Coaching Change Preview

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Coaching Changes: Who’s set for success, failure

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The college basketball coaching carousel was in full effect last spring, as 40 head coaching positions changed hands. Of those 40 jobs, 12 major high major programs will enter this season with a new man in charge while six more teams that would be classified as mid-major plus had turnover in leadership.

Here are the coaches in the best position to succeed immediately, and those that will likely need some time before they see the kind of success they’re used to:


  1. Steve Prohm, Iowa State: With Fred Hoiberg making the move to the NBA, someone was bound to land a job coaching a team with the talent needed to play deep into the NCAA tournament. Prohm was the pick for Iowa State after a successful run at Murray State, and with players such as Monte Morris, Georges Niang and Jameel McKay, his first season in Ames can be a special one.
  2. Will Wade, VCU: Yes, Wade has some personnel losses to account as the former Shaka Smart assistant returns to VCU; most notably, Briante Weber and Treveon Graham have graduated. The cupboard isn’t bare either, however, as Melvin Johnson is back for his senior year, as are JeQuan Lewis and Mo-Alie Cox. Look for the Rams to once again be a factor in the Atlantic 10 race. (And yes, I know my opinion differs from some of my colleagues.)
  3. Tim Duryea, Utah State: Duryea’s definitely familiar with the USU roster, as he served as the now-retired Stew Morrill’s assistant for 14 seasons. And he’s got a good roster to work with, with all five starters returning led by forwards Jalen Moore and David Collette. Utah State exceeded expectations by finishing fourth in the Mountain West a season ago; they’ll be expected to contend this time around and have the pieces to do just that.
  4. Mike White, Florida: Like Prohm, White arrives at his new gig after experiencing a lot of success at his last stop. But unlike Prohm he’s taking over for a coach in Billy Donovan took Florida’s program to heights never before reached in the history of the program. There’s some talent to work with, especially if he can get Kasey Hill going, and White also managed to hold onto most of Florida’s 2015 recruiting class.
  5. Ben Howland, Mississippi State: While Howland’s resume surpasses that of any other coach on this list, and he’ll have Malik Newman at his disposal, that doesn’t overtake the fact that there’s a lot to be done with a program that struggled mightily in the three seasons prior. Howland put together a good recruiting class led by Newman, but if there’s a concern it’s the health of his front court (that wasn’t all too deep to begin with).
  6. Matt McCall, Chattanooga: McCall’s first head coaching gig at the Division I level has the potential to be a very successful one, thanks to the talent due back on campus. Four starters, including guard Casey Jones and forward Justin Tuoyo, return from a team that won 22 games and finished 15-3 in SoCon play.
  7. Eran Ganot, Hawai’i: Last season began with tumult for Hawai’i, but interim head coach Benjy Taylor was able to lead the Rainbow Warriors to 22 wins and a run to the Big West tournament final. Now former Saint Mary’s assistant Eran Ganot takes over an experienced group that returns three starters (seven who started at least two games) led by Big West Defensive Player of the Year Roderick Bobbitt.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

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  1. Shaka Smart, Texas: A key question for some is how Smart’s pressure system will mesh with bigs who are best equipped to play in the half court. However the biggest issue in Smart’s first season at the helm in Austin is the strength of the Big 12, with perennial favorite Kansas leading what should be a deep race. There’s still talent, enough to make the tournament, but contending in the Big 12 may take a little time.
  2. Rick Barnes, Tennessee: Barnes has relocated to Knoxville, where he’ll aim to rejuvenate a program that dealt with the Donnie Tyndall investigation (and ultimately, firing) for much of last season. Three starters return but the one true difference-maker, Josh Richardson, isn’t among those players. Add in a lack of size in the post, and this could be a difficult season for Barnes in an SEC that will be improved.
  3. Avery Johnson, Alabama: Johnson and his staff have made some waves recruiting-wise, most notably reeling in Terrance Ferguson, and that certainly bodes well for the future. However, when it comes to this season he inherits a roster that lost its top three scorers from a season ago. That could prove difficult to overcome in a league that’s improved from last season.
  4. Chris Mullin, St. John’s: To say that Mullin and his staff were left with a bare cupboard would be an understatement. Two of the remaining players (Chris Obekpa and Rysheed Jordan) didn’t exactly mesh with the new staff’s plans, so they moved on. The work done by Mullin and assistants Barry Rohrssen and Matt Abdelmassih to fill out the roster will help St. John’s in the long run, but this season could be a difficult one.
  5. Brian Wardle, Bradley: Wardle’s move from Green Bay to Peoria, Illinois is a big one for a Bradley program that struggled in a big way under Geno Ford. Given Wardle’s accomplishments he’s got a good chance of turning things around. But it’s going to take some time to do so, especially with just one starter from last season’s nin win team back on campus. There was a lot of turnover on the roster, so the Braves will take their lumps as a result.
  6. Bobby Hurley, Arizona State: Hurley put together two successful seasons at Buffalo before making the move west, and he inherits a roster doesn’t lack for experience. In a similar situation at Buffalo in 2013-14, he led the Bulls to 19 wins and had the MAC Player of the Year in Javon McCrea. The two issues this time around: while the Pac-12 may not have a dominant team as it did a season ago (Arizona) it is deeper, and the Sun Devils will have to navigate a tough non-conference slate as well.
  7. Dave Leitao, DePaul: Since Leitao’s first run at DePaul came to an end in 2005, the Blue Demons have struggled mightily. Now he returns to the Windy City, and while there is some talent (Billy Garrett Jr. being one option) there’s a long way to go when it comes to making a move up the Big East standings and being a true factor in the conference.

