The Big 12 sent out a press release this week, praising its stable of basketball coaches. With the hiring of Tubby Smith at Texas Tech, six of the head coaches in the league have guided teams to the Final Four at some point in their careers and five of the 10 Big 12 coaches have at least 500 career wins.
The Final Four coaches: KU’s Bill Self at Kansas, OU’s Lon Kruger at Florida, Texas’ Rick Barnes at Texas, Tech’s Smith at Kentucky, Kansas State’s Bruce Weber at Illinois and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins at West Virginia and Cincinnati.
The 500-win coaches: Huggins, Barnes, Kruger, Smith and Self.
So granted, the Big 12 has some Rushmore coaches in its league. But is that necessarily a good thing?
Two of the five were hired after getting fired in the last 13 months from better jobs: Smith by Minnesota, Weber by Illinois. Kruger is on the downslope of his career, too, though he’s absolutely got the Sooners on an upswing. That leaves Barnes and Self at the schools of their prime, except Barnes has hit choppy waters.
The truth is, the younger coaches — Baylor’s Scott Drew, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, OSU’s Travis Ford — give the Big 12 as much hope for the future as the 500-win, Final Four crowd.
The Big 12 is the only league in America in which all of its coaches have taken teams to the NCAA Tournament. That’s the product of two things: 1) Only 10 schools. When your numbers are smaller, such feats are easier to reach; 2) Hiring coaches away from other schools. Trent Johnson went to the tournament with Nevada and LSU, but he doesn’t seem anywhere close to getting TCU to the tournament.
However, what is impressive is this: eight of the 10 coaches have taken their current employer to the tournament — all but Smith and Johnson, and Johnson’s only had one year to do so, Smith zero. So that is something to be proud of.
I’m not saying the Big 12 doesn’t have an impressive array of coaches. It does. But it’s also become a haven for guys to extend or revive their careers. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
In fact, let’s do a quick review of coaches with at least 600 wins who have taken lesser jobs late in their careers:
Bobby Knight, Texas Tech from Indiana: You’d have to say it was a success. The Red Raiders were competitive, and Knight got Tech to a Sweet 16.
Eddie Sutton, OSU from Kentucky: Up from the grave they arose.
Lefty Driesell, James Madison & Georgia State, from Maryland: Went OK. In nine years at James Madison, made one NCAA and five NITs, which is good in Harrisonburg, Va., and took Georgia State to one NCAA.
Lou Henson, New Mexico State from Illinois: Henson had coached the Aggies to the 1970 Final Four and was excellent in his return, taking New Mexico State to two NCAAs and three NITs in six years.
Jerry Tarkanian, Fresno State from UNLV: Did fine, though maybe not as well as hoped for, going to two NCAAs and five NITs in his seven seasons.
Bob Huggins, Kansas State from Cincinnati (and now back to West Virginia): Great one-year stop in Manhattan, reviving the program, though only an NIT bid.
Rollie Massimino, Cleveland State from Villanova: Not good. No post-season appearances and 23 games under .500 in seven seasons.
Tom Penders, George Washington from Texas: So-so. GWU made the NCAA in Penders’ first season, then went 15-15 and 14-18 in his final two seasons.
Gene Bartow, Alabama-Birmingham from UCLA: Another runaway success. Left the splendor but volatility of the Bruins for a startup program at UAB. Went to the NIT his second year, then began a string of seven straight NCAA trips, including two Sweet 16s. In 16 years at UAB, went to eight NCAAs and five NITs. Really about as good a coaching job as ever has been done.
Billy Tubbs, TCU and Lamar from OU: Not great. In eight years at TCU, Tubbs went to one NCAA and two NITs, though the Frogs dropped from the Southwest Conference to the WAC and eventually Conference USA in that time. Didn’t get Lamar back to the post-season, though he had put the Cardinals on the map in the late ’70s/early ’80s.
Hugh Durham, Jacksonville from Georgia: Never got Jacksonville to the post-season, in eight seasons.
Cliff Ellis, Coastal Carolina from Auburn: In five seasons at Coastal, has produced three post-season teams but no NCAA trips.
Ben Braun, Rice from California:In four years with the Owls, only this season did he produce a post-season team, in the College Insider Tournament. But Rice is among the nation’s toughest jobs.
So here’s what it looks like. The more accomplished the coach at the highest levels, the better his chance for success on the way back down. In other words, go to the Final Four with Kentucky or Florida or Indiana or whoever, the better your chances of winning at Texas Tech.