Grading college basketball's major coaching hires

Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports

May means four things in America: baseball, the NBA playoffs, evaluating offseason coaching hires in college basketball by assigning each one a grade, and allergies. This post is about one of those four things.

Ah, springtime in college basketball. That glorious period where the only thing more abundant than NBA Draft declaration and transfer lists are features on the ever-rotating "coaching carousel." There's also a lot of sneezing, and nobody outside of pros and guys who are about to be pros is playing basketball that we can watch. It's actually not glorious at all. I don't even know why I said that earlier. The Benadryl does most of my writing in May.

Anyway, let's fight through allergy season the same way folks in the Ohio Valley have been for years: by assigning grades to each of the major offseason coaching hires in college hoops. Sorry Oregon State, we got tired of waiting.

Missouri

Hired: Kim Anderson | Came From: Central Missouri | Replacing: Frank Haith (left for Tulsa)

No program has had a more interesting offseason than Missouri. First there was center Zach Price getting arrested twice in one day after a pair of incidents with teammate/roommate Earnest Ross (Price was eventually dismissed). Next up was super-bizarre coach Frank Haith making the appropriately bizarre decision to bolt for Tulsa. And now, as the final act, we have AD Mike Alden hiring a 59-year-old head coach with precisely zero experience as a Division I head coach.

As our own Rock M Nation eloquently points out, the amount of unknowns surrounding Anderson have left us in a situation where everyone who has an opinion about the hire is right (and wrong, I suppose). Still, I love the move to bring in Anderson for one reason: the potential reward outweighs the risk, which is an almost unheard of phenomenon these days.

Sans Gregg Marshall, there were no major names being tossed around during the Missouri search, no potential hires which would have elicited dozens of stories with the words "home" and "run" in the headline. That being the case, why not take a swing with a native son whom the entire fan base already embraces (at least from a non-professional standpoint)? If Anderson fails, then Alden and the brass get raked over the coals in the same manner they would have had any other hire failed. If he succeeds, though, this will be about as good as good can be for Mizzou.

Periods of great success that follow periods of sustained disappointment are almost always the most rewarding for a fan base. A true "Missouri Man" leading that charge would only add to the resulting euphoria for the Tiger fan base. This alone is reason enough to give a high mark to the hiring of a relative unknown.

GRADE: B+

Wake Forest

Hired: Danny Manning | Came From: Tulsa | Replacing: Jeff Bzdelik (fired)

One of the biggest complaints Wake Forest fans had during the Jeff Bzdelik era was that the head coach didn't seem to be able to connect with his players, a fact which was blamed for the Demon Deacons' consistently apathetic body language. Also, the losing. People didn't like the losing.

With Manning, you bring in a two-time NBA All-Star who won a national championship and is still considered one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. Just like that, lack of respect and relatability are no longer concerns in Winston-Salem.

What is a concern is the fact that Manning only has two years of head coaching experience under his belt, an abnormally small number for a guy taking over a program as high-profile as Wake Forest. There are also some worries over how his laid-back personality will play in the world of major college hoops recruiting.

Still, you have name recognition, you have success as a head coach and you have a guy with nine years of work under one of the best coaches in the game (Bill Self) on his resume. That's not bad for a former top-tier program looking to quell a free fall.

GRADE: B-

Boston College

Hired: Jim Christian | Came From: Ohio | Replacing: Steve Donahue (fired)

Christian was 49-22 in two seasons at Ohio, but never got to make a major name for himself because he never led the Bobcats into the NCAA Tournament. As a result, his hiring was met with a collective shrug from a fan base already turned off by two 20-loss seasons in the past three years.

Since accepting the job, Christian has been able to convince Olivier Hanlan to avoid the temptation to jump to either the NBA or another program, but has lost both Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon to transfer. Jeremy Miller, the lone BC pledge in the class of 2015, also announced over the weekend that he was re-opening his recruitment.

Things were going to be tough for whomever Brad Bates hired, but the climb back towards national relevance is going to be especially steep for a guy like Christian, who doesn't have the name recognition to instantly galvanize the fan base or the returning Eagle players.

GRADE: C-

California

Hired: Cuonzo Martin | Came From: Tennessee | Replacing: Mike Montgomery (retired)

For numerous reasons, this is probably the most intriguing and difficult to grade hire on the list.

