Hunter going from Georgia State to Tulane and Aaron McKie being elevated from assistant at Temple.

School that lost big: St. John’s

The Red Storm coaching search became a public flogging that probably left first-year athletic director Mike Cragg wondering what he got himself into. Best part of the St. John’s debacle was big-dollar/big-mouth booster Mike Repole publicly ripping the search. Repole was one of the guys who championed the Chris Mullin hire four years ago and was absolutely sure Mullin would win big. Why should anyone listen to him now?

Runner-up loser school: Southern Mississippi

Doc Sadler spent five years pulling the program out of the abyss of NCAA sanctions, finally won 20 games and finally had a winning Conference USA record — then he left to be an assistant where he once was fired as the head coach, Nebraska. That was quite a Welcome to Hattiesburg present for new athletic director Jeremy McClain, who moved quickly to hire Jay Ladner from Southeastern Louisiana.

School that lost without actually being involved in the carousel: Texas

The Longhorns have underperformed in recent years, and the in-state competition is only intensifying. Chris Beard didn’t go anywhere and could be building a monster at Texas Tech. Williams will aggressively recruit the state at A&M. Sampson is still at Houston, Dixon is still at TCU, and Scott Drew remains competitive at Baylor.

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