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Grading the 2017 Coaching Carousel: Who made the best hires?

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With New Mexico making the hire of Paul Weir official last week, we’ve now had every high major opening filled and, barring something dramatic happening later this spring, unless you’re a fan of Presbyterian, Coppin State, Grambling State, Florida A&M and Oral Roberts, the carousel has stopped spinning.

I’ve ranked the hires below. My criteria for these rankings aren’t strictly based on how good the coach is that was hired. That does matter, but the bottom line is that Indiana and, say, Missouri have significant differences in the coaches that they can realistically expect to hire.

Different programs also have different expectations. N.C. State and VCU are both basketball schools, but the Wolfpack are the little brothers on Tobacco Road fighting for relevancy whereas VCU is consistently contending for Atlantic 10 titles, happy to get their shot at winning a few games each March.

Given all of that, let’s take a look at how each of the 14 biggest hires worked out this offseason:

THEY GOT THIS PERFECT

1. Archie Miller, Indiana: When you’re a job as good as Indiana is, you shouldn’t be settling when it comes to hiring a head coach. Indiana did not this time around, replacing Tom Crean with one of the best and brightest young coaches in the sport in Archie Miller. Everyone wanted him in the same way that everyone wanted Shaka Smart and everyone wants Gregg Marshall. Indiana was the program that was able to land him, because Indiana was the job that was good enough to pry him from the grips of Dayton.

Miller is going to have his work cut out for him. Indiana hasn’t been to a Final Four since 2002, and there is some work to do with that team before it will be ready to contend for one again. When it comes to coaching, Miller — the younger brother of Arizona’s Sean Miller, the sons of a legendary high school coach in western Pennsylvania — has the chops to get it done. The key is going to be whether he can actually get the players that can allow him to be a national title contender. I have him tops on this list because I think he will.

2. Mike Rhoades, VCU: It took VCU less than 24 hours once Will Wade left for LSU to make a decision on who they would hire as a replacement, and the decision couldn’t have been any better. Rhoades spent a decade as a successful head coach at Randolph-Macon, a good Division III program in southern Virginia, before working as an assistant on Shaka Smart’s staff. He spent the last three seasons as the head coach at Rice, turning the Owls into a program that was relevant in Conference USA, and many in the industry believe him to be a guy that views VCU as a destination job. He’s intense, he’ll fit the Havoc mantra to a ‘T’ and understands just how important the Rams are to the city of Richmond.

At this point it’s fair to wonder if VCU is a job that makes the coach look better than he is — the last four VCU head coaches have gone on to get high-major jobs, the most successful of which was Jeff Capel, who ran the Oklahoma program into the ground after an Elite 8 appearance — but I think there’s little doubt Rhoades will have a great deal of success there. VCU, along with Dayton, should continue on as a top two program in the Atlantic 10 for the foreseeable future.

Archie Miller (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

GOOD HIRES

3. Brad Underwood, Illinois: I loved the way Illinois got this hire done. No search firms, no leaks and a fairly surprising announcement that popped up on a Saturday morning during the NCAA tournament, stating that the Illini had poached the former Stephen F. Austin coach from Oklahoma State. Underwood has been to four NCAA tournaments in four seasons as a head coach, went 89-13 at SFA and is coming off of an NCAA tournament trip with the Pokes that saw him turn Jawun Evans into a first round pick and Jeffery Carroll into an all-Big 12 player.

My concern at Illinois is going to be how well Underwood recruits Chicago. That’s the key to the Illinois job, and some of that concern was alleviated when Underwood hired ‘Chin’ Coleman, a former coach with the Mac Irvin Fire — Chicago’s powerhouse Nike AAU program — last week.

4. Cuonzo Martin, Missouri: Martin has been a hot name in coaching for what seems like half-a-decade at this point, but he’s been the head coach of three different programs for the last nine seasons and has been to just two NCAA tournaments and one Sweet 16 despite having a team with three NBA players at Tennessee and Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb at Cal. There’s reason to question his coaching chops, but when you’re a Missouri program that’s dealing with NCAA issues and coming off three straight 20-loss seasons, you’re not getting Archie Miller or Gregg Marshall.