First, there are the mixed results at Tennessee. In three seasons, Martin coached a team that overachieved to make the NIT, a team that underachieved to make the NIT, and then one that underachieved for the bulk of the season before winning three games in the NCAA Tournament.

Next, there's the perceived lack of support for Martin from the brass at UT. There's debate over how much the situation affected the on-court success of his teams in Knoxville, but zero doubt that it played an enormous role in Martin's desire to parlay his first taste of success in the Big Dance into a new gig.

There are multiple reasons for Bear fans to be both excited and skeptical about Martin's arrival in Berkeley. The good includes the fact that advanced statistics have always been big fans of his teams, and that he seems to really connect with his players -- a fact evidenced by the current Tennessee roster's overwhelming support for their former head coach's decision to bounce. The bad includes just one NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons as a head coach, and having zero ties to the West Coast.

Martin's teams have always played tremendous defense, and if he can recruit at least moderately well right out of the gate, then his first couple of teams should have little trouble competing in a Pac-12 that doesn't figure to be overrun with next-level talent.

GRADE: B-

Tennessee

Hired: Donnie Tyndall | Came From: Southern Mississippi | Replacing: Cuonzo Martin (left for Cal)

Tyndall isn't young and his name was never going to be associated with the word "hot" in a discussion about a coaching hire, but his track record of success speaks for itself. He won 20 or more games in three of his six seasons at Morehead State, and led the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament twice (they upset Louisville in 2011). Then he took over a Southern Mississippi program that many expected to fall off the face of the earth after the departure of Larry Eustachy and didn't miss a beat, winning 27 games in 2012-13 and 29 games this past season.

Tyndall knows the South, he's coached in the SEC before (LSU assistant from 1997-2001) and he's already showcased the ability to adapt to his roster. While he may not be the type to paint up and go bare-chested at a UT women's game, he's certainly more extroverted than Martin was, a characteristic which will endear him to a fan base still upset over the way the program parted with Bruce Pearl.

It seems like people have been projecting Tennessee to join Kentucky and Florida as the SEC's perpetual national title contenders for the past decade, and if he can recruit well enough, I think Tyndall has the coaching chops to finally make that vision a reality.

GRADE: B+

Virginia Tech

Hired: Buzz Williams | Came From: Marquette | Replacing: James Johnson (fired)

Williams has been a fixture in offseason coaching rumors since he first tasted success at Marquette in 2009, but had previously always wound up making his way back to Milwaukee. That being the case, his decision to make a move to one of the worst programs in the ACC and a job where he figures to make less money than he would have at Marquette (at least initially) is probably the biggest stunner of the offseason.

It's also a huge coup for Virginia Tech that deserves every bit of the praise it's received in recent weeks. Williams was a model of consistency at Marquette, making the NCAA Tournament in five of six seasons and advancing to the second weekend in three straight years from 2011-13. In addition to his on-court track record, he has the character to draw in the casual basketball fan, a must-have characteristic for success at a football-first school like Virginia Tech.

GRADE: A+

Marquette

Hired: Steve Wojciechowski | Came From: Duke (assistant) | Replacing: Buzz Williams (left for Virginia Tech)

For a while it seemed like both Wojo and Chris Collins were going to spend their entire careers sitting next to Coach K on the bench inside Cameron Indoor, but now each has landed his very own head coaching gig at a program in a major conference. While Collins effectively provided hope for the future in his first season at Northwestern, Wojciechowski's task at Marquette is a bit different. The Golden Eagles had been to eight straight NCAA Tournaments before last season, and the fans of the program expect to be a year-in, year-out Final Four contender.

There's always going to be "lack of head coaching experience" concerns when a major program hires a lifelong assistant, and you can't just dismiss the fact that, other than a brief playing stint overseas, Wojciechowski hasn't worked or played anywhere outside of Duke since 1994. That said, there's probably not a better place for a future head coach to spend two decades, and the recent success of longtime Blue Devil assistants like Mike Brey and Tommy Amaker reinforces that notion.

Marquette's hire was about continuity, and Wojo should be able to provide that.

