Coaching Carousel - Who your team should hire and fire

- Ky McKeon

The Coaching Carousel

I’m a Mizzou alumnus, which means I’m currently suffering through the undesirable “team in transition” phase that college basketball programs often go through. This basically means my once-awesome, beloved basketball team isn’t very good, and like many others, I’m growing antsy with the current coaching situation. Blaming the coach is a cliché excuse for why your team sucks all of a sudden, but in many cases the head man of the program is indeed the primary driver of futility. Since I know I’m not the only fan in agony, I’ve compiled a list of A) coaches that your school should fire, and B) coaches that your school should hire.

A coach can be judged by several metrics, but the main ones include:

1.     Recruiting – are you able to get top talent to come to your school? This includes being able to relate to the young men coming to your institution and finding the right type of guys that fit your culture.

Development – do your players realize their full potential? Does your 5-star recruit sit on the bench for two years and transfer? Does your unheralded recruit become the 4-year leader of your program?

3.     Conducting – can you adjust your style to accommodate the strengths of your team? This also includes the ability to integrate newcomers and adjust to injuries/suspensions.

X’s and O’s – can you actually, you know, coach? This category is everything involved in actual coaching – discipline (aka boxing out, not committing stupid fouls, taking good shots); late game situations (aka draw up and execute a play out of the inbound); adjusting to your opponent (aka how do you tailor your game plan to your adversary)

With the above criteria in mind, let’s look at some coaches that should be shown the door, and some coaches that should be given a pile of money at a larger university.  (Note: I’m focusing on firing coaches from larger programs and hiring coaches from lesser known programs).

Fire these Guys:

Lorenzo Romar (Washington)

Recruiting – A-
Development – C
Conducting – D
X’s and O’s – F

The evidence against Romar can be summed up in one jarring sentence: Lorenzo Romar has not made an NCAA Tournament since 2011 despite having FIVE first round draft picks at his disposal over the past five seasons. The evidence becomes overwhelming when you consider those five premier players don’t include Andrew Andrews and Nigel Williams-Goss – two All-Conference caliber players in one of the best leagues in America. Recruiting isn’t the issue; Romar has proven to be an upper echelon recruiter and recently inked three ESPN Top 100 prospects in the class of 2017, including the 2nd best HS player in the country, Michael Porter. This leads to the notion that is becoming painfully obvious – Romar just isn’t a great game coach. Despite this, I doubt Washington lets him go within the next three years. The Huskies aren’t exactly a blue blood program, and Romar brings in top talent every year, which brings notoriety to the program. While the media presence is nice, I’d have to imagine Husky fans care just a tad bit more about making deep runs in the Tourney. (PS: Interesting fact – Romar amassed a record of 42-44 at Pepperdince and 51-44 at Saint Louis before coming to Washington – seems like a weird hire until you realize Washington is his alma mater).

John Thompson III (Georgetown)

Recruiting – C+
Development – C
Conducting – C-
X’s and O’s – C

Considering JT3 a fire-able coaching candidate used to be a mortal sin; but the 12-year Hoyas coach from a legendary basketball family has started to sputter the last few seasons. Georgetown has made the NCAA Tournament six times since 2006-07, the year of their last Final Four appearance – they have made it to the second weekend a total of ZERO times in those six tries, despite earning the following seeds: 2, 3, 6, 3, 2, 4. The Hoyas missed the Dance completely in 2013-14 and 2015-16, and have already fallen to Arkansas State at home this season, suggesting another painfully mediocre year in DC. Georgetown is a historical basketball program, with some of the best big men of all-time gracing the hardwood for the Hoyas, but, strangely, JT3 has had some issues attracting the top talent (this is a relative idea). The Hoyas have had only one top 25 recruiting class since the 2008 season; that’s pretty significant for a “power-house” program. I don’t think he’s a terrible game coach, nor do I think he’s a terrible collaborator and orchestrator of talent; he just simply hasn’t produced results in a very long time for a school that expects greatness. It’s apparent his welcome in DC has grown rather stale.