St. Louis, where Martin is from, is loaded with players. He’ll keep kids from Missouri — a state that’s churned out the likes of Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, O.G. Anunoby, Ben McLemore, David Lee, Alec Burks, Pat McCaw and Tyler Hansbrough in the last decade — in-state, just like he did with Michael Porter Jr. That should be enough to keep Missouri in the mix for NCAA tournament bids and a top four finish in the SEC every year. What else do Tiger fans want?

Cuonzo Martin (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

5. Will Wade, LSU: Wade, like Miller and Keatts, is a guy that most believe to be an up-and-coming star in the business. After two successful seasons at Chattanooga and two NCAA tournaments with VCU — one of which came after an Atlantic 10 regular season title, which is something Shaka Smart never did — Wade jumped to LSU. It will be a transition for him, as he’ll be recruiting a different region and a different caliber of player, but he’s a bright guy, a very good coach and willing to play an entertaining style. I don’t know if I see him pushing Kentucky for SEC supremacy, but I do think he can make NCAA tournaments in Baton Rouge.

6. Kevin Keatts, N.C. State: Keatts was the guy that N.C. State needed to get once it became clear that Archie Miller wasn’t going to happen. He went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments with UNC Wilmington, he’s a proven recruiter and he’s a disciple of Rick Pitino. I have little doubt that Keatts will make the Wolfpack relevant in the ACC once again, but the question is whether or not relevance will suffice. The ACC is a monster. Duke finished fifth in the league and was a No. 2 seed. Clemson finished 12th and was on the bubble entering the ACC tournament. If Keatts consistently has N.C. State in the 6th-8th range in the league, making NCAA tournaments without pushing Duke or UNC for league titles, will everyone be happy with it?

7. Anthony Grant, Dayton: This wasn’t a sexy hire, but Grant is a Dayton alum that had success at VCU and has spent time in the NBA next to Billy Donovan on Oklahoma City’s bench. The biggest question I have here is going to be what it’s like replacing Archie Miller. Can he match his predecessor’s success? With everything the Flyers lose, it may take some time to get there.

Patrick Ewing (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

ROLLING THE DICE

8. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown: On the one hand, Patrick Ewing was a Hall of Fame NBA player that has spent the last 15 years on an NBA bench. He knows basketball. On the other hand, he’s never had to recruit before, he’s never run a college program before and there may be a reason that he was passed over as an NBA head coach time and again. He might turn out to be Fred Hoiberg. He might also turn out to be Chris Mullin. I think the former is more likely than the latter, but there’s nothing we can do but wait and see.

9. Mike Hopkins, Washington: It’s hard to know what to expect from ‘Hop’ after he spent the last two decades on staff at Syracuse, where he was the coach-in-waiting that got tired of waiting. I’ve always thought of the Huskies as a bit of a sleeping giant, one that Lorenzo Romar was able to awake for a five-year stretch last decade. If he can tap into the talent-rich Seattle recruiting grounds, he should be able to win games, but it’s hard to know for sure; all we’ve seen from him as a head coach was a 4-5 run as Syracuse’s interim last season, a year when the Orange made the Final Four.

10. Brian Dutcher, San Diego State: Steve Fisher retired earlier this month and was replaced by Dutcher, he longtime right-hand man and coaching-in-waiting. It will be fascinating to see what happens with the Aztecs now. Fisher built that into a Mountain West powerhouse from nothing, but SDSU fell on hard times in recent years. Dutcher knows everything that he needs to know about SDSU and how Fisher did what he did, but … how often does handing a program off to an assistant coach actually work? It’s probably less often than you think.

DID THE SCHOOLS GET THIS RIGHT?

