Philadelphia, PA – Only those with access to a time machine can accurately predict whether a new head coach will achieve the level of success imagined by the athletic director who hired him.
Shaka Smart of Virginia Commonwealth and Brad Stevens of Butler both elected to remain at their current posts despite being shown a healthy amount of interest from schools with much deeper pockets. After it became clear the top two coaches from the mid-major ranks were not interested, the athletic directors in the midst of coaching searches were forced to get a little creative and, in most cases, take a big chance.
The Big Ten has become one of the leading conferences in college basketball and sent seven of its 12 members to the 2013 NCAA Tournament. A pair of its members parted ways with experience to explore new regimes led by the sons of two of the sport's top coaches.
A trip to the Big Dance and a lopsided second-round victory over UCLA was not enough to save Tubby Smith's job in Minnesota. Firing Smith, who is one of just a handful of coaches with an NCAA Championship on his resume, was not a cheap decision. The cash-strapped athletic department had to provide the former Kentucky coach with a $2.5 million buyout so it could bring in a much less accomplished replacement in Richard Pitino.
The 30-year-old Pitino is expected to take the Golden Gophers, who rose to as high as eighth in the national rankings this past season, to a higher level. He served as an assistant under a pair of championship-winning coaches, including his father Rick at Louisville and Billy Donovan at Florida, but the hiring of the younger Pitino at the Big Ten program might have come a little too early.
Pitino was excellent in his lone season as a head coach in 2012-13 as he guided FIU to an 18-14 finish just a season after it went 8-21 under Isaiah Thomas. That successful campaign did enough to convince Minnesota's second-year AD Norwood Teague that Pitino could be more successful in recruiting the state's top prospects to stay home for school. Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis are all prospective high school All-Americans from the Land of 10,000 Lakes and their recruitment clearly had a role in Smith's departure.
Another aspect which might have helped Pitino land the position at Minnesota came from the Southeastern Conference. LSU dipped into the Sun Belt Conference for its new head coach last summer when it hired alum Johnny Jones away from North Texas. Jones led the Tigers to a 19-12 record, including a .500 finish in the SEC in his first season at his alma mater, which could suggest the success Pitino experiences in his inaugural campaign away from the SBC.
However, Jones arrived in Baton Rogue with over 11 years of head coaching experience.
Smith will get another shot as he migrates to the Big 12 to take on the same position at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have a long way to go as they aim to return to their first NCAA Tournament since Bobby Knight called the shots.
Minnesota was not the only Big Ten school to make a change. Northwestern ended the Bill Carmody era in Evanston, Ill., after 13 years without a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
During his tenure, Carmody brought some talented players to the Chicago suburbs such as Jitim Young, T.J. Parker, Kevin Coble and John Shurna. His Princeton offense did not help him overcome the difficulties associated with building a dynasty at a highly competitive academic institution.
Chris Collins, son of the reputable Doug Collins, was granted his first head coaching opportunity after 13 years of assistant work at Duke.
Mike Krzyzewski's assistants who have moved on to take the reigns of other Division I programs have yielded mixed results in the past. Johnny Dawkins was once the leading candidate to be Coach K's replacement one day, but his lack of a trip to the NCAA Tournament in five seasons at Stanford has hurt his chances of ever returning to coach at his alma mater.
Northwestern officials hope Collins can follow in the footsteps of former Duke assistant Mike Brey, who has just one losing season in 18 years as a head coach at Delaware and Notre Dame. If Collins gets the Wildcats dancing for the first time, his name is likely to surface when his former mentor decides to step down.
The Collins hire makes sense for Northwestern, which ideally would like to become the Duke of the Midwest due to the similarities between the schools in terms of size, academic focus and conference level.
Collins, who is a native of Northbrook, Ill., showed he can recruit the type of talent needed to win in such conditions when he convinced the 2006 Illinois Mr. Basketball, Jon Scheyer, to play at Duke.
