For a college basketball fan, Selection Sunday is Christmas Eve. The Thursday and Friday of the first week of the NCAA Tournament are (usually) the two best basketball game days of each year.
Yet for multi-million-dollar deal making and back-stage intrigue, nothing beats the post-season coaching carousel. With most of the major coaching vacancies now filled, here are my winners and losers from the annual college hoops musical chairs.
Winner: Billy Gillispie. Due to the idiosyncrasies of his contrarian personality, I believe that to succeed the ex-Kentucky head man needs to be in Texas and needs to work at a university where the football coach is the public-relations face of the school. With the polished Tommy Tuberville coaching the pigskin in Lubbock, Texas Tech supplies Billy G. with both.
Loser: Grumpy Old Men. Both Bob Knight, 70, and Larry Brown, 70, are rumored to have made overtures into the UNLV job after Lon Kruger gave it up to move to Oklahoma. Instead, the Runnin' Rebels went with 42-year-old BYU assistant (and former UNLV player) Dave Rice.
Winner: Tennessee. Given the NCAA infractions mess that Bruce Pearl left behind in Knoxville, it's a minor miracle that embattled UT AD Mike Hamilton was able to land a solid, up-and-coming coach the caliber of Cuonzo Martin.
Loser: Cuonzo Martin. Had the former Purdue forward and Missouri State head coach put the Volunteers off for a couple of days, he probably would have been Mike Anderson's replacement as head man at the University of Missouri. Unlike Tennessee, Mizzou has both an NCAA Tournament-ready roster in place for next season and no impending NCAA probation for a coach to survive.
Winner: Matt Painter. The Purdue head coach turned a flirtation with Missouri into a cool $1 million a year (from $1.3 to $2.3 million) raise.
Loser: Missouri. While making googly eyes with Painter, the Tigers lost out on their second choice (Martin) and wound up going with the unexceptional Frank Haith — whose seven years leading the Miami Hurricanes yielded a 43-69 ACC record and a whopping one NCAA Tournament appearance.
Winner: North Carolina State. After whiffing on luring a big-name (Rick Barnes of Texas) and the hot up-and-comer (VCU's Shaka Smart), the perception is that NC State "settled" by tabbing former Alabama and Murray State head man Mark Gottfried.
If so, the Wolfpack got lucky. Gottfried won an SEC overall title (2002) with the Crimson Tide and went to five consecutive NCAA tournaments (2001-02 through 05-06), including one elite eight (2004). True, Alabama went stale (49-35 in his final three seasons) at the end of Gottfried's tenure, but the 47-year-old has both enough ego and feistiness to go to Tobacco Road and battle Coach K and Cryin' Roy.
Loser: North Carolina State AD Debbie Yow. Maybe Gary Williams was sabotaging the N.C. State search being run by Yow, his former boss, by spreading word that the ex-Maryland Athletics Director is a "difficult" person for whom to work. However, by publicly making that allegation against Williams without supplying any proof, the long-ago Kentucky women's basketball coach diminished herself more than Williams.
Winner: Arkansas. I think Mike Anderson is a good, not great, coach, but he was the must-get hire for the Razorbacks. In bringing the former, long-time Nolan Richardson assistant back to Fayetteville, the Hogs have reconnected with the greatest era of their basketball history and have a coach who will re-install the 40-minutes-of-hell style that was once the Arkansas calling card.
Loser: Georgia Tech. Brian Gregory did a solid job at Dayton, but in his eight years he didn't exactly make the Flyers (two NCAA tourney trips, the 2010 NIT championship) into Butler. Even allowing for the budget drain caused by the $7 million Tech had to pay former coach Paul Hewitt to go away, the Rambling Wreck should have been able to do better.
Winner: The Gene Keady coaching tree. The ex-Purdue (and Western Kentucky) head coach never made a Final Four, but his line of coaching disciples — including Painter (Purdue), Martin (Tennessee), Steve Lavin (St. John's) and Bruce Weber (Illinois) — is one of college basketball's best.
Loser: The Mike Krzyzewski coaching tree. When former Duke player Jeff Capel was fired at Oklahoma, it continued a trend of many Coach K protégés — Quinn Snyder (fired at Missouri); Tommy Amaker (fired at Michigan); David Henderson (fired at Delaware) — finding less than Krzyzewski-like success when they strike out on their own.