11. Matt McCall, UMass: UMass looked like they had made a great hire with Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey, and then 15 minutes before a scheduled press conference to introduce him as the new head coach of the Minutemen, the hire was walked back. To be fair, UMass did end up getting a good one in McCall, who had a good two-year run at Chattanooga following in Will Wade’s footsteps, but it’s hard to be too celebratory about a hire when it’s clearly, at-best, the program’s No. 2 choice.

12. Paul Weir, New Mexico: The Lobos initially gave head coach Craig Neal a vote of confidence before eventually making the decision to change leadership. After a search that included names like Tim Miles and Spurs assistant James Barrego — twice — UNM eventually landed on Weir, who was the head coach at arch-rival New Mexico State.

COACHES IN A TOUGH SPOT

13. Wyking Jones, Cal, and Mike Boynton Jr., Oklahoma State: Both Cal and Oklahoma State opted to promote assistants already on staff instead of going out and finding a coach as a replacement, and both were put in difficult-to-impossible positions. Cal is losing essentially everyone — including star freshman point guard Charlie Moore — from a team that was already in need of a rebuild. Oklahoma State lost Phil Forte to graduation and Jawun Evans to the draft. Boynton, to his credit, at least returns Jeffery Carroll and has already landed Miami (OH) transfer Michael Weathers.

The more interesting story here, however, is that both Jones and Boynton are young, African-American assistant coaches that interviewed their way into head coaching jobs in Power 5 leagues. On the surface, this looks like a great thing for a profession that is skewed white, but, as one industry source put it, this “set young black coaches back another 10 years.” Oklahoma State, in a best-case scenario, is a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 program, and the current state of the program is not a best-case scenario. Cal is at least two years away from competing for an NCAA tournament berth. Put another way, it’s unlikely that anyone would have immediate success at either program, let alone two career assistants getting their first shot at a head coaching gig, and any struggles Jones and Boynton do have only makes it more difficult for the next young, black coach to get that next high-major head coaching opening.

And then there is the money aspect of this. Both Boynton and Jones got their jobs in part because neither university wanted to spend what was required to get a big name. Did they get the job because they came at a discount and were willing to take a shot at winning in a place where, financially, they aren’t set up to win?

“I’m 100 percent rooting for those guys to kill it,” the source said, “but this is the sad reality.”

Joel Berry II’s touching encounter with a grieving fan

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When you are the starting point guard at North Carolina and a preseason All-American coming off of a season where your team won the national title while you won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award, getting recognized in Chapel Hill comes with the territory.

Joel Berry II should expect it when he goes out to eat.

What Berry wasn’t expecting, however, was that simply being recognized could profoundly affect the life of one of his fans.

Berry shared the story with UNC’s in-house media arm, GoHeels.com. He was at breakfast with his girlfriend when he noticed two women eyeballing him. As it turns out, those two women were the mothers of two boys that had been best friends. One of the boys had moved to Oregon and, in February, died in an car accident. His name was Rob McKiver, and Berry was his favorite player on his favorite team.

MORE: Joel Berry II, fake tattoos and a family’s loving gesture

From GoHeels.com:

That’s why Carol Freedman and Myra McVicker sat in their booth that May morning with tears trickling down their cheeks. Freedman ultimately sent Berry a heartfelt email. She relayed the story of the McVicker family and then explained why the two women had been so closely watching Berry. “Your presence that Saturday, that morning when we could have met anywhere, at any other day or time, reaffirms our belief that those loved ones who leave this Earth are still with us if we look and listen,” she wrote. “In death, Rob let his mother know that his love for her is stronger than ever.”

The email deeply touched Berry, who wrote back that same day.

“This is by far the greatest email I have ever received,” Berry wrote. “I got goosebumps reading this letter and had to share it with my mom and dad. When telling my mom, she cried with joy knowing her son had impacted someone in that way. Each morning, I always tell myself, ‘Something good is going to happen today,’ and as I read that email, I said to myself, ‘This is more than something good. This is a life changer and I will always remember this.'”