The Wildcats' first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament is not going to take too long to book if Collins finds a way to talk some of the Windy City's stars to wear purple and white.
The most talked-about coaching change in college basketball came at a future member of the Big Ten as Rutgers parted ways with Mike Rice after footage of his inexplicable treatment toward players during practice sessions became public. The Scarlet Knights needed to find a stable leader for the future as it immediately entered as tough rebuilding era due to the cloud left by Rice's poor behavior.
Rutgers signed Eddie Jordan, whose best work came during his stint with the Washington Wizards from 2004-08. Even though the hiring instantly became controversial after the fact that Jordan never obtained a diploma from Rutgers following his playing career, the school wisely stood by its choice.
Jordan's lack of a college degree was wisely overlooked by Rutgers. He still has decades of experience at the professional level to go along with a personal investment in the program. Jordan will have his work cut out for him, though, as he attempts to erase the negativity associated with Rutgers. He also may run into the same problems Carmody collided with at NU as he is known to employ a Princeton-style offense.
The Big Ten is not the only league that will feature a new coach with an intriguing pedigree. Buffalo of the Mid-American Conference will be under the watch of Bobby Hurley, whose father, Bob Hurley Sr., is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame due to his work at the high school level at St. Anthony's in Jersey City, N.J.
Hurley showed off an obvious understanding for the game during his playing days at Duke as he is still the NCAA's Division I all-time leader in assists. His mastering of the point guard position led to an NBA career which was severely altered by life-threatening injuries he suffered in a car accident.
Hurley only spent two seasons as an assistant coach under his younger brother, Dan, at Wagner and Rhode Island, but his last name and well-documented success as a player made him very attractive to a mid-major-level school. The notions that his winning mentality will properly translate from the hardwood to the bench and the Hurley name will pay off dividends when it comes to recruiting make sense, but Thomas proved that it doesn't always work out that way as he struggled to find victories at FIU.
The City of Angels also demanded attention during the coaching carousel period as UCLA and USC both had openings. UCLA took a more traditional approach to its selection when it hired Steve Alford away from New Mexico's up-and-coming program to lead the Bruins. Trojans fans also are excited by the hiring of Andy Enfield, who took the nation by storm while driving the 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles to the Sweet Sixteen.
Alford has been one of the best regular-season coaches in the country since leaving Iowa to coach the Lobos. He won nearly 75 percent of his games and took New Mexico to the NCAA Tournament in three of the past four seasons.
However, Alford failed to deliver desired results in the postseason while in Albuquerque, which is not going to be acceptable going forward as he takes over the school with the most NCAA championship banners hanging from its rafters.
Enfield showed how his innovative recruiting skills and exciting coaching philosophies can work effectively during March Madness. Still, USC made a bold hire considering Florida Gulf Coast finished second in the Atlantic Sun Conference last season, which was just Enfield's second as a head coach, then won the conference tournament and became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
Schools at the same caliber of Minnesota, Northwestern and USC will need to continue to search extensively for their new head coaches in the future due to the evolution of the system. Northwestern hired Collins to be its new coach before the Final Four even took place. In the past, a coach like Gregg Marshall of Wichita State would most likely have ventured to the brighter spotlight at a power conference program after leading an underdog to the national semifinals.
The mid-major schools like VCU, Butler and Wichita State are managing to hang on to top-tier coaches much more easily today because they have minimized the gap in salary difference and upgraded facilities to mirror the bigger schools that use to hold an edge.
Smart, Stevens and Marshall are all planted in dream scenarios in which they are revered by their respective fan bases and still able to compete for national titles. It makes perfect sense that all three seem content on passing up on a slight pay raise to take on a more difficult task with more pressure and nowhere near as much job security. The NCAA has become a money-driven organization, just not to everybody.
Minnesota, Northwestern and USC may have had to settle for less desirable candidates than they would have in the past, but they also may have struck gold. Buffalo, Rutgers and UCLA seem to have made wise decisions, but, once again, only time will tell.