Grading College Basketball's Major Coaching Hires

Mar 15, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas State Wildcats head coach Frank Martin reacts against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles during the first half in the second round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Wildcats won 70-64. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The top available college basketball coaching positons for the 2012-13 season have all been filled. Some did it well, others did it not so well.

When Frank Haith was hired by Missouri in early April 2011, the move was almost universally lambasted by sportswriters and fans alike. Less than a year later, Haith was named as the National Coach of the Year for the 2011-12 season.

You'd think the intention of that introduction would be to warn readers that they need to take the following grades with a grain of salt. It wasn't. All of the grades you see below are 100 percent accurate. I just thought Haith's story was inspring and that the world could use it on a Thursday afternoon.

Illinois

Hired: Jim Groce | Came From: Ohio | Replacing: Bruce Weber (fired)

Give credit to Groce, who leveraged a Sweet 16 run at Ohio -- which ended only after top-seeded North Carolina needed overtime to outlast the Bobcats -- into landing the highest profile job available in the country.

Groce's on-court achievements speak for themselves. He took Ohio to the NCAA Tournament twice and won a total of three games after getting there. What he doesn't have is name recognition, a major defect for a position where one of the major demands is an ability to draw top talent out of the city of Chicago.

"I got two words -- good luck," said Mac Irvin Fire coach Mike Irvin, whose current players include nationally-ranked junior Jabari Parker and sophomore Jahlil Okafor. "I don't know him. I've never met him. I don't know who he is. Really the past 4-5 years, we've had high-major players in our program, so we never crossed paths with him."

Curie High School coach Mike Oliver voiced a similar opinion. Oliver's top player is 6'9 sophomore center Cliff Alexander, who is currently ranked No. 11 in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.

"I never heard of him in my life," Oliver said. "I don't know who he was. I understand he's the head coach of Ohio. I think it's very disappointing. Personally, I don't know his background. I don't think that's a big upgrade with what we had. I think we're back in the same situation or worse than when we had coach (Bruce) Weber."

You can't win the Big Ten without top-tier talent, and it's going to take an overachieving season or a big-name recruit taking a chance for Groce to gain the buzz necessary to pull that talent in.

GRADE: C-

--//--

Kansas State

Hired: Bruce Weber | Came From: Illinois | Replacing: Frank Martin (left for South Carolina)

The man whose firing opened the door for Groce at Illinois landed on his feet without much of a stumble. He'll inherit a Kansas State team that could begin next season ranked in the top 25, and appears poised to be a contender in the Big 12 for at least another year after that.

Frank Martin achieved success the likes of which the K-State basketball program hadn't seen in decades, which is why it's so strange that athletic director John Currie went out and hired a man who is basically Martin's polar opposite. Perhaps it was because Currie and Martin's relationship was reportedly strained, but it's still quite the risk to follow-up Martin's in-your-face, recruit-'til-you-drop persona with the extremely even-keeled Weber.

With Rodney McGruder back in the fold, Weber could have success in Manhattan right away so long as the players are able to adjust well to the culture shock that will occur. The long-term concern is whether or not he'll be able to bring in anywhere near the level of talent that Martin was able to, because if he couldn't do it Illinois, it's hard to see it happening at Kansas State

GRADE: C+

--//--

LSU

Hired: Johnny Jones | Came From: North Texas | Replacing: Trent Johnson (resigned)

The hire is a bit puzzling on the surface since he had mediocre success (91-88) at North Texas, but Jones -- whose teams always made runs in the Sun Belt Tournament -- is a former LSU player and coach who is held in high regard by just about everyone in Baton Rouge. Basically, this is his dream job, and when that's the case, the arrangement generally works out better than it would appear on paper.

Jones' hiring has already been applauded by former LSU players and coaches. The next step is making some of the area talent take notice. Trent Johnson was an ineffective recruiter throughout his tenure, never landing a future NBA player during his time on the job. The same can't be said for Jones, who was able to reel in Tony Mitchell, a player who would have been drafted this summer had he elected to leave North Texas after just one season.

GRADE: B-

--//--

Mississippi State

Hired: Rick Ray | Came From: Clemson (assistant) | Replacing: Rick Stansbury (retired)

Lifetime assistants stepping into major head coaching jobs are the hardest hires to grade because, obviously, they have no track record as a program's front man.

Ray's tag-line is a familiar one in this situation: great recruiter, good with X's and O's, tremendous work ethic. How that ultimately translates is anyone's guess, but it is encouraging that he was already able to land a commitment from Wisconsin PG Jacoby Davis. That's enough to earn a plus for the time being.

GRADE: C+

--//--

Nebraska

Hired: Tim Miles | Came From: Colorado State | Replacing: Doc Sadler (fired)

Never short on energy, Miles has an infectiously upbeat personality that his players feed off of. You almost have to in order to accomplish something like taking Colorado State from 7-25 (which they were in Miles' first season) to the NCAA Tournament.

But work ethic alone isn't behind Miles' on-court success; the guy can coach. According to Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn, Colorado State was the fourth-most efficient team in college basketball coming out of timeouts this past season.

This is a terrific hire for a program that has vowed to make more of a commitment to basketball since jumping to the Big Ten.

GRADE: A

--//--

South Carolina

Hired: Frank Martin | Came From: Kansas State | Replacing: Darrin Horn (fired)

Recruiting well and building a winner would be an awfully daunting task for Martin if he hadn't already done the same thing at a place where the job seemed to be even more difficult. He brings buzz and a proven track record with him to Columbia, a pair of items both noticeably absent during the lackluster Darrin Horn era. He's also got a touch of continuity with the addition of former K-State assistants Matt Figger and Brad Underwood.

Kansas State will almost certainly have a more successful season than South Carolina in 2012-13, but I don't think it would surprise anyone to see Martin lead USC ahead of his old program in the relatively near future.

GRADE: A

--//--

Virginia Tech

Hired: James Johnson | Came From: Clemson/Virginia Tech (assistant) | Replacing: Seth Greenberg (fired)

The odd timing of Greenberg's firing left Virginia Tech with little hope of landing a name that would make the sports world take notice. Ultimately, they went with Johnson, a long-time Tech assistant who had just left to take the same job at Clemson three weeks earlier.

Greenberg's win/loss record at VT was borderline impressive, but it was the bevy of narrow NCAA Tournament misses that ultimately led to his (still somewhat surprising) dismissal. With that being the case, it seems a bit odd to tab his top assistant for the past five seasons as his replacement. Sure, there's continuity, but there's also the fact that Johnson played an integral role in all of the failures that resulted in Greenberg's firing.

Johnson is a Virginia native who Hokie fans had hoped would be able to keep Greenberg's signees locked up, but highly-touted forward Montrezl Harrell has already asked for his release. Not a great start.

GRADE: D+

--//--

Colorado State

Hired: Larry Eustachy | Came From: Southern Mississippi | Replacing: Tim Miles (left for Nebraska)

Colorado State lost a great coach when Tim Miles bolted for Lincoln, but it probably found the best available replacement in Eustachy, who is coming off of the most successful of his eight seasons at Southern Miss.

The party pictures that led to his firing at Iowa State are still what defines Eustachy to most fans, but there's also the fact that he has taken three different programs to the NCAA Tournament and has an overall win/loss record of 402-258. The man can coach, which is great news for a Colorado State team that returns a great deal of talent for the 2012-13 season.

GRADE: A-

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