20 Head Coaches To Keep an Eye On in the NCAA Tournament
* Coach at a struggling school is fired by school.
* Top conference schools seeking coaches look at lower conferences/programs to take their head coach.
* Some might take a top assistant from a top program.
* Lower conferences look at head coaches with success at an ever lower level, top assistants from higher programs, and the occasional “retread” coach who has bounced around.
But there is nothing that can pull a coach up from the lower levels and make them more appealing to an upper conference school, than a successful season and the media exposure from an NCAA tourney run.
Every year we see an example of this. Perhaps it’s a coach like Mark Turgeon who took a strong run at Wichita St. and turned it into a job at Texas A&M.; Or even Gregg Marshall who had success in the Big South at Winthrop and turned it into a Wichita St. job (although even he’ll admit he was aiming higher than that). You had John Beilein at Richmond leave the A10 program for WVU of the Big East.
But the example that probably sticks out the most is the case of Steve Merfeld. As the coach at Hampton in 2001, his 15th seed team upset the #2 seed Iowa St. team. Everyone remembers him jumping with his players in celebration, at one time with his legs locked around one of them in a warm embrace that looked similar to a love scene from the movie “Road House”. Merfeld took that win by his MEAC team and parlayed it into a head coaching job at Evansville of the Missouri Valley Conference. For a MEAC coach, that is quite a jump.
Many of these stories end happily like Bill Self who kept moving up from Oral Roberts, to Tulsa, to Illinois and then to Kansas, where he is the current #1 overall seed. Or Turgeon who has his Texas A&M; program poised for a tourney run. Some end like Merfeld who is no longer an NCAA D1 head or assistant coach.
So this year will be no exception: a coach from a current NCAA tournament team will likely be leaving that program after this season to become the head coach at a higher level school. And in an industry that focuses on “what have you done for me lately”, one can’t blame a guy for maximizing his profit potential by getting that larger payday now.
So without further ado, here are 20 head coaches coaches to keep an eye on this tournament….
Mark Turgeon – Texas A&M; coach
After 3 straight seasons in the NIT, advancing a round each time, and a 2006 NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance, even a tough 2007 season wasn’t enough to stop Big 12 school Texas A&M; from hiring Turgeon. And he hasn’t disappointed, getting NCAA tourney bids in each of his 3 seasons. The question now is how long can Texas A&M; keep Turgeon. Oregon could take a hard look as he’s a former assistant there. And then there are other basketball focused programs in the country like those in the ACC as well as the SEC & Big 12 that could poach Turgeon.
Tony Barbee – UTEP coach
When the UMass job became available when Travis Ford left, former UMass coach John Calipari urged Barbee to stay at UTEP and keep himself out of contention at UMass. In return, Calipari sad he’d do what he could at Memphis to make sure Barbee was his heir. It didn’t work out that way. UMass hired Kellogg and it’s been a tough rebuilding period. Memphis passed on Barbee and instead promoted recruiting and AAU guru Josh Pastner. It seemed that Barbee was the odd man out. But it’s worked in his favor. He now finds himself in the mix for virtually all the current jobs. Openings like Charlotte might even be too low for Barbee at this point. He’s already considered in the mix for the Auburn position as well as DePaul.
Randy Bennett – St. Mary’s coach
Bennett has been the coach at St. Mary’s the past 9 seasons and made quite a name for himself. With the success he’s had in the WCC, finishing 2nd or 3rd the past 7 years…along with his recruiting in Australia, Bennett has become an annual candidate for Pac-10 openings. In most years, he might top the list at Oregon. But with the Nike/Oregon hope of landing a big fish to help open a new arena, Bennett might lack the flash Oregon seeks. But Bennett has clearly put himself in a position to turn down most jobs, like those in the WAC or Mountain West. If the right MWC job opened, perhaps Bennett would make the move. But right now, he’s happy where he’s at and more importantly, in control of his own career.
Brad Stevens – Butler coach
Stevens entire coaching career has been at Butler. when Todd Lickliter left for Iowa, Stevens was promoted. And in return for this job, Stevens has delivered with 3 NCAA tournament bids with seasons with wins of 30, 26 and 28 thus far for 2010. Stevens is as hot a name as there is. But seeing the struggles of his mentor Lickliter might make him think twice about leaving. It might take a very good and seemingly stable opportunity for Stevens to jump ship. And why be a servant at a power school when you can be king at a great mid-major program? Money and a new challenge would be the only reasons to leave.
Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa coach
Jacobson has been coaching UNI for the past 4 seasons, and won the Missouri Valley the past 2 years. Like Stevens at Butler, Jacobson was promoted when his mentor left for the Iowa St. job. And like Stevens, Jacobson has seen his mentor struggle. After a 28-4 record this year, Jacobson has positioned himself as a top candidate for the Iowa position. If Iowa went another route, Jacobson would still find himself near the top of other Big Ten or Big 12 schools lists if he came even clo
se to replicating what he’s done this season.
Lon Kruger – UNLV coach
There isn’t much room to go up when you’re already at UNLV. The Mountain West school is in the tournament as an 8 seed this year, and already transcends any “mid-major” label. Kruger is a name you’ll hear often with any Pac-10 or Big 12 openings. And like Mark Fox at Nevada last year, Kruger is clearly a coach that is not limited to any one region. Kruger could be a candidate at Oregon and it’s safe to assume any other Pac-10 jobs this season or next.
Chris Mooney – Richmond coach
Mooney just completed his 5th season at Richmond after a single year as head coach at Air Force. And he’s doing great things for the Spiders program, getting an at-large 7 seed this year. Mooney is a Philadelphia native and a former Princeton player. So if an ACC, SEC or Big East school extended interest, Mooney would have to listen. Mooney has likely done enough already to get on some schools radar, like Rutgers or even Villanova as a future replacement for Wright should he ever leave. But another strong season at Richmond and Mooney could find himself with even more options.
Fran Dunphy – Temple coach
It’s hard to imagine the Philadelphia native ever leaving the city. He left Penn for Temple, and that alone was a major change as he had coached at Penn from 1987-2006. But this industry isn’t about loyalty, it’s about opportunity. And if a Big East school like Rutgers offered Dunphy a sizable salary raise, Dunphy might be tempted to take it while he’s a hot commodity. Perhaps in the ideal world, Temple would offer the same type of salary he could get elsewhere…or Villanova looks to Dunphy is Jay Wright ever left.
Steve Donahue – Cornell coach
Donahue has served as Cornell coach since 2001 and turned the program around. After the first 4 years finishing 5th-7th in the Ivy League, Cornell rose to 2nd-3rd the next 3 seasons, and has won the Ivy League the past 3 years. It once seemed like he’d leave Cornell to return to Penn where he was an assistant. But these past few years have put Donahue on a higher level. Whether it’s this season or next, one can expect Donahue to be on the radar of A10, Big East, Big Ten and ACC schools. If his Cornell team can upset a talented Temple team in the first round, his phone might start ringing a bit early.
Mike Rice – Robert Morris coach
The former Fordham player and assistant has learned from some of the best as an assistant with Phil Martelli at St. Joseph’s and Jaime Dixon at Pitt. Since arriving at Robert Morris 3 years ago, Rice has gotten his team to the NIT the 1st year, and NCAA bids the past 2 years. Rice is not long for Robert Morris. Schools like Fordham in the A10 will likely come calling this year. The question for Rice will be should he stay at Robert Morris until a “power conference” job comes calling in the Big East or Big Ten, or move on to another school beforehand. If Jaime Dixon were to leave Pitt for another program or the NBA, Rice would likely be a top candidate.
Fran McCaffery – Siena coach
The fact that Siena has kept McCaffery this long is a surprise in itself. When at UNC-Greensboro, McCaffery was a top candidate for Atlantic 10 schools such as UMass and St. Bonaventure. When those schools went other directions, McCaffery went to Siena. And Siena has benefited. Since taking over in 2005, McCaffery has just been a gem. He’s had 4 straight 20 win season and advanced to the NCAA second round the past 2 tournaments. Siena has a history of grooming coaches to move on, such as Louis Orr (left for Seton Hall) and Paul Hewitt (left for Georgia Tech). McCaffery has a good thing going at Siena, so it’s unlikely that he’d leave for an A10 program like St. Bonaventure now. But if one like URI, Dayton or Charlotte called, he’d have to listen. The same goes for any potential Big East openings like St. John’s. And we’ve already seen one Siena coach, Paul Hewitt, go from Siena to Georgia Tech of the ACC. So a move to that level wouldn’t be surprising.
Billy Kennedy – Murray St.
Hopefully the Murray St. fans have appreciated the time they’ve had with Kennedy for the past 4 years, as the program has finished either 1st or 2nd in the OVC. Now he finds himself a hot candidate for current and future higher level conference jobs in the region. Schools like Louisiana-Lafayette already have some level of interest as he’s well aware of the region (was former head coach at Louisiana schools Centenary and SE Louisiana).
Blaine Taylor – Old Dominion coach
This is the 9th season at ODU for Taylor, and his team will participate in the NCAA tournament for the 3rd time. As a former Montana coach and Stanford assistant, Taylor is a name that has been mentioned not just with east-coast openings, but also some out west such as the the last Colorado St. and Stanford hirings. Taylor can make himself a hot name this year with a tournament victory. And based on the success some C
AA coaches have had since moving on, Taylor could be the next CAA coach to defect.
