Reviewing the ACC Coaching Carousel

COLLEGE PARK, MD - MAY 6: University of Maryland coach Gary WIlliams (R) announces his retirement as President of the University of Maryland Wallace D. Loh looks on May 6, 2011 at the Comcast Center in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Just a year after the ACC broke in 3 new coaches, the ACC has undergone another Joan Rivers-esque facelift with 4 new coaching hires.  With all the coaching changes, early entries, and tranfers, I thought it’d be a good idea to keep everyone abreast of what’s been going on. 

I’ve long stated that ACC basketball’s recent downfall has been poor coaching.  Now that the dust has somewhat settled, lets see if the conference has upgraded its coaching.  We’ll go school by school.

Maryland

Maryland fans were taken on a roller coaster ride of emotions.  First, 1st Team ALL-ACC big man Jordan Williams spurned College Park for the prospect of an NBA future.  Then, future Hall of Famer Gary Williams retired.   Williams was obviously a great basketball coach.  I’ve always admired his ability to teach the game of basketball and inspire his team to leave it all on the floor.  But his lack of interest in recruiting led Maryland to underachieve since their National Championship in 2002. Maryland has great facilities, great fan support, and a local talent base that is one of, if not the best in the country.  Therefore, upon his retirement announcement my first thought was, "Oh shit.  Maryland is going to become a powerhouse."

The coaching search, while only lasting a couple days, took many crazy twists and turns.  Maryland fans, as well as a few analysts, believed that Sean Miller was leaving Arizona to come coach the Terps.  Miller instead signed an extension and left Maryland fans distraught.  Miller would’ve been a big time hire for a program that has lost a lot of luster over the years.  Miller is a great coach and a great recruiter and would’ve absolutely killed it at Maryland. I truly believe Miller would’ve turned Maryland around and had them competing for Final Four appearance once again.  As a Clemson fan first and ACC fan second, bullet dodged.

Maryland showed some level of interest in Jamie Dixon, Jay Wright, Brad Stevens, and Mike Brey before finally naming former Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon their head man  Turgeon is not an A-list name, but he is a solid hire for Maryland.  He may not excite the fanbase quite the same way that Sean Miller would’ve, but he has proven himself to be a very good coach.  He was able to take over a putrid Wichita State program and lead them to a Sweet 16 appearance.  He then moved on to Texas A&M, where in 4 years he led them to 4 NCAA tournament appearances. 

Don’t expect that type of success immediately at Maryland.  The cupboard in College Park isn’t empty, but it certainly isn’t chock full of talent.  All three members of Maryland’s 2011 recruiting class have asked out of their LOIs.  With Jordan Williams heading to the NBA, that leaves Maryland with eight scholarship players for next season  And out of those 8 players, only 3 are 6’7 or taller.  And out of those 3 players, James Padgett is the leading returning scorer at 3.3 ppg in just 8.7 mpg. Maryland did get a commitment just yesterday however.

Overall – Slight Upgrade

NC State

NC State fired Sidney Lowe after a 5th straight disappointing season.  The Wolfpack’s coaching search took a similar path as Maryland’s, with fans hoping for big name coaches before being greeted with a somewhat underwhelming hire.  Mark Gottfried  comes to NC State from ESPN where he served as an analyst for the last 2 years.  He last coached at Alabama during the 2008-2009 season before being fired just 19 games into the season.  He reached the NCAA tournament 5 times, all in a row, in those 11 seasons, with his best result being an Elite 8 appearance in 2004. 

His career ended amid scandal and player injuries that hampered his team’s success. Mid-season firings are not common practice, which led people to believe his firing was driven by something other than results.  Rumors and pictures swirled of relations Gottfried was having with a coed. 

Although he may not be squeaky clean, NC State fans are simply looking for someone that can win games.  He has shown the ability to recruit McDonald’s All-Americans (Gerald Wallace, Mo Williams, etc) and go deep in the NCAA tournament.  You’ll have to excuse NC State fans if they turn a blind eye to his personal life.  They have been mired in the Sidney Lowe Era for 5 years.

Overall – Upgrade

Miami

Miami’s Frank Haith bolted South Beach for greener pastures at the University of Missouri.  Why Missouri settled for Frank Haith is beyond me.  But Miami’s loss was also Miami’s gain.  Haith’s best ACC finish during his tenure at Miami was 8-8 (t-5th) in 2007-2008.  His overall conference record was 43-69, which essentially equates to 6-10. Needless to say, Miami fans (all 5 of them) were not losing sleep over Haith’s departure. 

Miami surprisingly plucked Jim Larranaga away from George Mason to fill their coaching vacancy.  Larranaga was not on the map, as he opted against leaving GMU after his Final 4 run.  That led many to believe that he would end his coaching career at GMU.  By all accounts, Larranaga and his wife seemed happy in the area.  Their kids lived nearby, the local media loved him, and the GMU students loved him even more.

I’m very familiar with Jim Larranaga.  I live 20 minutes from GMU’s campus and go to a couple of games every year.  I also went to GMU for my undergrad, where I got to witness Larranaga give us the beat down twice each year. Larranaga knows the game of basketball and does a good job coaching it to his players. 

In his 14 years at GMU he took them to 5 NCAA tournament appearances.  There are 4 Big Dogs in the CAA: GMU, ODU, UNC-W (Brad Brownell years), and VCU. With 5 NCAA appearances during his tenure, he more than held his own.

There are two question marks associated with this hire. First, can he recruit at an ACC level?  He has never had to or attempted to pull in 4 and 5 star recruits.  He inherits a talented team for the 2011-2012 season, so expect him to get off to a fast start at Miami.  If he wants to stay competitive in the ACC he will need to bring in top notch talent.  Second, how long does he plan on coaching?  He will be turning 62 at the start of the season.  Will he be around for 5 years? 10 years?  Nobody really knows, but he isn’t a young buck anymore.

Overall – Upgrade

Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech is a program that consistently brought in huge talent under Paul Hewitt, yet they only finished over .500 in the ACC once in his 11 seasons.  Talk about underachieving.  After making an improbable run to the NCAA Championship game in 2004, Georgia Tech basically gave Hewitt a lifetime extension.  He then proceeded to go 30 games below .500 in the ACC over the next 7 seasons.  With all the talent in the Atlanta area, GT should never go 1 for 11 in finishing over .500 in the conference.

That leads us to Hewitt’s firing and Brian Gregory’s hiring.  Because of Georgia Tech’s willingness to give Hewitt a ridiculous extension, and a $7M buyout after the 2004 National Championship game, GT didn’t have the money to go after a high profile coach.  Therefore, GT’s coaching search was very tame compared to the other three searches. 

Gregory comes to GT from Dayton, where he went 70-58 in the Atlantic-10 over his 8 seasons.  He finished over .500 three times,  .500 three times, and under .500 twice.  Sounds pretty mediocre to me.   And unfortunately for GT fans, mediocre is an upgrade over Paul Hewitt.

Overall – Slight Upgrade

So, the final tally looks like this: 2 significant upgrades and 2 slight upgrades. 

If you are a fan of the ACC, or just a fan of quality basketball, this is a good thing.  I don’t think any of these hires are detrimental to Clemson’s hopes.  If anything, I think this should bring credibility back to the ACC and help get more teams into the NCAA tournament.

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