Looking Back at the First Year Coaches of College Basketball

Today I’m going to review some of the first year coaching hires around college hoops. I’ll give my top ten for the year and also discuss some guys who didn’t make that list. My rankings will be based off of this season’s performances and how the future looks for the coaches.

Here’s some guys who didn’t make the list, but are noteworthy:

Fran McCaffery (Iowa)- McCaffery experienced a pretty good amount of success at Siena and took his cause west to Iowa City. The first season under McCaffery wasn’t terrible. The Hawkeyes were competitive and ended the season with a nice upset of Purdue. McCaffery can clearly coach, but he needs better players for Iowa to succeed. The future under Fran doesn’t look bad, but I don’t see any jump to the NCAA tournament in the immeadiate future.

Now that is a Blue Demon...and Oliver Purnell

Oliver Purnell (DePaul)- Oliver left Clemson for another rebuilding project in Chicago. Purnell plays a style that is perfect for taking a team from the dungeon and bringing them up to a reasonable level. Purnell is not going to take a team over the hump and he proved that at Clemson. His teams can never win in March because of the style. Its good  for teams with less talent, but it can’t win against fast athletes, even with great athletes. Purnell’s first season wasn’t good, but I do believe he’ll be alright down the line. He’s got a nice recruiting class coming in and I expect Depaul to get out of the cellar in a few years.

Tom Pecora (Fordham)- Pecora took over a struggling Fordham program and had an expected tough first year, with a few positives signs. I do think this hire could work out for the Rams down the line. Pecora built Hofstra into a viable program that is in the middle of the pack in the colonial. With some work Pecora can get Fordham out of the cellar and into atleast that pack in the A10. Fordham is a program that is better than Hofstra and in better position to succeed but Pecora will need to convince everyone of that again.

Oregon's Dana Altman

Dana Altman (Oregon)- Dana’s season isn’t over yet as the Ducks are playing Creighton in the finals of the CBI this week. Altman returned to Omaha last night against his former team of 16 years and got a nice reception despite leaving for the green in Eugene. The first season has been up and down, but overall I’d say fairly positive. The Ducks showed some improvement and will finish above 500, and could still win the CBI with two wins this week. Dana just missed out on the top ten for me.

Tony Barbee (Auburn)- What a tough year for the Tigers. Barbee is only partially to blame because the Tigers were so young and inexperienced. Barbee experienced success at UTEP and I didn’t think it was a bad hire when Auburn made it. I still believe that he can succeed but it might take a while. They need to recruit well to get things rolling, so lets see if they can make some strides next year.

Kevin Willard (Seton Hall)- It was a tough year for Seton Hall. They lost Hazell for a good portion of the year and that hurt their momentum. Despite that they had a bunch to like because they did pick up some random exciting wins. In the Big East this year we’re not sure what to think of Seton Hall, but it wasn’t awful. We’d like to see Seton Hall start to pick up some more depth and prove they can get out of that bottom part of the Big East before proclaiming Willard a winner. The Pirates have already tried a New York coach recently and it failed, but maybe that was just unlucky.

Mike Rice

Mike Rice (Rutgers)- Mike Rice I liked a bit more than Willard this year despite a slightly worse record and result. Rice’s team showed a little more consistency and improvement throughout the year. Rice was successful over a bit longer time at Robert Morris, but he still has a lot to prove on the big stage. I think Rice has a little more room to grow over Willard, but by now means am I sure he will be highly successful at Rutgers.

Jeff Bzdelik (Wake Forest)- What happened at Wake this year? Well obviously personnel was a problem, but I did not think they would be that bad. Bzdelik did nothing to give Wake fans hope, but what happened in Colorado is interesting. He did build that program back up and those guys almost made the tournament. Jeff has had success at Air Force and now kind of Colorado, so what gives with this? Overall I think Bzdelik will turn it around a bit, but I’m not sure I have the faith he can make the Wake program what it can and should be on a yearly basis. Wake is a job that should be able to lure people from some pretty good jobs, but it seems like the AD might have had an ultimatum here, being that Bzdelik and him were friends. Let’s look for Wake to improve next year as the young players get older, but Jeff has to prove to us that he can coach them up too, because it appeared neither happened this year.

Ok, so those are some important guys to mention, in no particular order. Now I move on to the ten coaches I liked the most over their first year.

10. Billy Donlon (Wright State)- Brad Brownell left for Clemson this past April and Donlon, his top assistant, took over a team that needed some help to keep up what they had done under Brownell. In his first year Donlon did well, keeping Wright State in every game and coming out with 18 wins in his rookie campaign. Donlon comes from the coaching lines of Brownell and that is something to be excited about. Wright State was quick to hire him after Brad left and there was a reason for it. I think he has a bright future ahead of him, but he needs some help on the recruiting trail.

9. Tom Herrion (Marshall)- Herrion is no stranger to success on the court. After a fairly successful four year string at the College of Charleston, he worked under Jaime Dixon at Pitt. Marshall’s successful season was overlooked this year because it wasn’t quite good enough to receive any legitimate NCAA consideration. The Thundering Hurd were good enough for a 22-12 record and might have a bright future under Herrion. If Herrion can keep up the success, then he might get calls soon.

