Stadium College Insiders Brett McMurphy and Jeff Goodman graded the football and men’s basketball hirings of the current FBS athletic directors. These grades are based on the success of the coaches hired, difficulty of opponents in their respective conferences, bowl appearances, NCAA Tournament trips, conference titles and national championships won. The grades do not take into consideration any fundraising or building of facilities by the athletic directors. Also, each athletic director gets credit for a coach’s hiring at each school — even after the AD moves on to another university and the coach remains at the original school. Only hires made at FBS football programs or Division I basketball programs are considered.
Key: ** indicates that coach was likely to make 2020 NCAA Tournament if not for cancellation
In 1998, Oklahoma was suffering through its worst stretch in the football program’s proud history. It was in shambles.
A day after John Blake’s third consecutive losing season as head coach of the Sooners, he was fired by new athletic director Joe Castiglione. Hired only seven months earlier from Missouri, Castiglione was responsible for finding someone who could return Oklahoma to greatness. Castiglione opted for a young, brash — some said cocky — defensive coordinator named Bob Stoops, who didn’t have any head coaching experience.
“Bob was incredibly well-prepared and [led with] his confidence, which sometimes people thought it was arrogance opposed to confidence, but he had confidence,” Castiglione said. “He had a way of enduring confidence in everyone around him, sort of like imploring his team to have the same will to succeed that he did.
“It worked magically, beautifully.”
Did it ever. Stoops finished as Oklahoma’s winningest coach.
Based on that decision, along with the hirings of current coach Lincoln Riley and basketball coach Lon Kruger, Castiglione is Stadium’s choice for the best current Big 12 athletic director. Over the next few weeks, Stadium’s College Insiders Jeff Goodman and Brett McMurphy will reveal their hiring grades for the Power Five and Group of Five athletic directors.
Just how bad was Oklahoma before Stoops arrived in 1999?
The Sooners began playing football in 1903 — four years before Oklahoma became a state — and they had never had five consecutive seasons without a winning record until 1994-98. In those three years under Blake, the Sooners lost 16 Big 12 conference games. By comparison, Stoops only lost 29 conference matchups — across 18 seasons.
Stoops also won 10 conference titles and the 2000 national championship.
As steady as Stoops’ career was, his hiring had some anxious moments. Stoops, then a defensive coordinator at Florida, had an agreement with Castiglione and Oklahoma President David Boren, but also wanted to honor a commitment to talk with Iowa, his alma mater, about the Hawkeyes’ opening.
“We had to be patient and wonder if the tug of his alma mater would be stronger than the opportunity we presented at Oklahoma,” Castiglione said.
After Stoops met with Iowa, he said he would call Boren at about 1 p.m. on Nov. 30, 1998 to make it official. However, there were weather issues that delayed Stoops’ meeting with the Hawkeyes, so he couldn’t call until much later that afternoon.
“So finally, the phone rang,” Boren told The Oklahoman. “Joe was still a skeptic about whether Bob was going to say yes or not. Bob got on the phone and said, ‘I’m just calling to tell you I’m a Sooner. I’ve told Iowa.’ I kept saying, ‘That’s just the greatest news.’ I was kicking Joe under the table. It was funny.”
There was no such suspense when Castiglione had to replace Stoops after his sudden retirement in June of 2017. Once again, the AD opted for a coach with no head coaching experience.
“We knew we had a very unique individual in Lincoln Riley,” Castiglione said. “I noticed when he was first here in 2015 [as OU’s offensive coordinator], he was a guy that was wise beyond his years at 31 years old.
“Bob and I thought, ‘Hey, when you decide to retire sometime down the road, Coach Riley will be the guy, right?’ But we thought he would be a head coach for several years and then we would work to get [Riley] back [to OU]. We had the right guy here and it made the smoothest transition. It was as seamless as can be.”
In Riley’s three years, he has three College Football Playoff appearances and three conference titles — only Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has done the same since 2017.
Castiglione’s major basketball hire from 2011 required much more work.
Kruger, who took Florida to the 1994 Final Four and was head coach of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks for 2 ½ years, had just completed his seventh year at UNLV, which included four NCAA Tournament berths in the past five years.
In 2006, Castiglione had approached Kruger about the Oklahoma job, but Kruger turned him down. So after firing Jeff Capel in 2011, Castiglione went to Las Vegas to make another run at Kruger.
There was one major obstacle: Kruger had just moved into a $6.7 million, 10,153-square foot house.
“I went into his house and it wasn’t that they were recently moved in — they were still unpacking boxes,” Castiglione said. “I saw [his wife] Barb and thought, ‘This is gonna be tough.’ And he did turn me down after that visit.”
But Castiglione kept coming back.
In March 2011, Castiglione and OU officials were in a Dallas hotel conference room finalizing Kruger’s deal when reports surfaced about Kruger to Oklahoma.
There was a knock at the conference room door. Castiglione thought the media had found the OU contingent. He looked through the door’s peephole but couldn’t see anyone.
“I hear these two words: ‘turn down,’” Castiglione said. “I hear it again — ‘turn down’ — and I’m kind of puzzled, so I crack open the door, and there’s a hotel attendant and she says, ‘Turn down?’ She’s asking for the turn-down service and I said, ‘Turn down, ma’am? I’ve been turned down twice before and I’m not going to let it happen again.’”
Castiglione’s persistence paid off.
