Northern Colorado's coaching hire receives national praise
Editor's note: The following column ran nationally on Friday, April 30, on FOXSports.com.
Senior College Basketball Writer, FOXSports.com
There were 50 coaching changes in the Division I ranks this
offseason, and 46 of them have been filled already, so we figured
now was the right time to give it to you straight on each and every
move that has been made.
I remember giving out higher grades a year ago, but much of that had to do with the quality of the jobs that were open last time around. Most of the spots that opened this year did so for a reason — they are tough places to achieve success.
Here we go: Grades for all 46 coaching hires.
The Old: Tad Boyle
The New: B.J. Hill
Few knew exactly what it took for this program to go from transitioning to the Division I ranks to one that won 25 games this past season. Hill lived it since he was Boyle’s right-hand man since he took the job four years ago, so he’s the logical and correct pick to take over for Boyle.
The Old: Buzz Peterson
The New: Jason Capel
This one made virtually no sense and it’s not intended to be a indictment on Capel, who may wind up being a terrific coach someday. However, the Mountaineers had a guy on their staff in Matt McMahon who played at the school and spent a decade as a coach as the program achieved success. He recruited most of the top players to come through and was the natural pick to succeed Peterson. Instead, athletic director Charlie Cobb went with Capel, who has been in the coaching business for 10 months after being brought on Peterson’s staff last year.
The Old: Jeff Lebo
The New: Tony Barbee
I’m a fan of this hire because Barbee can recruit — and that’s a significant part of why Lebo wasn’t able to succeed in the SEC. Barbee put together a talented team this past season at UTEP and was able to turn his NCAA appearance into a BCS gig. This is a difficult job, but I think Barbee has a chance because of his ability to land players.
The Old: Greg Graham
The New: Leon Rice
It’s hard to criticize a guy like Rice, who has been on the Gonzaga staff for its unbelievable run of NCAA tournament appearances over the past decade or so. Rice was the ideal choice at Boise State and should be able to get the program back toward the top of the WAC.
The Old: Al Skinner
The New: Steve Donahue
Donahue led Cornell to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, and his academic profile certainly fits at BC. The question I have surrounds his staff more than Donahue. He’s an Ivy League lifer, brought Nat Graham with him from Cornell and hired Columbia head coach Joe Jones and Niagara assistant Akbar Waheed. Sure, Jones was at Villanova — but this is a staff without any local presence and not much high-major experience, either.
The Old: Rand Chappell
The New: Corliss Williamson
The Big Nasty has quite a résumé, starring at Arkansas and also spending a dozen years in the NBA. Williamson is an Arkansas native who has spent the past three seasons at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. I was all set to give him a B, but he still hasn’t returned my call from a week ago on his office line.
The Old: Kirk Speraw
The New: Donnie Jones
This was somewhat of a surprise since Jones came over within the league from Marshall. Jones knows the area well from his days as an assistant at Florida, and he did an impressive job turning around the Thundering Herd program and also evaluating talent.
The Old: Bobby Lutz
The New: Alan Major
I love how Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose handled the search. She identified five of the top assistants in the country and came away with Major, who has worked for Thad Matta, Bruce Weber and Mike Dunlap. Major has assembled a staff with high-major experience and could very well wind up making Rose look like a genius.
The Old: Ed Conroy
The New: Chuck Driesell
Personally, I would have went with someone with a level of familiarity with the Citadel. Part of the reason Conroy thrived is because he played at the school and knew the situation. The extent of Driesell’s experience with a military school is coaching the Navy Prep team for a few years.
The Old: Oliver Purnell
The New: Brad Brownell
Brownell is a terrific coach, having proven that at UNC-Wilmington and most recently Wright State. The key for him will be recruiting and whether he can land Top 100 players. This is a guy who has earned a shot at a high-major gig, and my guess is he’ll take advantage of the opportunity.
The Old: Jeff Bzdelik
The New: Tad Boyle
It’s hard to question Boyle, who took over a Northern Colorado program four years ago that was in the process of transitioning to the Division I ranks and led them to a 25-win campaign this past season. Boyle is a Colorado native and has learned under one of the most underrated coaches in the country in Texas A&M’s Mark Turgeon. I love this hire.
The Old: Steve Donahue
The New: Bill Courtney
Courtney was key in putting together the team at George Mason that went to the Final Four, but he’s bounced around since leaving the Patriots' program. He was at Providence for a year, VCU for a couple months and most recently, Virginia Tech for the past year. Plus, it’s going to be awfully difficult to have to follow in Donahue’s footsteps after what the Big Red have done the last three years.
The Old: Dana Altman
The New: Greg McDermott
McDermott couldn’t get it done in the Big 12, but he’s already proven he can win in the Missouri Valley — and now he has an even better gig than the one he had at Northern Iowa. Solid hire with very little risk.
The Old: Terry Dunn
The New: Paul Cormier
Cormier, 58, returns to the place where he was the head coach from 1984-1991 and had two of the three most successful seasons in the program’s history. Cormier has been in the NBA for the past dozen years but will get another shot to bring the program back to respectability.
