Welcome to what may be the half-way point of the great Golden Gopher Basketball coaching search. No, really, we may only be halfway there. If a coach was somehow hired by midnight, it would be the quickest hire in the Big Ten since 2010, by a whole four days. While the rest of the world waits with baited breath for the next coach to be named, it seems prudent to pause for a moment and explore what type of coach will be available and what type of coach can be successful. This is what Norwood Teague is looking at right now. As should now be obvious, he is finding a winner rather than appeasing fans, the media, or anyone else. Today, we will look at career archetypes, and their likelihood of success.
Before we take a look at they types of coach the Gophers should pursue, it is necessary to identify the types of coaches they will not attract or should avoid. Coaches on a downward career path will not be considered. The Gophers did this once with Tubby Smith. Even if a coach of this type was available, they will not be pursued. Norwood Teague didn’t fire Tubby Smith to replace him with Tubby Smith’s doppelganger. A coach who has already built a program would be an ideal candidate, but it is likely already too late. Several programs are in mid-major conferences, but are at a level that has already matched or passed the Gophers. Mark Few of Gonzaga, Brad Stevens of Butler, and Shaka Smart of VCU already have excellent teams in good conferences. They may not have the prestige of Big Ten success, but they have little reason to leave a sure thing for a lateral career move.
It is important to remember than successful coaches come in all stripes, and there are plenty of successful candidates who aren’t falling from an elite job or next in line for an elite job. Here are just a few:
The Incremental Improver starts their career in the lowest levels of college basketball, often in new Division I programs or for notoriously bad teams. After success at the lowest levels, they move up to a mid-major team, where they are successful, and eventually move up to a major-conference team, though often one historically unsuccessful. The key to hiring this type of coach is to do so before the program is fully built, otherwise they would have no reason to leave. Tim Miles is the most recent Big Ten example of this kind of coach. He built the North Dakota State program from the ground up. He rebuilt Colorado State after the program was in shambles. Now, he is attempting the same feat at Nebraska. Fran McCaffery also falls under this archetype, having climbed the coaching ranks from Lehigh, UNC Greensboro, and Sienna on his way to the Hawkeyes.
The Level Skipper climbs the coaching ranks at a more rapid pace, bypassing the mid-major level entirely. Hiring these coaches can lead to rapid improvement, but is also inherently risky given their often limited experience. This kind of coach, if successful, will often lead to sustained success. Bo Ryan had only two years of Division I coaching experience at UW-Milwaukee before he was hired at Wisconsin. The rest, as they say is history. Tad Boyle and Buzz Williams, two names that keep coming up in Minnesota’s current coaching search, were level skippers. Buzz Williams coached one season at the University of New Orleans before being hired by Marquette. Tad Boyle coached Northern Colorado, a historically awful program, for four seasons before jumping to Colorado and leading his team to two straight NCAA tournaments. Andy Enfield of Florida Gulf Coast, or any number of other coaches would fall under this category.
The Disenchanted Jumper is an established, successful coach in a quality program who is otherwise unhappy. This type of coach is hired once every few years, and can be quite a catch. Frank Martin, who left Kansas State for South Carolina is the most recent example. While Martin publicly denied that he had any reason to leave Kansas State, a coach just doesn’t leave a successful team to coach a historically bad team like South Carolina without reason. Buzz Williams, who is occasionally linked to the Gopher job, is reportedly not happy with the new athletic director at Marquette, and would fall under this category if he did leave Marquette.
We’ll be back tomorrow, not only to celebrate what could be the second half of the coaching search, but to look at what specific skills will make the next Gopher coach successful. Until then, breathe. Remember what Cory Booker tweeted to a constituent who couldn’t cook his hot pocket during Hurricane Sandy. I believe in you. I know this is a problem you can handle.