2021 Coaching Carousel Superlatives: Best Hire, Biggest Risk and More

There were many who anticipated a slow coaching carousel in college basketball this year due to the pandemic. Instead, there were nearly 60 openings, and one notable aspect of the turnover is that Black coaches accounted for 28 of the 53 hires that have occurred thus far. That’s a huge increase from 2019, when there were just 16 Black coaches hired for the 58 job openings.

There were some big openings with North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger retiring, Indiana firing Archie Miller and then Arizona cutting ties with his older brother, Sean, and Texas’ Shaka Smart leaving for Marquette.

Here are my superlatives for the 2021 coaching carousel.

[RELATED: College Basketball Coaching Changes Tracker]


BEST HIRE: When Shaka Smart left for Marquette, there was only one call for Texas AD Chris Del Conte to make: the one to 48-year-old Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard. Beard — a former Longhorns student assistant to Tom Penders — made Texas Tech relevant, taking the Red Raiders to the Elite Eight in 2018 and the national title game in 2019. Beard should be able to do what Smart could not in his six seasons in Austin: win in the NCAA tourney.

BEST MID-MAJOR HIRE: The College of Charleston went with a guy who has won his league four of the last six years and recorded at least 18 wins in eight consecutive seasons. Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey clearly had the best gig in the Big South, and now he’ll have it in the CAA. If Kelsey wins again at CofC, he’ll be in line for a high-major job.

BEST LANDING SPOT: Shaka Smart made the smartest move of the offseason by getting out of Austin and landing one of the best jobs in the Big East at Marquette. Smart had been on the hot seat during the last couple years in Austin and losing in the first round of the NCAA tourney to Abilene Christian washed away much of the shine from a strong regular season. Smart is a Wisconsin native who gets a fresh start at a program that is thirsty for success after seven years and no NCAA Tournament wins with Steve Wojciechowski at the helm.

MOST BAFFLING MOVE BY A COACH, PART I: Chris Ogden left his head gig at UT Arlington for a spot on Chris Beard’s staff at Texas that doesn’t even include him being on the road recruiting. Ogden is a Texas alum, and extremely close with Beard, and the lure was him having a chance to help run the program from a macro level and build the Longhorns into a national championship-caliber team.

MOST BAFFLING MOVE BY A COACH, PART II: UMBC’s Ryan Odom heading to Utah State. I understand it’s more money and a chance to compete in a multi-bid league, but Odom was getting paid well at UMBC ($500,000). My guess is that Odom knew he had to win elsewhere in order to get a high-major gig. He wasn’t able to get Wake Forest or Boston College, so he’ll try and prove he can do it in Logan, Utah — a place where Craig Smith just won 74 games in three seasons and turned that into a Pac-12 gig.

MOST BAFFLING MOVE BY AN AD: There was no shortage of candidates for this spot, but I’m going with Boston College AD Patrick Kraft selecting College of Charleston head coach Earl Grant. I’m happy for Grant, and hope he succeeds so that I (a Massachusetts resident) can watch competitive games without having to consistently travel across the country, but Grant has no familiarity with New England and struggled in his seven seasons (69-50 in league play) at the best job in the CAA. Now he inherits arguably the worst job in the ACC. Part of the reason it was shocking is that St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt, who has taken the Bonnies to three NCAA Tournaments in the last 10 years, is a BC alum and would have walked from Olean to Chestnut Hill for the gig.

BEST CANDIDATE POOL: Abilene Christian’s Joe Golding got the job, but I loved the group of finalists that UTEP AD Jim Senter assembled for the opening. Baylor assistant Jerome Tang would have been a great choice, and you can’t argue with Arkansas assistant David Patrick, New Mexico State head coach Chris Jans and even former Nebraska and Southern Miss head coach Doc Sadler.

BEST (AND MOST EXPENSIVE) STAFF: Texas’ Chris Beard brought assistant Ulric Maligi with him from Lubbock, and also plucked Jerrance Howard from Bill Self’s staff at Kansas. Then he went out and convinced two sitting head coaches, and two guys who weren’t in danger of losing their jobs, to come back to Austin. UTEP’s Rodney Terry, who was on Rick Barnes’ staff at UT from 2002-11, left with a couple years remaining on his contract to become the associate head coach. Beard also persuaded former Texas player Chris Ogden to leave his head job at UT Arlington to become the program’s managing director. Ogden was an assistant from 2008-15 in Austin.