8. Tim Cluess (Iona)- A unique hire by the Gaels paid off in the first season. Cluess spent the previous 4 years at CW Post, a division 2 school, and was extremely successful. The Gaels play tonight for the CIT title against Santa Clara and already sport a 25-11 record on the year. More impressive might be their 59 ranking in the kenpom rankings. A school that didn’t get atlarge consideration and fell barely to St. Peter’s for an automatic bid, the

Iona's Tim Cluess

Gaels are actually pretty decent. Earlier this year they went to Syracuse and almost came away with an upset before falling by six. Additionally they beat Richmond. Cluess clearly can coach and I expect him to be moving up in the world of coaching in the next few years if he can keep it up at Iona.

7. Greg Lansing (Indiana State)- Lansing took over an Indiana State program this past June after serving as an assistant for many years. The Sycamores were a 500 team last year, but made a trip to the big dance in his first year. After struggling early on in the season they turned it around in conference play and then upset Missouri State for the title in St. Louis. With a good portion of the team returning for next year, expect the Sycamores to be even better in a competitive MVC next season.

Creighton's Greg McDermott

6. Greg McDermott (Creighton)- The first season for McDermott was almost really good. The Jays were the victims of a lot of close losses, especially on the road and at the buzzer. McDermott’s son joined the team as a freshman this year and has been one of the top freshman in the country. Add in sophomore transfer Greg Echenique and the future looks bright. Next season should be be pretty good if the Jays can improve on defense a bit. McDermott has been successful at the mid major level before and looks to be on his way to a bright future at Creighton. Expect the Jays to be back on top of the Valley in the coming years.

5. Tad Boyle (C0lorado)- Boyle is connected with one of the most puzzling coaching carousels this past year. When Jeff Bzdelik left for Wake Forest Colorado was expected to be improved this year, but Boyle exceeded expectations for the Buffs. Clearly the Buffs could have been in the tournament and ended up losing in the final four of the NIT. Boyle is an interesting guy to me because is he successful from the players who were there this year, or was he a much better coach then Bzdelik who looked bad in Winston Salem this year? Tough call, but for now Boyle looks like he did a good job and will need to go get players now.

4. Donnie Jones (UCF)- Jones came from a successful run at Marshall and began his campaign in Orlando red hot. When UCF jumped out to that terrific start many had them as a top 25 team, but after dropping fast in conference USA things really went downhill. A late season surge though has once again raised optimism. Led by Sophomore Marcus Jordan, the Knights look to be headed in the right direction. With alot of resources at an up and coming athletic school, Jones and the Knights should be contenders in CUSA for years to come, unless they move up in conference affiliation of course.

3. Steve Donahue (Boston College)- The Eagles were one of the biggest surprises in the ACC this year. Expected to be bottom feeders with many players leaving last year, the Eagles ended up almost making the tournament. You can’t say anything negative about Donahue, who looked to continue his terrific coaching this year. With the right players in his system he could be giving teams fits for years to come in the ACC. One of the best hires of the year, and was clearly one of the top three hires of last year. Donahue plays a style difficult for many teams and capable of pulling many upsets, the only problem is they’ve lost to teams like Maine and Yale recently. If Donahue can figure how to avoid this ugly early losses, then the Eagles will have no problem dancing under Donahue.

Clemson's Brad Brownell

2. Brad Brownell (Clemson)- Like BC, the departure of players like NBA first round draft pick Trevor Booker, had the Tigers looking like they would struggle under Brownell in year one. After a 5-4 start nothing looked to be going right for the Tigers, but Brownell just hadn’t gotten his system in place yet. From then on the Tigers were one of the best ACC teams and ended working their way into the tournament. Enough can’t be said about how good of a coach Brownell looked to be this year, as he got the most out of his players. He needs to prove he can recruit at a high level still, but player development is one of his biggest assets. Next season might be a slight step back, as the Tigers will be very young for the next few years, but expect them to be making noise soon if Brownell isn’t scooped up by a big name school.

1. Steve Lavin (St. John’s)- Lavin might not be the x and o’s coach that Brownell is, but good can he recruit. Lavin did show us he has improved his coaching ability since his days at UCLA and he shocked us by making the Red Storm into Big East contenders in year one. With a team of almost all seniors, the Red Storm had reason to be good, and a reason to take a step back next year. The good news is he has one of, if not the best recruiting class in the Nation coming in. With almost all freshman next year we can’t expect the storm to be back in the tournament, but they won’t be terrible because of the

Steve Lavin

talent on the floor. Lavin is clearly on his way to making the Johnnies a

nationally relevent team again and if he can continue to build recruiting momentum, then they will be a staple in the tournament and at the top of the Big East once again.

Check back soon for our analysis of this years coaching changes which are happening everyday…

3 Responses to “Looking Back at the First Year Coaches of College Basketball”

  1. Bellarmine Says:

    The only issue I have with rating or grading first year coaches, in any college sport, is that for better or worse they were not coaching a team that they recruited. It’s almost like coaching in High School you get what’s there. It’s not until a coach has ‘his team’ that you can really evaluate the full effect of his ability. In college it’s equal parts recruiting and coaching so with any first year coach you’re only seeing half of what he can do.

  2. Bzdelik did nothing to impress me that his young squad can turn things around. As a diehard Deacon fan, I was appalled by their losses early in the season (yes VCU was one) but the only hope I saw was the inconsistent 3 point shooting. If this team cannot win half their league games next year, I’m hoping change comes at the helm. The miserable season with little to no post play, terrible rebounding, unforced turnovers, and no bench play make this a climb up Everest to turnaround. Just depressing for what has almost always been an anchor ACC team.

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