Grading college basketball’s biggest coaching hires
It is dangerous to make sweeping decisions in the moments after big sports news drops. Trades for prospects or draft picks might take years before they can be assessed. Coaching hires are similar; it could take a long time to see how they will work out. So many recent surprising successes and failures have upended what we understand to be a good hire or a good fit. No one can truly say who will be able to win at their new gig and who will flounder into mediocrity.
We can, however, critique the process of the hire. Was there a more logical choice? Was something overlooked? Was a coach hired for the right reasons?
With those questions in mind, let’s look at the biggest names on the move this spring and grade the schools on their choices.
Chris Beard – Texas
This one is pretty simple. Texas is a big job that comes with big boosters and the requisite big salary. The Longhorns saw an alum who was coaching in their state and in their conference. Beard carries nine NCAA Tournament wins in four seasons. Texas has the cache to jump in and poach that coach, nabbing Beard.
It would be a shock if Beard didn’t succeed in Austin after doing so in Lubbock. He’s one of the best five coaches in the sport. Getting him, hopefully for a long time, is a perfect hire for Texas.
Hubert Davis – North Carolina
Replacing a legend of Roy Williams’ stature is not an easy task. Promoting from within may give the Heels the best chance to retain the culture and foundation that Williams recreated in Chapel Hill.
There are certainly some concerns about Davis’ experience. Davis first entered the coaching profession in 2012 and has only been on the Carolina staff. He’s never been a head coach at any level. That’s not necessarily a drawback, but a curious unknown.
Assuming North Carolina was rebutted by some aspirational candidates, like Jay Wright, Chris Holtman, and Nate Oats, settling for Davis makes sense.
Shaka Smart – Marquette
There’s often a concern when a school hires a coaching downshifting from a bigger stage. Shaka Smart failed to win an NCAA Tournament game at Texas in seven seasons. That’s a reason to question his effectiveness as a coach in the Big XII at a school like Texas.
For Marquette? That shouldn’t be a red flag.
Smart’s preferred playing style, dictated by active guards and pressure man-to-man defense, should be easier to implement and recruit for at a school of Marquette’s stature. Add in his Wisconsin roots, and this makes even more sense.
Porter Moser – Oklahoma
After two runs to the Sweet Sixteen in half a decade, Moser was a hot candidate across the country. He likely had his choice of several options. He also could have stayed at Loyola to continue building the Ramblers’ program, or he could have waited for the perfect job of his choosing down the line (like his alma mater, Creighton).
Instead, Moser opted to head for the Big XII and Oklahoma. It should make for an intriguing fit. Moser can coach defense as well as any coach in basketball, but his doubters will be curious how he can recruit at a power conference level and what his offense will look like in Norman.
With the right staff to help the recruiting side of things, Moser should be able to build modern, exciting basketball teams, reminiscent of Fred Hoiberg’s teams at Iowa State.
Mike Woodson – Indiana
Reaching outside of the box is not necessarily a bad thing. Juwan Howard was not the logical choice to replace John Beilein at Michigan, yet he’s done a fantastic job.
To see Indiana somewhat follow the same playbook is not surprising. Woodson was a star for the Hoosiers many years ago, will bring a modern, pro-style game to a school in desperate need of some evolution, and has an intriguing recruiting pitch.
On the other hand, he has never coached a college team and hasn’t been a head coach since 2014. No other school would have been interested in Woodson. That’s not a great sign for a supposed blue-blood program. This job will be much more “fixer upper” than “move-in ready,” and it’s hard to know if Woodson knows that and is ready for that task.
Craig Smith – Utah
This move made so much sense that you have to wonder if it was in the works prior to Larry Krystkowiak’s dismissal. It’s possible that the brass at Utah weren’t pleased with having the second-best coach in the Beehive State.
Craig Smith has done an excellent job at Utah State, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in all three of his years at the helm. There’s no reason to believe he couldn’t bring the same level of recruiting and game-planning to the Utes.
Shane McNichol covers college basketball and the NBA for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about basketball at Palestra Back and has contributed to the Action Network, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, Rotoballer, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.