John Groce – Ohio coach
Groce was a hot name most of his time as an assistant at Ohio St, where he served for 4 years after stints at Xavier, Butler and NC State. When Ohio offered him their job in 2008, Groce accepted. After an initial rebuilding year, Groce has Ohio in the tournament, which has only improved his resume. Now with head coaching experience, Groce is a name you will likely see mentioned in coming years for any Big Ten openings. For the right fit, you could even see Groce become a candidate for higher profile Atlantic 10 or Missouri Valley jobs now.
Bob Marlin – Sam Houston St. coach
Marlin came to Sam Houston St. after serving as an assistant at Alabama. In 2003, he took his team to the NCAA tournament and will do so again this year. Marlin has coached his teams to 6 (20) win seasons over his SHSU coaching tenure. Marlin would likely hope that he could find the level of success at SHSU to warrant a job in the SEC as he’s a Mississippi St. alum. But it’s more likely that he’d leave for a Sunbelt level job to strengthen his profile. Marlin is rumored to be a potential candidate for the current Louisiana-Lafayette opening.
Mike Lonergan – Vermont coach
Lonergan took over at Vermont in 2005 after being an assistant at Maryland. The Vermont program had already had NCAA tournament success as the representative from the America East conference. In 2005, Vermont upset #4 Syracuse in the NCAA tournament as the #13 seed. Lonergan is a name you might hear for a number of programs already, mostly at places like UNCW of the CAA. He might even gain some interest in the A10 at Charlotte. But a couple wins an Lonergan could get on the radar of programs at even the Big East level. Stranger things have happened.
Todd Bozeman – Morgan St. coach
You can spin this any way you’d like. Perhaps it was a deal with the devil. And maybe it’s a story of a guy who did wrong, paid the price and is redeeming himself. Bozeman left as coach at California after admitting that he paid 2 players $30,000 over two years. After being “banished” to the NBA as an assistant for 10 years, Bozeman returned to head coaching in 2006 at Morgan St. His team has finished first in the MEAC the past 3 years, getting NCAA bids the past 2 seasons. If a program feels Bozeman has paid it’s price, they could come calling. A move to the SoCon, CAA, A10, CUSA or WAC would be considered an upgrade. We’ve seen coaches with tarnished reputations get even better jobs that some of those that could come calling.
Greg Kampe – Oakland coach
Kampe has been the head coach at Oakland since 1984. For as much as one would like to think it was because of loyalty, Oakland just wasn’t the level of program that drew much interest from other schools with openings. After remaining at Oakland in the mid-90′s after 4 straight NCAA bids, Kampe has been a rock at Oakland. This year, he’s got his 1st place Oakland team in the tournament. While he’s not a name you’d see for any high profile jobs, Kampe is a coach who could test his skills at a Missouri Valley or MAC level school. Expect some interest at those levels.
Murry Bartow – ETSU coach
Bartow might fall into the “retread” category as he was the coach at UAB prior to ETSU. But with 3 seasons with 20 or more wins, and back-to-back NCAA tourney bids, Bartow could turn his current job at an Atlantic Sun school to one in the SoCon or CAA.
Bob Williams – UC Santa Barbara coach
More of a long shot. UCSB would need to do some real damage in the tournament this year for him to get on anyones radar. 2 NCAA bids in 12 years. But a strong year in the Big West again in 2011 could have him poised for a WCC or WAC level opening.
Johnny Jones – North Texas coach
The former Alabama assistant has been at UNT for 9 season now. The past 4 years they’ve finished near the top of the Sunbelt, with 4 straight seasons with 20 or more wins. While Jones might not seem like a candidate to move up to say, CUSA, the WAC or SEC, he’s a guy who could easily put himself in position to draw some attention with an NCAA upset later this week.
Mike Young – Wofford coach
Young has been at Wofford since 2002, never finishing above 4th in the Southern Conference. But this year Wofford is in 1st place and in the NCAA tournament. And that’s usually enough to spark some interest. The level of interest however, might not be enough warrant any calls from the CAA or Sunbelt.
Tom Moore – Quinnipiac coach
Coach Moore has turned around the QU program. The former Uconn assistant had his team poised for an NCAA bid, but lost in the final to Robert Morris. But he still got his team in the NIT tournament. Moore has some potential baggage due to reported violations while at UConn. But if he gets past those, don’t be surprised to see Moore take over for Calhoun at Uconn (has 4 years left on Uconn contract).
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