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
Gene Smith should go into the search firm business when he retires.
The Ohio State athletic director has proven at four different stops that he can evaluate both football and men’s basketball coaches. He’s best known for luring Urban Meyer from ESPN to Ohio State, and later tabbing Ryan Day as Meyer’s successor, but he’s been even more successful on the basketball side.
That’s why Smith is Stadium’s choice for the best current athletic director in the Big Ten.
It began all the way back in his Eastern Michigan days when he hired Ben Braun in 1986. Braun went to three NCAA Tournaments in 11 years, including a Sweet 16 in 1991, and wound up being hired by Cal in the Pac-12.
At Iowa State, Smith came through with a pair of successful basketball hires in Tim Floyd and Larry Eustachy, with the duo combining for five NCAA tourneys in nine seasons in Ames. Floyd had been at New Orleans, and after leaving the Cyclones for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, he was replaced by Eustachy, who came from Utah State.
Smith’s early football hires were a mixed bag: Ron Cooper at Eastern Michigan, Dan McCarney at Iowa State and Dirk Koetter at Arizona State. But when it comes to the Buckeyes, Meyer was able to deliver a national title in his third season in Columbus, while Day is 16-1 overall after Smith selected the well-traveled college and NFL assistant to succeed Meyer a year ago.
Smith said that watching Day operate as acting head coach during preseason camp and the three games in which Meyer was suspended to begin the 2018 campaign was important in evaluating Day.
“I watched him handle a situation that could have been volatile,” Smith said. “He did a masterful job and not just with the wins, but managing the kids and the external relations.”
Smith has also done well with his lone basketball hire in Columbus. After parting ways with Thad Matta in 2017, Smith wound up hiring Butler’s Chris Holtmann, who was en route to his third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance this past March until the tourney was canceled.
“Thad was one of the best I’ve ever worked with, so I was looking frankly for someone that aligned with Thad’s values and how he worked, and Chris fit that mold.
“I’m a big believer in character,” Smith said. “I knew he was an outstanding teacher, and I’m big on teaching.”
Analysis: Gene Smith’s overall track record is impressive in both sports, and it dates way back to when he hired Ben Braun at Eastern Michigan on the basketball side. Tim Floyd and Larry Eustachy went to a combined five NCAA Tournaments in nine years at Iowa State, and Dan McCarney coached in five bowls in 12 years. His lone hire at Arizona State was football coach Dirk Koetter, who was fired after four bowl appearances in six years. At Ohio State, Smith hired Urban Meyer — who won a national title and was 83-9 in seven seasons — and Ryan Day has picked up right where Meyer left off. Basketball coach Chris Holtmann is 66-34 in three seasons after being hired from Butler.
Analysis: Barry Alvarez, the Badgers’ long-time coach for 16 years, juggled coaching and athletic director duties in 2004 and 2005 before taking over exclusively as AD in 2006 (except for filling in as coach in Wisconsin’s 2013 and 2015 bowl games). Alvarez has hired three football coaches: Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen and Paul Chryst. They have combined for 14 consecutive bowl appearances, three Big Ten titles and four Rose Bowl berths. Bielema and Andersen both left Madison for lesser jobs (Arkansas and Oregon State, respectively), while Chryst just completed his fifth season — and fourth with at least 10 victories. Basketball coach Greg Gard has qualified for three NCAA Tournaments in five seasons.
Analysis: When Mark Coyle left Syracuse for Minnesota, SU football coach Dino Babers — who Coyle had hired just five months before — first found out the news from Stadium’s Brett McMurphy during the ACC spring meetings. Babers was not thrilled. However, fans of Coyle’s three schools (Boise State, Syracuse and Minnesota) have been happy with Coyle’s football hires. At Boise State, Bryan Harsin has six bowl appearances in as many years (and three Mountain West titles), Babers had Cuse’s first 10-win season in 17 years and P.J. Fleck just guided Minnesota to its first top-10 final ranking in 58 years.
Analysis: Sandy Barbour hit a home run at Tulane with the hire of Tommy Bowden, who was 11-0 in 1998 and 18-4 overall before being plucked by Clemson. She then tabbed Georgia assistant Chris Scelfo, who finished 20 games under .500 before being let go after eight years. Barbour did well on the basketball front while at Cal with the hirings of Mike Montgomery and Cuonzo Martin, but her hiring of Sonny Dykes disappointed many, as he was fired after four years and a total of 19 wins. She has yet to make a hire at Penn State.
Analysis: Mike Bobinski’s two hirings way back at Akron were uninspiring: Lee Owens in football and Dan Hipsher in basketball. But he crushed it with a couple of hoops hires at Xavier, with Thad Matta and Chris Mack combining for 11 NCAA Tournaments in 12 years. He went with a shocking hire of Josh Pastner – who enters this season on the hot seat at Georgia Tech – just before leaving for Purdue in 2016, where he ultimately hired Jeff Brohm out of Western Kentucky.