Under Kruger, Oklahoma has made six of the last seven NCAA Tournaments, including the 2016 Final Four.
Analysis: When Joe Castiglione was hired at Oklahoma in 1998, the Sooners’ football program was a wreck. Coach John Blake had three consecutive losing seasons, the worst three-year stretch in school history, so Castiglione replaced Blake with Florida DC Bob Stoops. All Stoops did was string together 18 consecutive bowl appearances, 10 conference championships and a national title. Since Stoops’ retirement, Lincoln Riley has added three more conference titles in as many years. In all, under Stoops and Riley, OU has 14 top-10 finishes in the past 21 years. In basketball, Castiglione had mixed results with Jeff Capel, but Lon Kruger remains at the helm, highlighted by a Final Four trip in 2016.
Analysis: When something works to perfection, why not try it again? That seems to be the hiring philosophy for Gene Taylor. After an incredible run at North Dakota State with Craig Bohl (three FCS national titles before heading to Wyoming) and Chris Klieman (four FCS national titles), Taylor went back to the well with Klieman at Kansas State. All Klieman had to do at K-State was replace the legendary Bill Snyder, who resuscitated the Wildcats’ program not once, but twice. In his debut season last year, Klieman went 8-5, impressively handling the impossible transition from Snyder, the man who K-State named the football stadium after.
Analysis: Mack Rhoades made two of the best hires in Houston’s history — before leaving shortly afterward to Missouri. Rhoades hired Tom Herman, then the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, and Kelvin Sampson, who had not been a college coach since he resigned at Indiana in 2008. Herman led UH to a New Year’s Six bowl, while Sampson, hired in 2014, remains at the school as the AAC’s best coach, with three NCAA trips and two conference titles. At Baylor, the hiring of Matt Rhule, initially questioned by many because of Rhule’s northeastern background, resurrected the Bears’ football program from the sexual assault scandal that rocked the school.
Analysis: The coaches that Jeff Long has hired are some of the best known in college football (for a variety of reasons): Dave Wannstedt, Bobby Petrino, John L. Smith, Bret Bielema and Les Miles. Of the group, Petrino earned the most success — and headlines. In 2011, Petrino led Arkansas to only its third 11-win season in school history. However, a few months later he literally crashed and burned on his motorcycle, leading to his firing. Long (who also was eventually fired at Arkansas) has now taken a chance on Miles, who won a national championship with LSU, to resurrect the Jayhawks’ program.
Analysis: Jamie Pollard’s made six hires in 15 years — three football and three hoops. He started out slow with the hiring of Greg McDermott, who failed to reach the NCAA Tournament in four seasons, and Gene Chizik, who left for Auburn after two years and a total of five wins. Paul Rhoads replaced Chizik in 2009 and was 32-55 in seven seasons, with just eight total wins during his final three years. The home run hire has been Fred Hoiberg, the ex-Iowa State star who was brought on with no coaching experience and wound up going to four tournaments in five years. Current coaches Matt Campbell and Steve Prohm have been solid thus far.
Analysis: Mike Holder spent 32 seasons as the Cowboys’ golf coach before becoming AD in 2005 — several months after the hiring of Mike Gundy. On the hoops side, he hired Travis Ford, who went to five NCAA Tournaments in eight years, but only won one tourney game in Stillwater before being let go. Then came the brief tenure of Brad Underwood, who left for Illinois for more money after one season. Mike Boynton was promoted when Underwood left and is still searching for his first NCAA tourney bid entering Year 4.
Analysis: Kirby Hocutt’s first hire came in 2010 at Miami on the football side with Al Golden, who went to three bowl games, but was fired with a 17-18 ACC mark. At Texas Tech, he rolled the dice and brought former star QB Kliff Kingsbury, then the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. Kingsbury was sub-.500 in four of his six seasons before the Arizona Cardinals hired him. It’s been a mixed bag on the hoops side: Billy Gillispie was a train wreck and was gone after one season, Tubby Smith was solid in three years and Chris Beard has been one of the best hires in the past decade.
Analysis: Before replacing Oliver Luck as athletic director at West Virginia, Shane Lyons was a deputy AD at Alabama. For Lyons’ first major hire at WVU, he went back to ‘Bama, landing Troy’s Neal Brown after Dana Holgorsen left for Houston. While at Troy, Brown was one of only six FBS coaches to win 10 or more games in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and he also led the Trojans to road upsets at LSU and Nebraska. Lyons, who also worked at the ACC, Texas Tech and the NCAA, is currently chair of the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee.
Analysis: Chris Del Conte’s two hires at Rice didn’t exactly set the world on fire. He hired football coach David Bailiff in 2007 from Texas State and Bailiff won just 57 games in 11 seasons. His first basketball hire was Ben Braun a year later and Braun’s teams never finished better than seventh place in C-USA. After being hired at TCU in 2009, he made two hoops hires: Trent Johnson and Jamie Dixon. Johnson struggled while Dixon has been solid thus far. Del Conte has yet to make a football or basketball hire since his arrival in Austin in 2017.
Analysis: The former general counsel for agent Leigh Steinberg and ex-fundraiser at Arizona, Washington State and Cal Poly has been at TCU for about a decade. He started in fundraising, moved to associate AD in 2013, deputy AD in 2016 and took over as the athletic director in December of 2017 after Chris Del Conte left for Texas. Jeremiah Donati has yet to make a football or basketball hire.