Mark Story: Sons of ex-UK coaches are winners in the hoops coaching churn; Tubby Smith not so much

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 25, 2013 

FIU Louisville Basketball

Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, left, shook hands with his son Richard Pitino, coach of Florida International, before their game on Wednesday. Richard was twice before a Louisville assistant.

TIMOTHY D. EASLEY — ASSOCIATED PRESS

As a genre, they say the soap opera is dying. As long as the off-season college basketball coaching carousel turns, entertaining melodrama will always be around.

With most of the prime college hoops vacancies now filled, here is who is up and who is down from this year's version of As The Coaching Jobs Turn:

UP: Sons of ex-Kentucky Wildcats head men. At the tender age of 30, Richard Pitino (son of Rick) landed a Big Ten head coaching job at Minnesota. G.G. Smith (son of Tubby), 36, was promoted from assistant to head man at Loyola, Md. Including current Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton (son of Eddie), that makes a trio of ex-UK coaches' sons who are NCAA Division I head men.

Think maybe Herky Rupp (son of Adolph) is polishing up the résumé?

DOWN: UCLA. Thinking that their program had grown stale, the Bruins cut loose a coach, Ben Howland, who took them to three straight Final Fours (2006-08). Then after being turned down by Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, UCLA "settled" for New Mexico Coach Steve Alford.

That's the Steve Alford who has won fewer NCAA Tournament games (five in 12 tries) in 18 years as a Division I head coach than he did in 1987 as a player at Indiana when Bob Knight's Hoosiers won six Big Dance contests and cut down the nets.

UP: "buzz hires:" The nation had never heard of Andy Enfield until his No. 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles captivated the country with their brash play in NCAA upsets of Georgetown and San Diego State (the coach's ex-model wife didn't hurt in generating chatter, either).

That one week propelled Enfield, the ex-Rick Pitino and Leonard Hamilton aide, into the Southern California head coaching job. USC is hiring a coach they would not have even considered before this year's NCAA tourney — but given the wasteland that Trojans basketball has been recently, the Trojans' gamble is not irrational.

DOWN: Steve Alford. Since taking the UCLA job, Alford has been criticized for leaving New Mexico only days after agreeing to a 10-year contract extension. He has been savaged by sharp-penned Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers as an uninspiring "dolt." He has had to apologize for his (mis)handling of sexual assault charges against one of his players during the time when Alford was head man at Iowa.

New Coke had a better rollout than Alford has had as UCLA's new head man.

UP: Former Duke guards. After spending 17 years with Mike Krzyzewski as either a player or an assistant coach, Chris Collins landed the chance to be the head coach to finally end Northwestern's oh-for-all-eternity NCAA Tournament mark. Bobby Hurley, point guard on Coach K's back-to-back NCAA championship teams in 1991-92, was hired by the University of Buffalo as its head man.

Collins and Hurley will hope to have more head coaching success than former Krzyzewski-era Duke guards Quin Snyder (fired at Missouri), David Henderson (fired at Delaware), Tommy Amaker (fired at Michigan but now succeeding at Harvard) and Johnny Dawkins (on the hot seat at Stanford) have had.

DOWN: Minnesota. Golden Gophers Athletics Director Norwood Teague built his reputation by hiring up-and-comers Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart at VCU. Who knows, Richard Pitino might turn out to be another such coaching find.

Yet, even allowing for his bloodlines, a coach of Pitino's youth and head coaching inexperience — one year as a head man at Florida International, albeit a solid 18-14 season this year — seems more like the kind of hire one makes for a VCU than a Big Ten school.

UP: Coaches from the state of Kentucky. After two rough years that saw native Kentuckians John Pelphrey (Paintsville), Darrin Horn (Lexington), Jerry Eaves (Louisville) and Rick Stansbury (Battletown) end up out of their head coaching jobs, some guys from Kentucky were finally lucky in the coaching churn. Troy hired Phil Cunningham (Campbellsville) and Old Dominion chose Jeff Jones (Owensboro) to be head men.

DOWN: Tubby Smith. In a way, Texas Tech makes sense for Smith as a landing spot after he was let go by Minnesota. The Red Raiders, 19-43 over the past two seasons, haven't made an NCAA Tournament since 2006-07. For Tubby at Tech, there is all but nowhere to go but up.

Still, for all of us who would like to see Smith make at least one more good run in March Madness, it's hard to see Lubbock as a likely launching pad for that.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: Markstory.bloginky.com.

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