Coaches on the Hot Seat

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As we get closer to the start of the 2015-16 college basketball season, let’s take a look at the head coaches who need to have a good season in order to feel safe. While the list of coaches on CBT’s “hot seat” have had poor seasons and lost their jobs before, keep in mind that the last two No. 1 selections for this list kept their jobs the following season, including Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who is currently thriving in College Park. 

1. Tom Crean, Indiana: Indiana enters the 2015-16 season with top-25 talent and high expectations, but Crean finds himself atop the hot seat list for failing to meet expectations at Indiana. Crean’s now entering his eighth season as the Indiana head coach, and only once in the previous seven seasons — the 2012-13 season — have the Hoosiers been good enough to be considered a true title contender. That’s not enough, but not only is Crean struggling to find the success the Hoosier fan base craves on the floor, but the dismissal of three more players this offseason hasn’t made life any easier off the floor. Indiana’s president isn’t pleased with the off-the-court developments and many prominent Indiana alums have been vocal about the Hoosiers falling below expectations. A big season would go a long way towards quieting Crean’s doubters.

2. Josh Pastner, Memphis: Much like Crean at Indiana, Pastner has achieved success but faltered compared to a passionate fan base’s expectations. Memphis missed the postseason altogether for the first time in 15 years with last season’s 18-14 record and the team’s best returning player, Austin Nichols, transferred to Virginia, following Nick King and Pookie Powell out the door. Pastner is going to rely heavily on the freshman Lawson brothers to make a postseason appearance immediately, but in a city that became accustomed to the success of John Calipari’s Tigers, will they be satisfied if we’ve already seen Peak Pastner?

3. Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech: After a 12-19 season and 14th place finish, Gregory is back for his fifth season at Georgia Tech. He’s never finished above ninth in the ACC. Gregory has coached one team to the NCAA tournament in his last 11 seasons and that came at Dayton in 2010. The local recruiting momentum is also limited for Georgia Tech under Gregory. The Yellow Jackets went 0-for-7 recruiting prospects from Georgia in the Rivals150 in the Class of 2015. In the Class of 2016, that number is 1-for-11.

4. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall: Entering his sixth season at Seton Hall, Willard has finished above .500 twice and owns a 30-60 mark in the Big East. Having never made the NCAA tournament as a head coach, the pressure is on Willard to produce even though experienced guards Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina both transferred out of the program.

5. John Groce, Illinois: Illinois missed the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1992 and that isn’t sitting well with Illini fans. Groce has never finished above seventh in the Big Ten and he hasn’t been able to reel in a lot of big-named recruits that Illinois finds itself a finalist for. Transfers like Darius Paul and Aaron Cosby haven’t lasted and proved to be harmful as replacements for those missed recruits. Illinois fans expect results and Groce needs to make the NCAAs again.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Illinois head coach John Groce (Getty Images)
Illinois head coach John Groce (Getty Images)

6. Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois: The once proud Southern Illinois program has had to endure Hinson’s three-year tenure. He’s thrown his own players under the bus during a postgame press conference and publicly remarked about his job security this spring. The Salukis own a 40-57 record and 19-35 mark in conference play under Hinson and he lost five transfers this offseason, three of them freshmen.

7. Donnie Jones, UCF: UCF was successful in Conference USA, but its been a rough back-to-back stretch for the program. Jones has never made the NCAA tournament and his 2010-11 wins were vacated for using ineligible players. Jones was also suspended three CUSA games and the program put on probation. Now he’s 25-36 overall and 9-27 in the American the last two seasons.

8. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State: It’s never a good sign when the team’s athletic director and biggest public booster, T. Boone Pickens, publicly have to back Travis Ford, which is precisely what happened in Stillwater this offseason. It’s a far worse sign that Ford owns no NCAA tournament wins since 2009 despite recruiting McDonald’s All-Americans like LeBryan Nash and Marcus Smart, who both played for multiple seasons.

9. Dave Rice, UNLV: Rice has proven to be a formidable force on the recruiting trail, but that success has yet to translate on the Thomas and Mack Center court, as the Rebs have missed the last two NCAA tournaments. Rice was feeling the heat a little bit this offseason when rumors of Ben Howland looking at UNLV began swirling, but Howland is now at Mississippi State and Rice landed hometown McDonald’s All-American Stephen Zimmerman. Rice still doesn’t own any NCAA tournament wins, and with yet another talented recruiting class, he needs a strong season.

