Recently Hired College Basketball Coaches Facing the Highest Expectations

Scott Henry@@4QuartersRadioFeatured ColumnistOctober 9, 2013

Recently Hired College Basketball Coaches Facing the Highest Expectations

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    When a new coach takes over, he can be savior of a downtrodden college basketball program or merely a caretaker of his predecessor's positive momentum. Regardless, fans expect success eventually.

    Of the 48 new coaches hired this offseason, some enter situations that demand immediate gratification. Whether a big-name former player or an unknown assistant, the coaches need to produce winners.

    In some cases, the coach's resume itself works against him. A proven track record of success can cloud fans' vision of exactly where the team stands, leading to overly grandiose hopes.

    These nine coaches are taking over programs that harbor dreams of success, and the fan bases want to see those dreams realized sooner rather than later.

9. Robert Jones, Norfolk State

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    Robert Jones is not a nationally known name, but he was as much the architect of Norfolk State's 2012 NCAA upset of Missouri as head coach Anthony Evans.

    Jones was the lead recruiter who drew many of that Spartan team's leaders to Norfolk, including star center Kyle O'Quinn.

    With Evans gone to Florida International, Jones takes over on an interim basis, leading a program that has gone 29-3 in MEAC play over the past two seasons. NSU returns eight of last year's top 10 scorers, including reigning MEAC Player of the Year Pendarvis Williams. There are other teams that return that much experience, but none can say they went 16-0 in their conference in 2012-13.

    Another MEAC regular-season title should be within reach, though the season might ring a bit hollow if Norfolk pulls another disappearing act like last season's loss to eighth-seeded Bethune-Cookman.

8. Dan Majerle, Grand Canyon

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    No one who knows basketball expects former Olympian and NBA All-Star Dan Majerle to lead the Grand Canyon Antelopes to the NCAA tournament this season. That's primarily because, as a newcomer to Division I, GCU is ineligible for the Big Dance until 2017.

    Publicly-traded Grand Canyon, however, isn't like other schools.

    The first for-profit university to join Division I, GCU's business model sparked protests from schools uncomfortable with athletics being used as a way to drive stock prices. Arizona State president Michael Crow told Sports Illustrated, "If someone asked me, should we play the Pepsi-Cola Company in basketball? The answer is no. We shouldn't be playing for-profit corporations."

    On the court, GCU will compete in the re-stocked Western Athletic Conference, a league that returns only three of last season's members. By the time the feeling-out process is over, anyone could emerge to claim a conference title.

    The pressure on Majerle to win isn't great right now, but the leash may be shorter than at other schools. After all, the former Phoenix Suns swingman is the only coach in America who has to answer to stockholders.

7. Craig Neal, New Mexico

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    Craig Neal had a very big ally in his bid to replace Steve Alford as New Mexico's head coach. CBS Sports reported that the Lobos' 7-foot All-Mountain West center Alex Kirk threatened to transfer to UCLA with Alford if anyone other than Neal was hired.

    Now, Neal begins his new job with most of last season's nucleus still in place. Kirk and MWC Player of the Year Kendall Williams lead a team that's still smarting from last season's first-game loss to Harvard.

    Primary MWC challengers UNLV and San Diego State are reloading after substantial personnel losses. Boise State is unfamiliar with the high expectations that greet them this season. The conference sits up well for a New Mexico repeat.

    The Lobos would already face high expectations for this season, but Neal also has to justify the faith that his big man placed in him. As of now, there's no reason to believe he won't.

6. Tubby Smith, Texas Tech

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    "Former national champion" is a phrase that will follow Tubby Smith his entire career, and it's one that he wears with pride. He's taken 17 of his 22 teams to the NCAA tournament and has never suffered a losing season.

    That streak might be in jeopardy this year, though.

    Tech will be led by last season's sixth man Jaye Crockett and junior Jordan Tolbert, who regressed after a very strong freshman year in 2011-12. The top two options at point guard are gone, leaving juco recruit Rob Turner in charge of the offense.

    Smith is the fourth different coach to lead Tech in four seasons, so he'll have a lot of work to do in changing habits among his veterans. Even in what looks like a down year for the Big XII, it doesn't look like there's enough talent in Lubbock for Tubby to push his charges to the school's first tournament since 2007.

    Smith's pedigree won't stop the die-hard fans from hoping, though.

5. Joe Dooley, Florida Gulf Coast

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    Joe Dooleythe fellow in your picture who is not the easily recognizable Bill Self or Danny Manningis going from one of the nation's old-money programs in Kansas to the hottest trend the game has seen since the Hank Gathers-Bo Kimble era at Loyola Marymount.

    Florida Gulf Coast excited TV viewers during a historic run to the Sweet 16, one that catapulted coach Andy Enfield across the country to USC. New coach Dooley inherits four of the top five scorers from that free-wheeling crew and also adds D-I transfers Jamail Jones (Marquette) and Nate Hicks (Georgia Tech).

    Dooley will bring some Kansas flavor to Dunk City, including extensive use of ball screens. That's going to fit Gulf Coast well, since so many highlight dunksnot just the ones in March, eithercame off of well-executed picks.

