A loyal reader mentioned to me a few weeks ago he couldn’t wait to see what the domino effect would be from coaching changes this spring.
He’s probably speaking for himself. The reality is that while the coaching carousel is interesting, it also involves uprooting familes and assistant coaches scrambling to find new gigs as well.
But this spring has been extremely quiet. Whereas there were 60-plus jobs opening in both 2006 and 2007, there are just 25 changes (so far, anyway) this year.
Of those, only four (Appalachian State, Portland State, Texas-Pan American and Xavier) remain open. And there’s been such a premium on going after assistant coaches rather than known (read: costly) commodities, that there’s only one chain of at least three top jobs that run together:
Virginia (Tony Bennett)-Washington State (Ken Bone)-Portland State (TBA)
Anyway, four local/semi-local/psuedo-local schools had their jobs turn over, and all four have made hires. Here’s a look at what each has to work with going forward:
Out: Dave Leitao (ousted)
In: Tony Bennett (Washington State head coach)
Rundown: The Cavaliers were 10-18, and lose only two scholarship players to graduation (Mamadi Diane and Tunji Soroye). The trouble is, beyond Sylven Landesberg and Mike Scott, the talent level in Charlottesville is a bit questionable. That said, a system coach like Bennett who relies on defense should be able to maximize what he inherits in a hurry.
Virginia is in for more than a few unsightly games next season, and there are legitimate questions about how well Bennett can recruit when he’s spent his career at Wisconsin and Washington State.
That said, the Cavaliers made a fascinating choice, and it’ll be interesting to see how Bennett Ball plays in a more up-tempo league than the Big Ten and the recent Pac-10.
Out: Anthony Grant (Alabama)
In: Shaka Smart (Florida assistant)
Rundown: Well, going the “young Florida assistant” route worked the last time for the Rams, who went 24-10 and nearly upset UCLA in the NCAA tournament in Grant’s final season. Expectations will remain high for Smart, who takes over what is now one of the two best jobs in the CAA (along with George Mason).
Yes, Eric Maynor is gone, and that is a big hole to fill. But Larry Sanders should be back to man the middle, and Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess are a nice start to the backcourt (and have two and three years of eligibility left, respectively).
If Smart is as good as people believe he is —- and since the 32-year-old has a trail of admirers for his work ethic, there’s no reason to think he isn’t —- then he could very easily follow Grant and Jeff Capel as guys who keep the VCU juggernaut rolling and parlay it into a high-profile gig for themselves in a few years.
Out: Ritchie McKay (Virginia assistant)
In: Dale Layer (Marquette assistant)
Rundown: McKay, the ultimate basketball nomad, moves on to join his friend Tony Bennett at Virginia —- which is probably a good move for both McKay and the Cavaliers.
The reality is, the Flames have a much bigger hole to plug after a 23-12 season than an open head coaching spot —- and that is figuring out how to replace Seth Curry, who averaged 20.2 points as a freshman before opting to transfer to Duke.
Layer has been through the process of following McKay before, taking over at Colorado State when McKay bolted for Oregon State. He coached the Rams for seven years and reached one NCAA tournament. He also was an assistant at Liberty two years ago and has East Coast ties (he coached at Queens University in North Carolina for a decade), so this looks like a fairly solid get for Liberty.
Out: Kevin Nickelberry (resigned)
In: Edward Joyner (Hampton assistant)
Rundown: Nickelberry resigned last week after a midpack finish (16-16, 8-8) in his third season, and so Hampton made Joyner its interim coach for next season.
That’s always a puzzling approach (fellow MEAC schools UMES and Norfolk State did it a couple years ago), but it would seem Joyner has a chance to hold onto the gig with a good season. That appears possible, with five of the Pirates’ top six starters coming back.
Hampton memorably upset Iowa State in the 2001 NCAA tournament and returned to the postseason the next year. But despite floating around the top of the MEAC ever since, the Pirates have just one NCAA berth (2006) in the last seven years.
That’s the target in a one-bid league, and success probably should be measured by whether Hampton has a prayer of unseating Morgan State atop the league next season.
—- Patrick Stevens