I wrote about Berry and his family after UNC won the national title. I found him to be a likeable young man and someone who is very easy to root for, unless, of course, you live in Durham.

I guess I’m not the only one that feels that way.

Tommy Hawkins, first black all-american at Notre Dame, dead at 80 years old

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tommy Hawkins, the first black basketball player to earn All-America honors at Notre Dame and who played for the Los Angeles Lakers during a 10-year NBA career, died Wednesday. He was 80.

Hawkins died in his sleep at home in Malibu, son Kevin told The Associated Press. He had been in good health and had lay down to rest, his oldest son said.

Hawkins graduated from Notre Dame in 1959 after playing three years on the basketball team. He had 1,318 career rebounds for the longest-standing record in Fighting Irish history. He was named to the school’s All-Century team in 2004 and inducted into its Ring of Honor in 2015. He led the Irish to a 44-13 record over his last two seasons, including an Elite Eight berth in the 1958 NCAA Tournament.

“He loved Notre Dame with every fiber of his being,” said Kevin Hawkins, who followed in his father’s footsteps and played basketball for the Irish before graduating in 1981. “He said Notre Dame did so much for him and grew him up to become the man that he would become.”

Hawkins became close with Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh, who served from 1952-87. Hesburgh was supportive when Hawkins was dating a white woman from nearby Saint Mary’s College and they were turned away from a South Bend restaurant that wouldn’t allow the interracial couple to dine, Kevin Hawkins said.

“That act led Father Hesburgh to ban Notre Dame (students) from eating there until my father got a public apology,” Kevin Hawkins said by phone from his home in South Bend. “Notre Dame walked the talk when you talk about civil rights. That meant the world to him.”

Kevin Hawkins said his father’s basketball teammate and future NFL Hall of Famer Paul Hornung led Hawkins back to the restaurant to secure the apology.

Kevin Hawkins said he spoke to his father almost daily and they had recently discussed last weekend’s civil unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Hawkins was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers with the third pick in the first round of the 1959 NBA draft. He played one season in Minnesota before moving with the team to Los Angeles. He went on to play six seasons for the Lakers, averaging 9.0 points and 5.7 rebounds in 454 games.

The 6-foot-5 forward also played for the Cincinnati Royals from 1962-66. Hawkins recorded 6,672 points and 4,607 rebounds in his pro career.

“He was and will always be part of the Lakers family,” team CEO and majority owner Jeanie Buss said. “His baritone voice and easy demeanor made him a favorite of the fans and media, as well as everyone who had the honor of calling him a friend.”

Hawkins’ influence continued beyond his playing days. As a player representative, he had a key role in establishing the first collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union and the NBA.

Born Thomas Jerome Hawkins on Dec. 22, 1936, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he moved to Chicago with his mother and aunt as a child. He starred at the city’s Parker High, now Robeson High, before being recruited by Notre Dame.

Kevin Hawkins recalled his father as a man with interests that ranged from poetry to jazz to sports. He self-published a book of poetry and Hawkins was in the midst of writing a memoir on his basketball career when he died.

“My father was a person who didn’t want to be defined as a jock or an ex-player,” Kevin Hawkins said. “He was an eclectic man. He had stories about everything from Notre Dame to the NBA to broadcasting.”

Hawkins enjoyed friendships with Alabama football coach Bear Bryant; UCLA basketball coach John Wooden; Southern California football coach John McKay; and artist LeRoy Neiman.

“You think about a man who grew up in the projects of Chicago that had done all these things in his life,” Kevin Hawkins said. “He called himself a cosmic functionary. That was his big deal. It made us all cringe, but he just loved it. He was a man of the world and a man of the people.”

Hawkins’ gregarious personality was on full display as master of ceremonies for the John R. Wooden Award presentation for over 30 years before he passed on his MC duties in 2011. He was co-national chairman of the award that honors the nation’s top male and female college basketball players.