10. Kim Anderson, Missouri: Anderson’s first season at Mizzou was a disaster as the team went 9-23 and 3-15 in the SEC. It’s not looking much better in the future as the Tigers lost some key pieces — namely Jonathan Williams III and Teki Gill-Cesear — to transfer.

Key assistant coaching hires

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Assistant coaches lay low and out of the spotlight most of the time, getting tireless amounts of work done to recruit and scout for upcoming games. This offseason saw a number of teams make nice additions to their staffs in the form of assistant coaches. While some guys on this list are connected recruiters, others are former head coaches who add a lot in player development, game planning or advance scouting. Here’s ten programs who made impact assistant coaching moves this offseason.

Bob Simon, Alabama: With Avery Johnson being new to the college game, the hire of associate head coach Bob Simon was invaluable to the Crimson Tide. With over 20 years of college coaching experience, Simon has been apart of successful stints as an assistant coach at Providence, Fairfield and Toledo. An associate head coach under Ed Cooley at both Providence and Fairfield, Simon has coached and developed some very talented players.

Brian Merritt and Rashon Burno, Arizona State: While Bobby Hurley was smart to bring Levi Watkins with him from Buffalo, he finished out his assistant staff with the hiring of two noted recruiters. Merritt just spent the past five years as the right-hand man of legendary basketball coach and trainer John Lucas, so he brings deep national connections to Tempe including players like Thon Maker and Mario Kegler. Besides being strong on the recruiting trail, Burno should help Arizona State’s guards develop much like he helped in previous stops at Florida and Manhattan.

Mark Phelps, Arizona: Although Arizona lost popular assistant Damon Stoudamire to Memphis, they replaced him with the experienced Phelps, who has been an assistant at places like Marquette, Missouri, Arizona State and N.C. State while also serving five years as head coach at Drake. Phelps knows how to recruit in the state of Arizona having been associate head coach for the Sun Devils at one point, and he should also aid Miller in every facet.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

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Barry “Slice” Rohrssen and Matt Abdelmassih, St. John’s: The return of Chris Mullin is obviously the big news for St. John’s fans this offseason, but the addition of two Brooklyn natives — and strong recruiters — on Mullin’s staff should help the Red Storm quite a bit. Rohrssen, the associate head coach, brings over 20 years of coaching experience, including recent assistant stints at Kentucky and Pitt, as well as a head coaching stop at Manhattan. Abdelmassih is a St. John’s alum who did well recruiting transfers at his previous stop as an assistant coach at Iowa State. Both should bring talent into St. John’s and help with the rebuild.

T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State: Steve Prohm has to be pleased that veteran Cyclone assistant T.J. Otzelberger decided to stay once Fred Hoiberg left for the Chicago Bulls. Otzelberger returns to Ames this season after a stint as associate head coach at Washington. Before leaving for Washington, Otzelberger spent seven seasons on the Iowa State bench as he was in charge of opponent scouting reports, game planning and recruiting some of the current roster before he left (Naz Long, Matt Thomas). Prohm’s transition to the Big 12 will be smoother thanks to Otzelberger’s experience with the program.

Damon Stoudamire, Memphis: Much like Otzelberger, former NBA Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire is returning to a familiar bench as he’s back at Memphis after a stint at his alma mater of Arizona. The Tigers and head coach Josh Pastner are thrilled to have Stoudamire back because he has a strong pedigree working with guards — which Memphis could use help with — and he’s popular with recruits because of his NBA background. Memphis has become a home to Stoudamire and his family because of his NBA career there so he’ll be happy to return to Pastner.

Jamal Brunt, Miami: One of the most underrated hires of the spring was Richmond associate head coach Jamal Brunt moving to Miami as an assistant. Brunt moved from Richmond’s director of operations up the ladder to associate head coach by recruiting high-caliber talent (Justin Harper) and coaching in a program that had a lot of success the last 10 years when he was there.

Chris Harriman, New Mexico: New Mexico was able to lure the Australian away from Nebraska as they gave Harriman the title of associate head coach. A noted recruiter with deep ties to Australia and New Zealand, Harriman worked under Rick Majerus at Saint Louis and Tim Miles at Nebraska, so he’s seen some unique head coaches during his time.

Jeff Battle, Providence: A veteran assistant who spent 13 years as Wake Forest’s associate head coach under three different coaches, Battle’s addition to the Providence coaching staff is a welcomed one. Battle is a noted recruiter and has also been lauded for developing talented point guards (Chris Paul, Jeff Teague, Ish Smith) and wings (James Posey, Josh Howard). Battle has also spent time at Xavier, Loyola (Md.) and Delaware State. It’ll be interesting to see Battle’s work with Kris Dunn this season.

Will Conroy, Washington: The addition of Conroy, a popular former guard, means that Washington’s recruiting fortress around Seattle only got stronger. A former pro in the NBA, D League and Europe, Conroy has a lot of recent pro experience and is young enough at age 32 to still be relatable to many players he’s recruiting. Conroy grew up playing ball with many of Seattle’s best hoopers (while also being impressive in his own right) and he’s very connected in the local basketball community.