This is the latest in Stadium’s “Conference Chain of Command” series in which we polled a handful of veteran coaches in every league to determine the best JOBS in each league, all the way down to the ones that are the most difficult.
Here are the nine categories that were utilized to determine the overall rankings.
- Tradition – The history of the program
- Media Exposure – Games on national television
- Game Atmosphere – Includes attendance
- Facilities – Not just the arena, but also practice facilities, weight room, locker rooms, etc.
- Selling Pros – Being able to sell not only NBA players, but also those who play overseas
- Admission Requirements – Ranked from easiest to get into to most difficult
- Budget/Resources – Includes coaches’ salaries, recruiting budget, travel budget, private planes, cost of attendance, etc.
- Buy Games – Programs who are bought the fewest number of times will rank first
- Geographical Recruiting Base – Proximity to players
This is how polling in Conference USA shook out among coaches who voted, with one being the best and 14 being the worst:
1. Western Kentucky (106) – The program went to the Final Four in 1971 and has gone to the NCAA tournament 23 times – including seven times since 2001. Western Kentucky is one of the most successful mid-major programs in college basketball over a lengthy span. The Hilltoppers went from the Ohio Valley to the Sun Belt in 1982 and into C-USA in 2014, and have yet to get back to the NCAA tourney in the last four seasons.
Where they win: “It has everything you need at this level – fan base, financial support, facilities, history and tradition. It’s within a drive to Memphis, Nashville and even Atlanta and Saint Louis.” – C-USA assistant coach
The knock: “There’s just not that much to do in the town, and the campus is just OK.” – C-USA head coach
2. Old Dominion (101) – ODU has gone to the NCAA tourney eight times since moving into the D-1 ranks in 1976-77. Paul Webb led the Monarchs to the NCAA tournament in 1980, 1982, 1985 and 1986, Oliver Purnell took them in 1992, the late Jeff Capel in 1995 and 1997 and Blaine Taylor in 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011. Current coach Jeff Jones took ODU into C-USA in 2013 – his first season at the helm.
Where they win: “Best facilities in the league, and terrific community support. The only thing that really hurts is academics, but that can also help at times.” – C-USA head coach
The knock: “Expectations. It’s a really good job, but they are expected to win the league, or compete for a league title every year.” – C-USA assistant coach
3. UTEP (91) – Don Haskins and the Miners won the 1966 national title. It was the first time that five African-American starters won a championship – and they did it against a Kentucky team that had no black players. The program has gone to the NCAA tourney 17 times with most of its success coming in the Haskins Era.
Where they win: “Tradition and fan support are really good. They have also had some high-level players come out of the program with Tiny Archibald, Tim Hardaway and Antonio Davis. Another advantage is the ability to prop kids.” – C-USA assistant coach
The knock: “You ever been to El Paso? The campus is literally next to Juarez, Mexico. There’s no talent right around El Paso. Plus, the travel sucks to the rest of the teams in the league.” – C-USA assistant
4. UAB (88) – Gene Bartow took the Blazers to the NCAA tourney nine times in his tenure (1978-96) – most of them coming while a member of the Sun Belt. Bartow coached the 1995-96 season in C-USA and then Murry Bartow took over for six seasons and went to one tourney. Mike Anderson went in three of his four years at the helm, Mike Davis went once in six seasons and Jerod Haase went one in four years before leaving for Stanford.
Where they win: “History and tradition. A bunch of the guys who coached at UAB have gotten out.” – C-USA head coach
The knock: “The resources now are going into the football program, so the basketball program has definitely taken a hit.” – C-USA assistant
5. Middle Tennessee State (86) – There have been nine NCAA tournament appearances – including a trio in the last five seasons under Kermit Davis. Jimmy Earle took the Blue Raiders in 1975 and 1977 and Stan Simpson did it in 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1989 – both as members of the OVC. But there was a large gap from 1990 to 2013 in which the program – which went from the OVC to the Sun Belt in 2000, and into C-USA in 2013 – did not get to the NCAA tournament.
Where they win: “They have the recent success, and the fan base is supportive and cates about winning. It’s also within a drive of Atlanta, Memphis, Louisville, Birmingham and even Nashville and Chattanooga – so that’s good for recruiting.” – C-USA assistant coach
The knock: “Facilities are on par with the league, but not in the upper-tier and the recruiting budget is average – as is travel. But the toughest thing now is the expectations. The facilities need to be upgraded to be an elite mid-major program.” – C-USA assistant coach
6. Charlotte (82) – There has been plenty of success, but not much recently. In its first year in the Sun Belt, Charlotte made its lone Final Four berth in 1977 behind Cedric Maxwell and Lew Massey. Coach Jeff Mullins took the program to the NCAA tourney in 1988, 1992 and 1995, Melvin Watkins went in both of his years at the helm (1997 and ’98) and Bobby Lutz enjoyed success – going in 1999, 2001, ’02, ’04 and ’05 – all while in C-USA. Charlotte left Conference USA in 2005 for the A-10, and returned to C-USA in 2013. There have only been five winning seasons in the last 14 years.