Hawkins was hired in 1987 by then-Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley to be vice president of communications and he worked for the team until 2004.

“In life we are fortunate to know many people and Tommy was one person I always looked forward to seeing and being with,” said O’Malley, who sold the team in 1998. “He did an extraordinary job for the Dodgers as vice president, and his friendship will be missed by his family and many admirers.”

The Dodgers had a moment of silence for Hawkins before their game against the White Sox on Wednesday night.

Before joining the Dodgers, Hawkins worked in radio and television in Southern California, including stints with KNBC-TV and KABC radio.

He is survived by his second wife, Layla, and their daughter Neda; his first wife, Dori, and their children Kevin, Karel, Traci and David; seven grandchildren; and a great grandchild.

The family will likely hold a public memorial at a future date, Kevin Hawkins said.

Brad Underwood pokes fun at his version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’

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On Thursday afternoon, Brad Underwood, the new head coach of Illinois, was invited to Wrigley Field to throw out the first pitch and sing ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ during the seventh inning stretch.

While the ceremonial first pitch went well, his rendition of the ballpark classic did not go as smoothly.

Underwood was at least able to poke fun at his vocals following his performance.

“I’d rather coach naked than sing in front of 40,000,” Underwood said afterward. “There’s a reason my wife won’t let me sing in church.”

Underwood took over Illinois in mid-March following a one-year stint at Oklahoma State. He had previously led Stephen F. Austin to three NCAA Tournament appearances in as many seasons.

 

AAC plan men’s basketball tourney at new Texas arena in ’20

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The American Athletic Conference will hold its men’s basketball tournament in a new arena in North Texas in 2020.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco announced Wednesday that Dickies Arena in Fort Worth has been selected to host the tournament for three years, starting in March 2020. That is only four months after the facility is scheduled to open.

On the same day of a groundbreaking ceremony for the 14,000-seat arena last April, the NCAA announced that first- and second-round games of the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be held there. The NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are scheduled there from 2020-22.

The closest AAC school to the new arena is SMU, with its campus in Dallas about 40 miles away.

Orlando will host the 2018 AAC tournament, which moves to Memphis in 2019.

After hearing, UNC now awaits NCAA ruling in academic case

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North Carolina has wrapped up a two-day hearing with an NCAA infractions committee panel that will decide whether the school faces penalties tied to its multi-year academic scandal.

Now the case goes into yet another holding pattern.

School officials spent much of Wednesday in a closed-door meeting with committee members in Nashville, Tennessee. They returned Thursday morning for a second session lasting about 4½ hours with the panel that will determine whether UNC faces penalties such as fines, probation or vacated wins and championships.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn confirmed the hearing was complete but both sides were mum afterward.

Osburn didn’t comment further because the panel must deliberate before issuing a ruling, which typically comes weeks to months after a hearing. UNC athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner said the school wouldn’t have any comments about the hearing either.

Getting through the hearing process was a major step toward resolution in a delay-filled case tied to irregular courses, though there’s still the potential for the case to linger beyond a ruling if UNC decides to appeal or pursue legal action. The school faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control.

The focus is independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades.

In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

The case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe of the football program that resulted in sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in a May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and then again in December.

Most notably, the NCAA originally treated some of the academic issues as improper benefits by saying athletes received access to the courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes. The NCAA removed that charge in the second Notice of Allegations (NOA), then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter .

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

UNC chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell attended both hearing days. Football coach Larry Fedora, who wasn’t at UNC at the time in question, attended Wednesday’s session.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in the broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor Jan Boxill providing improper assistance on assignments.

Boxill and Deborah Crowder, who is also charged individually in the case, attended Wednesday with their attorneys but didn’t return Thursday. Crowder is a former AFAM office administrator who enrolled students, distributed assignments and graded many of the papers in irregular courses.

The infractions panel is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.