The Old: Jerry Wainwright
The New: Oliver Purnell
This was one of the most shocking moves of the entire offseason. Purnell bolted Clemson for the hefty payday to go to one of the Big East’s most dismal programs. The key here is getting Chicago kids, and I’m not sold Purnell will be able to pull it off. Then again, I’m not sure there are too many guys that could make it work.
The Old: Mack McCarthy
The New: Jeff Lebo
Lebo landed on his feet quickly after being fired at Auburn — and did so with the help of ECU athletic director Terry Holland. Lebo may be able to make some progress, but I just don’t see him making ECU feared in Conference USA. In a dozen years as head coach, he has yet to go to an NCAA tournament. Personally, I would have gone with an up-and-coming assistant.
The Old: Dereck Whittenburg
The New: Tom Pecora
Pecora takes over a very difficult job at Fordham, but he is so well-liked in the area that he’ll have a chance to get players who can, at the very least, bring the Rams some credibility. If Pecora can manage to get Fordham to the middle of the Atlantic 10, that’s the equivalent of success.
The Old: Rick Scruggs
The New: Chris Holtmann
Could the school have brought in a higher-profile assistant? Sure. However, Holtmann spent five years at Gardner-Webb under Scruggs and knows what it takes to succeed. He was also on John Groce’s staff at Ohio University the past two seasons for a program that went to the Big Dance this past year.
The Old: Dan Leibovitz
The New: John Gallagher
This one was basically done as soon as Leibovitz decided he was heading to Penn to be the associate head coach. Gallagher spent a week as Steve Donahue’s assistant at BC before getting the Hartford gig. Thus, he went from an assistant at Penn to BC assistant to Hartford head coach within a little more than a week.
The Old: Bob Nash
The New: Gib Arnold
Arnold grew up in Hawaii, and his local ties are what ultimately landed him the job. Arnold is a former junior college head coach who should be able to recruit guys to Hawaii, but he was actually unemployed when he was hired after USC coach Kevin O’Neill decided not to bring him back on the staff.
The Old: Tom Pecora
The New: Tim Welsh
After taking a couple of years out of coaching to do TV work, the former Providence coach returns and takes over for Pecora. It's a solid hire, and he’ll have a good team this season from the get-go. Plus, Welsh has brought in a quality staff with hard-working former Friars assistant Steve DeMeo, ex-BC assistant Mo Cassara and Allen Griffin, who also worked for Welsh at Providence.
The Old: Sean Kearney
The New: Milan Brown
Crusaders athletic director Dick Regan bounced Kearney after just one season and went with a guy in Brown that has no local ties to the area. However, Regan was dead-set on getting a head coach. I like Brown, but the jury is still out on this hire because, well, he is an out-of-the-box guy.
The Old: Tom Penders
The New: James Dickey
Dickey isn’t the guy I would have gone with, but just about anyone may have been an upgrade over Turnaround Tom, who couldn’t even save his job with an NCAA tournament appearance. Dickey is 56 years old, but had a 10-year run at Texas Tech in which he was 166-124. That’s pretty impressive, and Dickey gets rave reviews as a coach and a character guy from those in the business.
The Old: Gil Jackson
The New: Kevin Nickelberry
Nickelberry can recruit and had success at Hampton but was out of the business last season. He’s a guy who was all set to rejoin Oliver Purnell at DePaul, but now he becomes the head coach at a Howard program that hasn’t won double-digit games in each of the last five seasons.
The Old: Kevin Willard
The New: Tim Cluess
Willard left for Seton Hall, and the surprise pick was Cluess, who came over after four successful seasons at Division II C.W. Post and prior to that coached Danny Green at St. Mary’s High on Long Island. Cluess can coach, but can he recruit? He brought on one of the most relentless recruiters in the Northeast in ex-Fordham interim head coach Jared Grasso, who should help.
The Old: Todd Lickliter
The New: Fran McCaffery
McCaffery is a proven Xs and Os guy, but then again, so was Lickliter when he came over three-plus years ago from Butler. I’m just not sold on how different this one will turn out any different.
The Old: Greg McDermott
The New: Fred Hoiberg
Oh, boy. I’ve heard good things about Hoiberg, but I’m always weary of an NBA guy making the transition to the college ranks, especially one who hasn’t coached a game at any level. Thankfully, he retained assistant T.J. Otzelberger — one of the top young recruiters in the business — but he takes over a difficult situation.
The Old: Robert Lee
The New: Bob Marlin
Marlin enjoyed success at a place like Sam Houston State, which isn’t easy at all. He won 225 games in 13 seasons, so my guess is he’ll get it done down at Louisiana-Lafayette with far more resources. This was one of the top hires in the entire offseason.
The Old: Orlando Early
The New: Keith Richard
Richard spent the last two years at LSU under Trent Johnson and has plenty of local ties dating back to his days as an assistant and head coach at Louisiana Tech, where he was 150-117. He’s also an alum of Louisiana-Monroe.
