Every year the NCAA tournament brings excitement and heartbreak. Teams are vying for their shot at respectability and prominence in the college basketball landscape. No, this is not limited to the teams actually participating in March Madness.
Sure the tournament itself is the main focus during the three-week period at the end of March to the beginning of April, but one under appreciated aspect to that time is the numerous coaching changes that occur throughout and immediately after. As more and more teams are eliminated from the tournament, those who sat at home began looking for their next coaching hire. More often than not there are big time, power conference programs firing their coaches and hiring away head coaches from mid-majors that just made some sort of impact on the grandest stage college sports has to offer.
The coaching madness didn’t take very long to get started as Auburn made the well publicized hire of former Tennessee head coach and current ESPN personality Bruce Pearl. As energetic as any coach in the country, Pearl is loved by fans of college basketball and hated by many of his colleagues and other coaches for his unsavory endeavors toeing, even breaking, NCAA rules and frowned upon actions.
By hiring Pearl, the Auburn Tigers immediately put themselves at the forefront of the very winnable SEC. Auburn finished 14-16 on the season, including 6-12 in SEC play. The Tigers last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2003. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee will also be on top of the conference but after that the race is wide open. Pearl won SEC Coach of the Year in 2006 and 2008 and also won the National Coach of the Year in ’08. Pearl was 145-61 in his six years at Tennessee, making the NCAA tournament every year and getting as far as the Elite Eight in the 2010 tournament.
Pearl is known for his energy and enthusiasm. It drew people to him with the Volunteers and it has already carried over to Auburn. A mosh pit greeting Pearl at the airport upon arriving at Auburn, just a few hours after the hire was announced, thousands of fans showed up to Pearl’s introductory press conference, fans love Pearl already and he’s not even allowed to be around the team or go recruiting until August, per his NCAA show-clause that forced him out of Tennessee.
Bruce Pearl is not the only major hire for a struggling program. Marquette’s Buzz Williams shook up college basketball when it was announced on Friday we would be leaving the Golden Eagles and taking over at Virginia Tech. Williams took Marquette to five NCAA tournament appearances in six years (missing out this season) and going as far as the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight in the 2013 tournament, winning the Big East regular season championship in its final year as it originally stood.
Virginia Tech finished the year with a 9-22 record overall and 2-16 in the ACC, winning one total game in the 2014 calendar year. The Hokies last made the NCAA tournament in 2007 and were most successful with Seth Greenberg at the helm before he was let go and went on to be a college basketball analyst for ESPN. Williams wasted no time in getting the ball rolling after being announced as Virginia Tech’s new coach, already making a public appearance on CBS’s studio show on Saturday during the NCAA tournament to discuss his new job transition.
While Williams and Pearl already have successes at major programs, a number of mid-major coaches will get their time to shine on bigger stages and it appeared to start with Steve Masiello at South Florida. A Rick Pitino disciple, Masiello took the Manhattan Jaspers to the NCAA tournament this season and took Pitino and his vaunted Louisville Cardinals to the wire in their Round of 64 game, propelling his name to the top of the priorities list for struggling high-major programs.
That is, until South Florida reportedly pulled the plug on the hire. The Tampa Tribune reported (h/t ESPN.com) there was a discrepancy in Masiello’s background check. Now there are questions whether or not Masiello can even return to Manhattan.
Masiello has spent three years at Manhattan, going 60-39 in that time. South Florida has had its ups and downs since joining the Division-I ranks but struggled in its first year in the American Athletic Conference, going 12-20 overall and 3-15 in the AAC and winning three times in 2014’s calendar year. It wasn’t pretty and the Bulls were hoping that his ability to recruit and the knowledge he learned from Pitino as an assistant at Louisville would carry over to South Florida. Instead, they’ll have to restart their search.
These are just the biggest changes in the coaching carousel in college basketball. Bruce Pearl and Buzz Williams are taking over high-major programs in three of the biggest conferences in the nation and Masiello appeared to be set to do the same. There’s pressure on them to succeed, but as long Williams continues to do things his way and Pearl stays out of trouble, we could be seeing these coaches in the NCAA tournament with their new respective programs in a short amount of time.
We’re just getting started. Numerous other high-major jobs have opened up recently and the carousel never seems to stop.
Tags: Auburn Tigers Bruce Pearl Buzz Williams College Basketball Manhattan Jaspers Marquette Golden Eagles Ncaa Tournament South Florida Bulls Steve Masiello Tennessee Volunteers Viriginia Tech Hokies