- The college hoops coaching carousel is heating up, but not every job opening is created equal. Which vacancies should be considered the most appealing?
Don’t let the NCAA tournament distract you from another very intriguing March Madness storyline. The college basketball coaching job market is hot right now, with many hirings and firings at top programs. A few head jobs have already been filled, like Nate Oats leaving Buffalo for Alabama on Wednesday and Fred Hoiberg's name buzzing around the Nebraska job after Tim Miles's firing. Some jobs aren’t open but could be soon (i.e. the sticky situations going on at LSU and Arizona). And then there’s always the chance that after a team loses in the tourney, their coach is lured away (looking at you, Buzz Williams).
There’s more movement to come, but here’s a look at some of the most desirable jobs of the 2019 college basketball coaching carousel:
Despite its place in history, UCLA isn’t considered a top or relevant college basketball job like it once was. Athletic director Dan Guerrero fired the polarizing Steve Alford in December after five-and-a-half years. He took the Bruins to three Sweet 16s and had stacked recruiting classes, but the majority of his tenure failed to meet expectations. The most challenging part of this search will be getting a successful and experienced coach to want to leave their current post for Los Angeles. UCLA has the facilities and money to lure a big name, plus the school is parked right in the middle of one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the country. If Guerrero and his search committee—which includes Golden State Warriors general manager and UCLA alum Bob Myers—can find and hire the right guy, there’s no reason the Bruins can’t return to prominence.
Arkansas has a chance to be a March contender once it hires the right coach. Mike Anderson was fired earlier this week after eight seasons and only three NCAA tournament appearances. The last time the Razorbacks made it to the Sweet 16? 1996. Early prognosticators point toward athletic director Hunter Yuracheck, who came to Arkansas from Houston in 2017, hiring Kelvin Sampson away from UH. The Cougars earned a No. 3 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament and play Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday. Once Houston’s season is over—whether that’s this weekend or next—this conversation will heat up and maybe make Razorbacks fans very happy.
3. Texas A&M
Billy Kennedy was out after eight seasons, which included just two trips to the tourney (but both turned into Sweet 16 runs). The Aggies reportedly plan to target Buzz Williams, who is in his fifth season at Virginia Tech. The Hokies are currently preparing to play ACC foe Duke in the Sweet 16 on Friday, so nothing will happen on that front immediately. It should be noted that Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward is on a roll hiring big-time coaches after snatching Jimbo Fisher from Florida State last year. The Aggies have money to make a very good hire here and this would be a chance for Williams, who was an A&M assistant from 2004–06, to return to his home state.
Nate Oats left Buffalo this week to replace Avery Johnson at Alabama. Johnson parted ways with the Crimson Tide after four seasons. In an increasingly competitive SEC—three teams are still dancing through March—Oats brings his own NCAA tournament success. After taking over for Bobby Hurley in 2015, Oats led the Bulls to a 96–43 record and three NCAA tournaments appearances (they were ousted by Texas Tech in the second round this year). Oats has no ties to the state of Alabama or the SEC, but sometimes a fresh perspective can be advantageous. Plus, Alabama just wants to win games. Oats started off on the right foot when asked about recruiting during his introductory press conference Thursday: “You can win a lot of games in college basketball without one-and-done players. But if I can get them, and they’re lottery picks, we’re going to go after them.”
Vanderbilt fired Bryce Drew after only three seasons in which he posted a 40–59 record with one NCAA tourney appearance, including an 0–18 SEC mark this year. It seemed the Commodores were poised to at least be a contender in the SEC in 2018–19 after landing the first top-10 recruiting class in school history, which included two McDonald’s All-Americans. Vandy was even in the running to get Romeo Langford, one of the top 2018 prospects and a future 2019 NBA lottery pick, but Langford chose Indiana. With Drew out, new athletic director Malcolm Turner is preparing for his first major hire. The SEC is getting more and more competitive, sending four teams to the Sweet 16 this year for only the third time ever. Alabama just hired Nate Oats from tournament regular Buffalo and Texas A&M and Arkansas are expected to make splashy hires. Turner will have to make one too to keep his program relevant.
The worst-kept secret in college basketball is that former Iowa State and Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg will be named Nebraska’s new coach—it’s just a matter of time. As the Des Moines Register recently pointed out, Hoiberg’s son Jack plays for Michigan State, so perhaps an introduction is on hold until the Spartans finish their March run. As far as the Nebraska fan base in concerned, Hoiberg knows how to build a program. He took Iowa State from a .500 team in his first season to Big 12 champions in his final two. The Cornhuskers' expectations will start low—after all, this team has never won a NCAA tournament game. But once he gets his own recruits and up-tempo offensive style in place, the program will be far more exciting and competitive in the Big Ten (which sent eight teams to the tourney this year).
Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton fired Wyking Jones after he only won 16 games in two years. The thing about the Bears program is that it’s been struggling to be competitive in a conference that’s also struggling to be competitive. Only three Pac-12 teams made the NCAA tournament this year (Washington, Oregon and Arizona State). It also doesn’t help that both financial and fan support are lacking. But there’s a ton of talent in the area. Just look at what Saint Mary’s has done. Hey, maybe alum Jason Kidd will take a crack at it?
Unlike other coaches on this list, BYU’s Dave Rose left on his own when he recently announced his retirement after 14 years in Provo. He finished his career as the winningest coach in program history. The highlight of that tenure was certainly the Jimmer Fredette era, and Rose’s legacy will be a tough one to follow. However, a new approach isn’t the worst thing for a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2015. BYU will be a good opportunity for whoever gets it because it’s considered the second-best job in the WCC behind Gonzaga, has a ton of fan support, and the athletic department is serious about the program.