GRADE: B+

Auburn

Hired: Bruce Pearl | Came From: ESPN (previously Tennessee) | Replacing: Tony Barbee (fired)

The highest-profile hire of the spring comes from a program that has been among the worst of all the major conferences for the past decade. Pearl moshing with Tiger fans just seconds after landing in Auburn made national headlines, but the simpler fact that there was anyone in the area excited enough about Auburn basketball to want to greet the new head coach at the airport might be the bigger story.

Auburn hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003, and its ever-dwindling attendance numbers have been among the lowest in major college basketball in each of the past five seasons. Hiring one of the biggest personalities in the sport is an immediate fix for the second problem, and bringing in a guy with 10 NCAA Tournament wins on his resume should also go a long way towards being the remedy for the first.

GRADE: A

Washington State

Hired: Ernie Kent | Came From: Pac-12 Network (previously Oregon) | Replacing: Ken Bone (fired)

The former Oregon coach is back in the Pac-12 and reunited with athletic director Bill Moos, who hired Kent away from Saint Mary's back in 1997. Kent had success in Eugene initially, taking the Ducks to the NCAA Tournament five times, including Elite Eight appearances in 2002 and 2007, but he was axed by Mike Bellotti in 2010 after finishing 10th and ninth in the Pac-10 in consecutive seasons.

Kent has experienced as much success as any front man in the history of Cougar basketball, but his resume gives no insight into whether or not he has the ability to resurrect ("build" might be a better word) a program like Washington State. There's also the fact that he's been completely out of coaching for the past four years. Coug fans can spin that in the direction of him having an increased appetite for success, but the fact of the matter is that Kent hasn't been anything resembling a hot commodity since he was let go at Oregon.

GRADE: C+

South Florida

Hired: Orlando Antigua | Came From: Kentucky (assistant) | Replacing: Stan Heath (fired)

We won't dive into the Steve Masiello drama, but we must at least mention his name if only to point out that Antigua was not Plan A in Tampa. As you might expect, the longtime John Calipari assistant brings a reputation for being an elite recruiter with him to USF, and that ability is going to be put to the test right off the bat if Antigua wants to have any immediate success ... or enough guys to field a team.

Since the firing of Stan Heath, five Bulls -- Josh Heath, Zach LeDay, Musa Abdul-Aleem, JaVontae Hawkins and, most importantly, John Egbunu -- have elected to leave the program. As it stands, Antigua currently is in charge of a roster with six (active) scholarship players, including two freshmen who didn't play last season. He made his biggest play to date when he landed Marshall transfer Kareem Canty over the weekend, but Canty won't be eligible until 2015-16.

There's no question that Antigua is going to have his hands full initially, but if he can keep Anthony Collins (assuming he's healthy enough to play) and offer a glimmer of hope for the future, then it should be enough to temporarily appease the fans in Tampa. Beyond that, so little is known about Antigua's ability as a teacher that it's impossible to project whether or not he'll be able to surpass the achievements of his predecessor. Playing in a conference that isn't the Big East makes success more attainable, but as the AAC proved this season, it's always going to have a handful of elite teams at the top that are going to make mobility for the rest of the conference pretty difficult.

GRADE: C

Southern Mississippi

Hired: Doc Sadler | Came From: Iowa State (assistant) | Replacing: Donnie Tyndall (left for Tennessee)

Southern Miss was able to continue its recent trend of replacing an experienced coach with another experienced coach by hiring Sadler, who was 149-107 over eight seasons as the head coach at UTEP (2004-06) and Nebraska (2006-2012). It's the smart play for a program that can't afford to lose momentum after winning at least 19 games in seven of the past eight seasons.

GRADE: B

Tulsa

Hired: Frank Haith | Came From: Missouri | Replacing: Danny Manning (left for Wake Forest)

The good is obvious: we're just a little over two years removed from Haith being named as the Associated Press National Coach of the Year. The bad, however, is equally obvious: Haith has won just one NCAA Tournament game in 10 seasons as a head coach, and if he didn't leave Columbia on his own accord, then his seat was going to be among the hottest in college basketball heading into next season.

The Golden Hurricane are coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years, and provide Haith with a situation where he won't be overwhelmed by pressure or national attention. Maybe that makes it a perfect fit. Or maybe the circus that followed Haith from Miami to Missouri makes its way to Oklahoma. The mixture of unknowns and ridiculousness surrounding this hire makes it impossible to be overly harsh or overly lenient.

GRADE: C+

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