TIME WILL TELL: I’ve never been a huge fan of bringing in NBA guys, especially ones who have spent their entire careers in the league. I know Juwan Howard has crushed it in Ann Arbor, but that’s the exception — and not the norm (see: Clyde Drexler). Indiana swung and missed on Brad Stevens and a few others (yes, Indiana fans, Chris Holtmann passed on the job), and wound up with one of their own in Mike Woodson. The good news is that the 63-year-old Woodson kept assistant Kenya Hunter and added former IU guard Dane Fife from Michigan State. Those guys have helped him keep Trayce Jackson-Davis, add Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson and Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp, and also get a pledge from top recruit Tamar Bates. I’m still not completely sold just yet, but Woodson has momentum, and inherits a group that was close to getting into the NCAA Tournament this past season under Archie Miller.

BEST INTERNAL PROMOTION: Loyola-Chicago AD Steve Watson replacing Porter Moser with assistant Drew Valentine. The 29-year-old was a graduate assistant at Michigan State, spent two years as an assistant at Oakland and has been on Loyola’s staff for the past four years as the Ramblers have gone to a Final Four and Sweet Sixteen. He’s been in charge of the defense for the last couple years, and Loyola was first in the country in scoring defense this past season.

HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD: It’s rare that an assistant gets a Big Ten job, and especially rare when that assistant isn’t even in the program at the time. However, Minnesota AD Mark Coyle went with an alum in Ben Johnson, who has been an assistant at Xavier for the past three years and was on the Gophers staff from 2013-18. Johnson is well-liked and plugged into the area, so that’ll give him a chance to keep some of the local talent home.

GUYS WHO GET THEIR GUYS JOBS: OK, we’ll start with someone who isn’t even in college right now: Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan. The former Florida head coach helped get Richard Pitino the New Mexico gig and also helped place former Gators and Arizona State assistant Rashon Burno at Northern Illinois. But current Gators coach Mike White, Purdue coach Matt Painter and Tennessee’s Rick Barnes all lost a pair of assistants to head gigs: Jordan Mincy (Jacksonville) and Darris Nichols (Radford) left Gainesville, Micah Shrewsberry (Penn State) and Steve Lutz (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) left West Lafayette, and Kim English (George Mason) and Desmond Oliver (ETSU) were hired from Barnes’ staff.

GUYS WHO LEFT D-I JOBS ON THEIR OWN: I’ve mentioned a pair that went to Texas in Rodney Terry (UTEP) and Chris Ogden (UT Arlington). But there were others: Heath Schroyer stepped down at McNeese State to focus on his other gig as the AD, and Barret Peery left Portland State to become the associate head coach for Mark Adams at Texas Tech.

ASSISTANTS REAP REWARDS: It’s not commonplace that assistants get high-major head coaching jobs, but this carousel was different: It actually began with Penn State hiring Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry and Minnesota hiring Xavier assistant Ben Johnson, but there were more. Oregon assistant Tony Stubblefield was tabbed at DePaul and Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd got Arizona. Four guys were promoted from within: Hubert Davis was elevated at North Carolina, Mark Adams was promoted at Texas Tech and Kevin Kruger got the nod at UNLV. Wichita State’s Isaac Brown was a little different, earning his stripes during the season and having the interim tag removed late in the year.

NON-POWER FIVE PROMOTIONS: I love when assistants get rewarded at the low- and mid-major level. That happened eight times in this cycle. We’ll list them alphabetically by school: Brette Tanner (Abilene Christian), Levell Sanders (Binghamton), David Riley (Eastern Washington), Speedy Claxton (Hofstra), Drew Valentine (Loyola-Chicago), John Aiken (McNeese State), Jase Coburn (Portland State) and Greg Young (UT Arlington).

FINALLY: I love guys who grind in the industry for years then finally get a chance to be a head coach in the D-1 ranks. Texas Tech’s Mark Adams takes over for Chris Beard at 64 years old. He was the head coach at places like Wayland Baptist and West Texas A&M in his career, but was integral in the Red Raiders’ recent success. Alvin Brooks, 61, goes back to his alma mater, Lamar, where he graduated in 1982. Brooks was the associate head coach at Houston, his second stint at the school.

ANOTHER CHANCE: There were some veteran coaches who got another shot at a head gig. Tony Barbee (Central Michigan), Marty Simmons (Eastern Illinois) and Stan Heath (Eastern Michigan) get another opportunity at a lower level. After a couple years in the media, Tim Miles gets a shot at Mountain West bottom-feeder San Jose State, Alvin Brooks takes over at Lamar, and Jim Ferry, after doing a terrific job as the Penn State interim, lands at UMBC.

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