Where they win: “Location. It’s easy to major airports and highways and there is a ton of talent within a 3- or 4-hour drive. They also support it financially with charter flights on pretty much every game.” – C-USA assistant
The knock: “Being in ACC country hurts because coaches and recruits see it as a second-tier school, but some of the league has top-tier talent. The school also doesn’t like being “mid-major” so there’s pressure to overschedule.” – C-USA assistant
7. Marshall (76) – The Thundering Herd has been to the NCAA tournament six times – most recently last season under Dan D’Antoni. Rick Huckaby went to three of them – in 1984, ’85 and ’87. Billy Donovan had a brief stop from 1994-1996 before being hired at Florida. The program has also put out some talent – led by Hal Greer and Hassan Whiteside – as well as the D’Antoni brothers.
Where they win: “Fan support is the best thing about the program. They are rabid, and the place is a great place to play. There’s also nothing else to do in Huntington.” – C-USA assistant coach
The knock: “Location. It’s in Huntington, and there just aren’t many players in the area. There’s also an expectation to compete for league titles and Marshall doesn’t have the same financial resources that the other top teams in the league have.” – C-USA head coach
8. North Texas (69) – The Mean Green has gone to the NCAA tourney three times – in 1998, 2007 and 2010. The program was in the Southland from 1981 to 1996, the Big West from 1996 to 2000, back to the Sun Belt from 2000 to 2013, the C-USA for the past five-plus years. Vic Trilli went to the tourney in 1998 and Johnny Jones took North Texas in both 2007 and 2010 before getting the LSU job.
Where they win: “They are pouring in a ton of money into the program, and they have the best recruiting area in the league by far. So many players within a short ride, and that’s a major advantage over a lot of the other schools in the league.” – C-USA head coach
The knock: “There are one of a bunch of schools in the Dallas/Fort Worth area fighting for kids, and they don’t really have any juice. Not much history to speak of, either.” – C-USA assistant coach
9. Louisiana Tech (58) – The Bulldogs have gone to the NCAA tourney five times, but the last one was all the way back in 1991. They were in the Sun Belt from 1991-2001, the WAC from 2001-13 and went into the C-USA five years ago. The last four coaches – Jim Woolridge, Keith Richard, Kerry Rupp and Mike White – were unable to get the program to the NCAA tourney.
Where they win: “Tradition especially with NBA guys like Karl Malone, Paul Millsap and P.J. Brown. Also can get just about any qualifier and transfer into school.” – C-USA head coach
The knock: “Not a lot of players that they can recruit within a three-year drive, and in the bottom half of the league in terms of resources.” – C-USA assistant coach
10. Rice (48) – There have been four NCAA tournament appearances – with the last one coming nearly 50 years ago in 1970. There hasn’t been much success to speak of recently – with just two winning seasons since moving into C-USA from the WAC in 2005. The last coach to get Rice to the NCAA tourney was Don Knodel in 1970.
Where they win: “Academics, a great campus in Houston and the ability to recruit nationally. There’s plenty of kids within a stone’s throw.” – C-USA head coach
The knock: “While there are a ton of kids in the area, Rice can’t recruit a ton of them due to their academic requirements. They are basically an Ivy league school playing in C-USA.” – C-USA assistant coach
11. Southern Mississippi (41) – The Golden Eagles have appeared in three NCAA tournaments and had six players drafted – including Clarence Weatherspoon. M.K. Turk took Southern Miss in 1990 and 1991, and Larry Eustachy did it in 2012. Southern Miss went into C-USA in 1995 from the Metro Conference and it’s been a roller coaster ride for fans – some good years and some dismal. The program ranks dead last in facilities.
Where they win: “You can get anyone into school, and there are plenty of athletes and juco kids down in the area to recruit.” – C-USA head coach
The knock: “Can’t buy games, no interest and the budget is among the lowest in the league. The support just isn’t very good – all the way around.” – C-USA assistant coach
12. FIU (38) – There was a single NCAA tournament appearance in 1995 under then-coach Bob Weltlich. Raja Bell and Carlos Arroyo both played at FIU, but there hasn’t been a ton of success – from Shakey Rodriguez (1995-2000) to Sergio Ruoco (2005-2009) to Isiah Thomas (2009-12) to Anthony Evans (2013-2018).
Where they win: “Beautiful campus, great location and a ton of hot girls.” – C-USA assistant
The knock: “The support – from both administration and from the students – is pretty bad. It’s a huge commuter school.” – C-USA assistant
13. FAU (31) – The Owls went to the NCAA tourney in 2002, about a decade after making the move to the D-1 ranks. The program was in the A-Sun from 2001-2006, then the Sun Belt for the next seven seasons before joining C-USA in 2013. There have been seven consecutive losing seasons and just three since the turn of the century.
Where they win: “Location and proximity to players.” – C-USA head coach
The knock: “No foundation for success. It’s a young school with no real history. They need to upgrade their commitment to the program in order to have a chance.” – C-USA assistant
14. UTSA (30) – The Roadrunners joined C-USA in 2013 after one season in the WAC. They had been in the Southland from 1991 to 2012 – and went to three NCAA tournaments. Ken Burmeister took them in 1988, Tim Carter took them twice – in 1999 and 2004 — and the late Brooks Thompson took them in 2011. UTSA ranks in the bottom six in every single category.
Where they win: “The city is great and so is the weather, and it’s not too far from Houston and Dallas.” – C-USA head coach
The knock: “Facilities are arguably the worst in the league and there’s no atmosphere for the games. They have a lot of work to do to keep up with the others in the league.” – C-USA assistant