Analysis: Pat Hobbs has made a couple of impressive basketball hirings by adding Kevin Willard at Seton Hall and Steve Pikiell at Rutgers. Willard started slow, but was set to go to his fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament last season. He hired Pikiell from Stony Brook and he was on track to take the program to the tourney for the first time since 1991. That being said, Hobbs swung and missed badly with his first football hiring: Chris Ash was 8-32 in his three-plus seasons at Rutgers. But Hobbs will try and redeem himself with the re-hire of Greg Schiano, who enjoyed plenty of success with the Scarlet Knights in his 11-year tenure from 2001-11.
Analysis: Warde Manuel made a couple of football hires at Buffalo, bringing in Turner Gill and then Jeff Quinn after Gill left for Kansas in 2009. His other football hire came at UConn with Notre Dame assistant Bob Diaco. The Diaco era in Storrs lasted three seasons, resulting in 11 total victories. On the hoops front, Manuel promoted Kevin Ollie after Jim Calhoun stepped down due to health issues, and it looked brilliant early as Ollie won a national title in 2014. But Ollie was fired four years later after going to the tourney just once in his final four seasons. It’ll take more time to determine whether Juwan Howard’s hire in Ann Arbor was a good one or not.
Analysis: Bill Moos started at Montana and then went to Oregon, where his biggest hire was Ernie Kent. After taking over at Washington State, he again hired Kent. He also hired Mike Leach, who had been out of coaching for two years. Leach, who took over a WSU football program with eight consecutive losing seasons, eventually turned it around in Pullman. In his final five seasons, Leach was 43-22 and had the Cougars ranked in the top 20 at some point during each year. At Nebraska, Moos has made two big-name hires in former Huskers QB Scott Frost and former NBA coach Fred Hoiberg, but neither has had a winning season yet in their short time in Lincoln.
Analysis: Jim Phillips hired Ricardo Patton at Northern Illinois in 2007, immediately after Patton was fired at Colorado. Patton won just 35 games in four seasons at NIU. Once settled in at Northwestern, Phillips hired Chris Collins — a local kid — from his assistant spot at Duke, and Collins led the school to its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth in 2017. However, Collins and the Wildcats have struggled the last three seasons, winning just an average of 12 games per season. Phillips has yet to hire a football coach at Northwestern, but he did make a quality decision by targeting Jerry Kill while at NIU.
Analysis: Gary Barta hasn’t made a football hire in his career, but he’s made a couple on the hoops side. One was successful; one wasn’t. He hired Todd Lickliter from Butler in 2007, and that was a complete disaster, lasting three seasons and just a total of 38 wins. But he redeemed himself by plucking Fran McCaffery from Siena. McCaffery was set to go to his fifth NCAA tourney in 10 seasons before the season was cut short.
Analysis: At Georgia, Damon Evans hired basketball coach Mark Fox, who lasted for nine seasons in Athens. Since joining Maryland in 2017, Evans has been tasked with helping the football program heal after the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, as well as cleaning up the toxic environment created by former coach D.J. Durkin. When Durkin was suspended (and eventually fired), Evans named offensive coordinator Matt Canada as interim coach for the 2018 season. Evans replaced Canada last year with then-Alabama OC, and former Terps assistant, Mike Locksley. In Locksley’s debut season, Maryland cracked the Top 25 in September, but struggled late and finished 3-9.
Analysis: In December, Fred Glass announced his retirement, which is effective this summer (he will be replaced by Scott Dolson). But let’s rewind back to before the 2011 season, where football coach Kevin Wilson became Glass’ first major hire at IU. In 2016, Wilson resigned due to “philosophical differences,” and he was replaced by Tom Allen. After two sub-.500 seasons, Allen broke through last year with an 8-5 record, Indiana’s best campaign in 27 seasons — and only one victory shy of the most wins in a season for the Hoosiers. On the basketball side, Glass hired Archie Miller in 2017 to replace Tom Crean, and the school is still seeking its first NCAA Tournament trip under Miller.
Analysis: Josh Whitman was an athletic director at the NCAA Division III level for seven years before taking over at his alma mater. After graduating from Illinois, Whitman spent a few seasons in the NFL, while Lovie Smith was an NFL assistant on his way to becoming an NFL head coach. They joined forces when Whitman hired Smith to take over for Tim Beckman, who was fired amidst allegations of player abuse. Last season, Smith nearly posted the school’s first winning season since 2011 while leading his team to their first bowl since 2014. Over on the hardwood, the jury is still out on Brad Underwood. He started slow, but the Illini were on track to make the NCAA Tournament last season, and they’re trending upward.
Analysis: Bill Beekman was named interim athletic director on Feb. 5, 2018 and officially took over on July 17, 2018. Beekman, a Michigan State alum, has been working at his alma mater since 1995. His only major hire to date came a few months ago when long-time football coach Mark Dantonio abruptly resigned amid allegations of NCAA violations. Beekman hired Mel Tucker, who was 5-7 in one season at Colorado, but also was an ultra-successful defensive coordinator at Georgia for three years.