It’s starting to spin. As March Madness is upon us with Selection Sunday just a few days away, the college basketball coaching carousel is almost getting into full swing. A number of big-time coaches could be on the way out and a whole new cast of head coaching candidates could enter the mix. Here’s what that means for college basketball.
UCLA Remember when UCLA was a Tier 1, elite-level head coaching job in NCAA men’s basketball? Yeah, well it’s not so much anymore. Steve Alford took over the Bruins program in 2013 and promptly took UCLA to back-to-back Sweet Sixteens. For good measure, Alford led UCLA to a 31-5 record and another Sweet Sixteen in 2016-17.
Then, the wheels kind of fell off the bus, the wheels being anyone with a last name of Ball. Lonzo Ball did the expected one-and-done and left for the NBA. Younger brother LiAngelo decided shoplifting in China was more important than UCLA basketball and never did suit up for the Bruins. After a disappointing 2017-18 campaign, UCLA started this season 7-6 losing four straight to Belmont, Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Liberty. Alford was fired at the end of December.
There has been talk of guys like Fred Hoiberg, Eric Musselman (who has had great success at Nevada), and even Doc Rivers as potential candidates for the Bruins job. Chris Beard at Texas Tech is another possibility. The question is whether any of those candidates would want to leave their current job to take over a program with such lofty expectations.
Another Pac-12 Nightmare Ernie Kent, who had some success as head coach at Oregon in the early 2000s, was fired by Washington State after five years of subpar basketball. Kent’s teams never finished above .500. After winding up 11-21 overall and 4-14 in the Pac-12 this season, the Cougars had enough and fired Kent.
The last time Washington State smelled success was when current Virginia head coach Tony Bennett spent three seasons there from 2006 to 2009. Bennett had back-to-back 26-8 and 26-9 seasons taking both teams to the NCAA tournament and the 2008 team to the Sweet Sixteen.
It will take a coach the caliber of Bennett to revive the Cougars program, consistently one of the worst in the conference. The closest they may get is Ron Sanchez, a former Washington State assistant under Dick Bennett, Tony’s father, and the younger Bennett as well. Sanchez is highly respected as a recruiter and took the head job at Charlotte just last year.
The Rumor Mill The FBI investigation into college basketball improprieties may cost Arizona head coach Sean Miller his job. It appears that three of Miller’s assistants have been connected to some serious NCAA violations, ones that could lead to heavy penalties for the program. The most severe for Miller may be his job.
Texas head coach Shaka Smart will probably get at least another year, but his Longhorn teams have underperformed during his four-year tenure. Texas has made two trips to the NCAA tournament but lost in the first round on both occasions. Some big wins this year – North Carolina, Purdue, Kansas State, and Kansas – are probably enough to save Smart this time around.
Wake Forest’s Danny Manning, on the other hand, is likely on the way out. The former national champion player at Kansas has had just one winning season with the Demon Deacons (2016-17). That season also resulted in Manning's only trip to the NCAA tournament. Consecutive seasons of 11-20 overall and 4-14 in the ACC simply aren’t going to cut it at a school with a solid basketball tradition.
Should Manning be fired, look for Wake Forest to swing for the fences and lure a coach like Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski or Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall to Winston-Salem. It’s also possible the Demon Deacons chase down a mid-major star like Buffalo’s Nate Oats, who has led the Bulls to an 83-42 mark and two NCAA berths in three seasons.