John Groce (Illinois)

Recruiting – C
Development – D+
Conducting – C
X’s and O’s – D+

Surprisingly, John Groce isn’t a bad recruiter. Since his arrival in Champaign in 2012-13, Groce has brought in four ESPN 4-stars in Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn (now gone), Leron Black, and Jalen Coleman-Lands. Black and Coleman-Lands are still players early in their career, so success could very well be in their future, but Groce has failed to produce anything thus far with Hill, or the inherited talent of Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams. Illinois made the Tournament in Groce’s first season, which was his third in four seasons dating back to his days at Ohio. But that bid was accomplished with Bruce Weber players. To his credit, Groce improved Illinois’s pre-season rank that year (according to KenPom), but since then he’s failed to live up to the relative “hype”:

2014: Preseason Rank – 46th ; Final Rank – 52nd
2015: 38th ; 60th
2016: 60th ; 125th

Also, that “X’s and O’s” rating derives mostly from the good ole eye test where I saw Illinois try to break a zone press by clearing everyone out of the area, forcing the guards to throw no-look jump passes out of a corner trap. That’s more than just player failures – that’s poor coaching.

Kim Anderson (Missouri)

Recruiting – D-
Development – D
Conducting – D
X’s and O’s – C

My biggest gripe with Kim Anderson as the Head Coach of my alma mater (aside from him looking like he says the word "malarkey" all the time) is this – how does he possibly relate to a top high school recruit? Honestly, from what I’ve seen of him in interviews and heard through the grapevine on coaching style, how does a top, for instance, St. Louis recruit decide to come play for this guy? He’s not motivating, he’s not enthusiastic, he’s not “hip” – he’s an old white dude that preaches boring half-court basketball. The Mizzou alumni wanted one of their own to come in and patch up the damage left by Frank Haith – so they hired a Mizzou alum who just won a D2 championship at Central Missouri State. That sounds great in theory, but has yielded nothing of substance in practice. Having said all that, I think we owe Kim one more season after this before we send him packing and hire one of the guys on the list below. He just “drained the swamp” of players that didn’t agree with his philosophy (for better or worse) and now finally has a roster of just “his guys”. If he wins 12-15 games this year and doesn’t finish dead last in the SEC, we owe him one more season. But that’s it Kimmy; I need my Tigers back.

Johnny Jones (LSU)

Recruiting – B+
Development – F
Conducting – D-
X’s and O’s – D

Johnny Jones is your classic case of “let’s hire this guy because he went to our school”. Jones amassed a record of 190-144 (.569) in his 11 seasons at North Texas, punching two tickets to the Big Dance. IMPRESSIVE!!! HIRE HIM!!! As expected, Jones has done nothing at LSU except miss the NCAA Tournament with the #1 NBA Draft Pick last season. Like Romar, recruiting is not his issue, in his five seasons at LSU, Jones has brought in guys like Jarell Martin (5-star; #11 recruit), Tim Quarterman (4-star; #80), Antonio Blakeney (5-star; #15), and Ben Simmons (5-star; #1). Jones has never succeeded in making all his talented pieces fit together, and I can’t really name a player that has developed into a truly great player under him (Quarterman oozed talent, but his basketball IQ never developed). Here’s one stat I love, which to me represents a coaching deficiency – Johnny Jones has only had THREE teams in his 16 seasons that have posted a top 100 Turnover Rate. During his tenure at LSU, the Tigers have ranked 205, 248, 259, and 80 (thanks Ben) in that metric.