The Old: Donnie Jones
The New: Tom Herrion
Herrion averaged 20 wins over a four-year span at College of Charleston but was let go because of a change in the administration. Herrion has spent the last few years under Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon, and the guess here is that experience will do Herrion much good in his tenure at Marshall.
The Old: Ernie Kent
The New: Dana Altman
The Ducks aimed high and ended up with a solid pick of Altman, who has gone to seven NCAA tournaments in his 13 seasons at Creighton. Bottom line is he’ll have the Nike backing and is a proven Xs and Os guy. The key question is whether he can land big-time players, and that may ultimately depend on his selection of staff.
The Old: Glen Miller
The New: Jerome Allen
Allen got the gig after spending months as an assistant coach but did so due to the support of those close to the program since he was a star guard with the Quakers in the mid-1990s. Allen made a solid move with the addition of Penn alum Dan Leibovitz, who left his head spot at Hartford.
The Old: Bob Marlin
The New: Jason Hooten
The Bearkats are 109-47 in the last six years since Hooten has joined the staff, and the team won 25 games this past season and earned a trip to the NCAA tournament. Those are numbers that are hard to argue with — and that’s why Hooten got the call.
The Old: Bobby Gonzalez
The New: Kevin Willard
Gonzo is just that — history. Now, Willard will try to clean up the mess left behind, which may take some time and patience for Seton Hall fans. He’s young, smart and has good bloodlines. Willard also did a nice job quickly turning around Iona.
The Old: Fran McCaffery
The New: Mitch Buonaguro
McCaffery had it going at Siena, and now his long-time assistant will take over. Buonaguro, who spent six years as the head coach at Fairfield from 1985 to 1991, is 56 and has been a major factor in why the Saints have won three straight MAAC titles. The problem is it’ll be difficult to duplicate the success over the last few years — especially with Fairfield and Iona being much better in the league.
ST. FRANCIS (N.Y.)
The Old: Brian Nash
The New: Glenn Braica
This job is extremely difficult, so you’ve got to put it into perspective. I’m not sure anyone can truly win here, but Braica is a local guy who is well-liked by the locals so he should be able to get some talent.
The Old: Norm Roberts
The New: Steve Lavin
No disrespect to Lavin, because I don’t know too many guys that can get St. John’s back to what it once was. Lavin has been away from coaching for a while and hired a solid staff with the addition of Mike Dunlap, Rico Hines and Tony Chiles, but only Chiles has NYC connections.
The Old: Gene Cross
The New: Tod Kowalczyk
Cross was let go after two years and replaced by Kowalczyk, who did a good job at Green Bay in his eight seasons at the helm. He took over a program coming off three straight losing seasons and won 22 games each of the last two years.
The Old: Dave Dickerson
The New: Ed Conroy
I’m not sure anyone could have done better than Dickerson after Hurricane Katrina hit the area. Conroy had success the last few years at The Citadel, which is not an easy place to win. In fact, he led the school to its first-ever postseason appearance two years ago.
The Old: Pat Douglass
The New: Russell Turner
The 39-year-old went with Mike Montgomery to the Golden State Warriors and stuck around a while with Don Nelson even after Montgomery was fired and eventually returned to college. Turner was at Stanford from 2000-04 and also an assistant at Wake Forest from 1994-2000.
The Old: Benny Moss
The New: Buzz Peterson
Peterson has bounced around quite a bit but comes to UNCW after one season at Appalachian State — his second stint at the school. He was mediocre at Tennessee but has had impressive success at mid-major schools.
The Old: Tony Barbee
The New: Tim Floyd
As long as the NCAA doesn’t come down on Floyd for the allegations that he paid a player while at USC, this is a terrific hire. It’s difficult to argue with Floyd’s ability to coach and recruit. However, this one will be a wait-and-see dependent on the NCAA’s decision.
The Old: Mike Deane
The New: Dan Hurley
I’ve known Hurley for years and watched him build St. Benedict’s into a prep power. The 37-year-old also has college coaching experience, spending four years as an assistant at Rutgers.
The Old: Dino Gaudio
The New: Jeff Bzdelik
This was one of those that baffled people because of Bzdelik’s lack of success at Colorado, but he had a team coming back that had a chance to finish in the top half of the Big 12. Bzdelik has a system and boasts NBA head coaching experience — and he had a long-standing relationship with Wake athletic director Ron Wellman.
The Old: Tod Kowalczyk
The New: Brian Wardle
I love this move, and my gut says Wardle, 30, will make the administration look good for keeping it in-house. Wardle works, he’s smart and by all accounts of people I’ve spoken with, he can coach.
The Old: Brad Brownell
The New: Billy Donlon
Here’s another one that should be a home run. Brownell leaves and Wright State gives it to a rising star in Donlon, who will have a difficult task in replacing Brownell but should be up to the challenge.