    The nature of March tournament basketball is that anything can happen on any given night, but getting there involves winning on a consistent basis during the season. How Dooley keeps his players, many of them newly minted celebrities after the tournament run, grounded will be key to FGCU's chances of claiming the Atlantic Sun title and getting back to the dance for a sequel.

4. Andy Enfield, USC

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    Speaking of Andy Enfield, he's the least pedigreed head coach that USC has hired since Bobby Muth back in World War II. Even Henry Bibby, who had never been a collegiate boss, had spent seven years leading the Winnipeg Thunder in the Continental Basketball Association.

    Now, the previously unknown Enfield leaps into a Pac-12 job in the nation's No. 2 media market, bringing a highlight reel from three NCAA tournament games and a wife who used to model bikinis. To say he'll be watched closely will be an understatement.

    The Pac-12 appears to be pulling itself off the mat after the indignity of 2011-12, a season that saw Washington win the regular-season title but get left out of the NCAA tournament. The league is tougher than in recent seasons, making Enfield's climb an uphill one to say the least.

    The one saving grace for Enfield may be that the media circus will focus more on cross-town rival UCLA early on. Expectations in Westwood are always high, especially with a name like Steve Alford in charge.

    Enfield will get some time to mine southern California for the kind of athletes he'll need to build Dunk City West. He's off to a great start, snagging touted point guard prospect Jordan McLaughlin out from under Alford.

    Still, it's Los Angeles. There's no such thing as a low-pressure job, especially for a guy who's paid minimal dues as a college head coach. F-words will fly at the Galen Center (we mean "fluke," although there will probably be some of the other ones, too) if USC slumps to a bottom-feeder finish in the Pac-12.

3. Jim Crews, Saint Louis

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    All right, so Jim Crews isn't exactly "new," since he was in charge of Saint Louis' run to the Atlantic 10 regular-season title. After getting his interim tag removed, however, Crews faces a challenge in keeping the Billikens' forward momentum going.

    Four seniors will lead this season's team, including forward Dwayne Evans, last year's leading scorer and rebounder. This season's not exactly the worry for Crews.

    The long-term picture, however, might get fuzzy once the late Rick Majerus' recruits filter out. Crews struggled to sustain success at Evansville and never found any at Army, recruiting at a lower level than SLU's near-major status in the A-10.

    Even Majerus was only eight games over .500 before taking some of the current bunch to the 2012 NCAA tournament. The last time SLU went to consecutive tournaments, Charlie Spoonhour was the coach and the team was in the Great Midwest Conference.

    Fans are getting used to the winning, and it's up to Crews to sustain it. The A-10's loss of Butler and Xavier will help, but how will future seasons treat the Billikens?

2. Brandon Miller, Butler

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    Barry Collier, Thad Matta, Todd Lickliter and Brad Stevens were all unknown Butler assistants when they were tapped to lead the Bulldog program. All those four did was combine for 10 NCAA tournaments in 24 years.

    Now it's Brandon Miller's turn. Like Matta, he was a former Butler player, as seen in the picture at left. Like Stevens, he took a year off in the pharmaceutical industry. With Butler in the Big East, it'll be difficult for him to win like Stevens, but hoop-mad Butler fans will turn out to see him try.

    Miller's familiar with high-pressure coaching jobs, having assisted at Ohio State and Illinois around two stints at Butler. The new-look Big East, though, is a big animal for a rookie head coach to tame.

    Without playmaking forward Roosevelt Jones, who is lost for the season after a wrist injury on the team's trip to Australia, Miller will have to lean on senior Khyle Marshall and sophomore Kellen Dunham. Both are getting their first taste of leadership roles.

    During Miller's nine-year career as an assistant at the aforementioned schools, he's been to eight NCAA tournaments. Getting to another one would take an even more impressive coaching job than Stevens' trips to the national title game.

1. Steve Alford, UCLA

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    Nothing goes up on the Pauley Pavilion walls except national championship banners. No Pac-12 titles, no Final Fours.

    Into this setting walks a head coach who only made a Sweet 16 at Missouri State in 1999. Since then, Steve Alford has piloted three teams that earned No. 3 seeds in the Big Dance, only to drop out to two No. 14 seeds and a No. 11.

    UCLA fans are very aware of Alford's failings, and some writers have the knives out. The Los Angeles Times' Bill Dwyre called Alford's massive contract "sewage." SB Nation's UCLA blog, Bruins Nation, is unflinchingly cataloging all of Alford's losses in the search for a long-term solution at point guard, including the aforementioned loss of Jordan McLaughlin to USC.

    Talent is still evident, with veterans David and Travis Wear returning along with talented sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams. The Bruins will be primary challengers to favored Arizona, but as mentioned before, does anyone in Westwood care if there's not a national title in the offing?

    There is no bigger shadow in college sports than John Wooden's, and even Ben Howland's three Final Fours couldn't keep him from going stale. Perhaps in some perverse manner, Bruins Nation christening Alford the "Hoosier Loser" could lessen the pressure? The media may not expect a lot from Alford, but everyone connected with UCLA expects championships.

    After all, nothing else is worth commemorating.


    For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron. Now playing: the Conference Calling 2013-14 preview series.