Hire these Guys

Kevin Keatts (UNC Wilmington)

Recruiting – B-
Development – A-
Conducting – B+
X’s and O’s – B

Kevin Keatts has been a Head Coach for a grand total of two seasons. In those two years, he has earned consecutive CAA Coach of the Year awards and has turned the once-anemic UNCW Seahawks into a conference power. Keatts comes from the Rick Pitino coaching tree, which alone should suggest he’s capable of leading a top program. The third year coach has already proven to be a top-notch developer of talent: Chris Flemmings came to UNCW as a walk-on two years ago, then became the league’s best player; Jordon Talley and C.J. Bryce were both unheralded recruits. Keatts’s four-out up-tempo offense creates a fun environment that premier guards will want to come play in, just ask sought-after transfers Denzel Ingram, Ambrose Mosley and JaQuel Richmond. We should expect to see the Seahawks earn another Tourney bid this year, and they’ll likely be a sexy pick to pull off a Round 1 upset. If that happens, Keatts’s stock will be through the roof. If I had my way, he’d be the next head coach of Mizzou, but I can see him aiming a little higher, especially with the Pitino pedigree.

Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)

Recruiting – B+
Development – A
Conducting – A
X’s and O’s – A

Is this one too obvious? Yeah probably, but his accolades and coaching resume need mentioning. Marshall started his career at Winthrop, amassing a .700 win percentage in nine seasons and earning seven trips to the NCAA Tournament – he created a Big South dynasty. During his first nine seasons at Wichita State, the Head Coach has turned the Shockers into the Gonzaga of the Midwest, dominating the Missouri Valley, making a Final Four, and earning five straight trips to the Big Dance. What player wouldn’t want to come play for Marshall if he transitioned to a top university? Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet, among others, flourished under his tutelage, and he’s one of the best X’s and O’s guy around – just look at his defense rankings over the past six seasons. Marshall is the hottest thing out there right now, and could literally name his next job. He could very well be a Shocker lifer, but my money is on him jumping for a Duke, UNC, Louisville, or UCLA-type opportunity within the next five years.

King Rice (Monmouth)

Recruiting – C+
Development – B+
Conducting – B
X’s and O’s – B

King Rice burst onto the national scene last season when his Monmouth Hawks took the basketball world by storm with early wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown. Rice is a textbook example of a coach inheriting a bad program and slowly building them into a conference contender with his philosophy and choice of recruits. Nearly all of Rice’s current players are his own, but he’s also proven to be a capable transfer recruiter with his acquisition of Je’lon Hornbeak. Justin Robinson, Micah Seaborn, and Chris Brady have all thrived under Rice, and the Hawks are in position to reach their first Tourney since 2006. He’s attractive to bigger programs for many reasons but three primary factors are his youth (47), passion (see aftermath of Iona game last season), and ability to create a fun, winning culture (see Monmouth bench celebrations).

Randy Rahe (Weber State)

Recruiting – C
Development – A-
Conducting – B-
X’s and O’s – C+

We don’t talk about Randy Rahe enough. Most people probably have never even heard of him. Rahe has led the Wildcats to three NCAA Tournaments and five Big Sky regular season championships in his 11 seasons at the helm while posting a .648 win percentage. His talent development ability is right up there with the best in the nation, just ask NBA players Damian Lillard and Joel Bolomboy. Rahe may be best suited for the friendly confines of Ogden, Utah, but he’s still young enough and talented enough to take on a bigger profile job. Something in the WCC or Mountain West – perhaps even San Diego State once Fisher hangs it up – feels like a realistic possibility.

Scott Cross (UT Arlington)

Recruiting – C-
Development – B
Conducting – B-
X’s and O’s – C+

Scott Cross was named head coach of the UT-Arlington Mavericks at age 32. During his ten years at the helm, Cross has succeeded in making UTA into a conference contender in first the Southland and currently the Sun Belt. He’s proven he’s able to attract talent from both the high school (Kevin Hervey, Erick Neal) and JUCO (Jalen Jones) levels and be a balanced instructor of both offense and defense. Cross has more experience than just about every other 42-year old coach in the country and instills an up-tempo, high pressure basketball style. He’s never known anything outside of Arlington (played there, assisted there, coached there), but I think he could find success at, say, a Texas Conference USA school like North Texas, UTEP, or UTSA.