Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 30, 2011

Hiring a coach requires nine nouns

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:09 am

If Ratatouille had looked past haute cuisine and instead concerned itself with the equally refined art of D-I basketball coaching, the money sound bite in the last reel would have gone like this:

Not everyone can become a great coach, but a great coach can come from anywhere.

That would be true — if athletic directors were armed with magical goggles that could reveal The Greatest Coach in the World Who is Not Currently a Major-Conference Head Coach. Maybe that person is currently a high school head coach somewhere. Maybe it’s a D-II assistant coach. Maybe such a person would be found marking time in a different line of work entirely.

But there are no such goggles, and D-I basketball coaching is hardly the only profession where advancement proceeds according to time-honored norms laid down by custom, habit, and the herd instinct. So, no, a great coach most emphatically cannot come from “anywhere.” All major-conference head coaches — the great and not-so alike — come from the same places: other major-conference programs, the CAA, C-USA, the A-10, the Missouri Valley, Ivy League, Horizon, MAAC, or the NBA.

There. In just nine nouns I captured the immediately preceding entry on the resumes of 73 percent of current major-conference head coaches, up to and including brand spanking newbies like Cuonzo Martin and Brian Gregory. Note to coaches at all levels everywhere: if you want to grow up to be a major-conference head coach you have basically two choices. Get yourself into one of these nine nouns, or be Steve Lavin. (And even Lavin had prior brushes with the major conferences, of course.)

When a coach is hired out of the Nine Nouns, the athletic director making that hire has plausible non-culpability if the coach doesn’t work out: “Hey, it’s not my fault I had to fire the guy after three seasons. He was selected in the time-honored way.” And if that new hire not only comes from the same old group of nouns but is additionally coming off a deep NCAA tournament run, it’s truly a no-brainer for the AD.

Luke Winn has already pointed out the reaching the Sweet 16 as a “hot” mid-major head coach is demonstrably no guarantor of future success at the major-conference level. Good luck saying that to the fans of the program that hires Shaka Smart. That’s why you’ll continue to hear Smart’s name or Brad Stevens‘ name for the foreseeable future. These guys offer major-conference athletic directors something far more precious than wins. No AD would ever be blamed if they hired Stevens or Smart into a major-conference gig and the coach subsequently wasn’t very good.

BONUS vocational guidance counseling! If you’ve never been a major-conference head coach before, your chances of becoming one are much better if you nab a head coaching gig in one of the above-named high-mid leagues than if you’re a major-conference assistant. (Big fish in a small pond, good. Small fish in a big pond, bad). As I write this there are 70 men employed as major-conference head coaches (there are three openings at the moment), and of that number just eight were assistants when they were hired into their current positions. Athletic directors are way more comfortable when they’ve seen you on TV pacing the sideline, barking at refs, and working the whiteboard during timeouts.

Probability says there’s no bloody way that True Coaching Ability, if there were such a thing available for measure, would really be so heavily concentrated in a population as tiny as “head coaches at high-mid-majors.” Put it this way: Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo have worked out pretty well. They were hired with zero previous college head coaching experience.

Hey, go fight City Hall. You want the gig, jump through the established hoop.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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