Continuing this week's Coach Ranking series: The Big 12
#1) Bill Self, Kansas
Being the head basketball coach at Kansas can be a little intimidating. One must not only excel in the midst of almost implausible fan expectations and media saturation year in and year out, but must coach in the constant shadow of the likes of Hall of Famers Phog Allen, Larry Brown, Roy Williams, and some guy named Dr. James Naismith. For Bill Self, however, those were the least of his worries.
Arriving in Lawrence after taking Tulsa and Illinois to the Elite Eight, Self had to fill the shoes of a beloved coach in Williams, who stunned fans with his departure to North Carolina soon after losing the national title game to Syracuse. He also had to work overtime to convince Williams’ recruits not to follow him.
While Self’s first season saw the Jayhawks come within a hair of returning to the Final Four in an overtime loss to Georgia Tech, he had to overcome constant distractions, not the least of which included reports of Williams contacting his former players during the season. Adding insult to injury, the following year Williams went on to win the national championship against Self’s former team, while KU lost in the first round in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1978. The Jawhawks again bowed out in the first round the next season – the first year in which Self was mostly playing his own recruits - leading the simmering “fire Self!” KU message board posts to rise to a dull roar.
Well, they’re pretty quiet now. Bill Self stands right alongside those great coaches in Kansas lore, sporting a national championship (just the third in KU’s history) and a ridiculous .816 winning percentage since arriving on campus. He is widely regarded as one of the top recruiters in the nation, so much so that his Jawhawk team is currently ranked in the Top 25 despite losing five players to the NBA, and eight overall from last year.
He also turns all of 47 in December, which means he will be on the sideline and winning games for a long time to come.
# 2) Scott Drew, Baylor
It may be considered a stretch to label such a young coach as the second best coach in the conference, but the program he has built up from the smoldering rubble of the Dave Bliss fiasco is nothing less than astonishing.
To recap, after it was revealed Bliss committed some minor infractions, such as framing a murder victim to cover his illegal payments, the Bears were forced to play a half season in 2005-06, lost scholarships, and had paid recruiting visits reduced from twelve to nine for the 2006-07 season. Oh, and the program was placed on probation until June 22, 2010.
Despite all this, Drew has assembled top notch recruiting classes year in and year out, and last season carried Baylor to 21 wins and a NCAA Tournament berth, only their second appearance since 1950 (the other being 1988).
Seriously, how many coaches in America could have led a team to the Big Dance five years after the NCAA leveled the most severe penalties on a basketball program since the Southwestern Louisiana point shaving scandal? With a school with little to zero winning basketball tradition (unlike say Kentucky, who was able to rebound not long after the Eddie Sutton affair)? How many could talk a blue-chip recruit like LaceDarius Dunn, and others, into coming to Waco, despite the fact the school won’t be off probation until he’s a senior?
Going out on a limb, I’d say very few, which is why Baylor very wisely signed Drew to a 10 year contract extension after last season.
#3) Rick Barnes, Texas
In a conference that sports no less than nine coaches with two seasons or less under their belts with their respective teams, Barnes stands out for his consistency.
He is a three-time Big 12 coach of the year. In his ten years at the helm, the Longhorns have not missed a NCAA Tournament, with two Elite Eight appearances in the last three years, five Sweet Sixteen runs in the past seven, and a Final Four in 2003. Barnes also has three regular season titles to his credit, although he has not yet won the Big 12 Tournament.
#4) Jeff Capel, Oklahoma
Jeff Capel, as with some other relatively new coaches in the Big 12, have to be rated more for their potential than their achievements, due to their youth and experience. Still, after just two seasons, it is starting to look like the former Dukie could well be one of the best hires in school history.
After taking over for Kelvin Sampson, and subsequently losing blue chip-recruits Scottie Reynolds and Damion James to other programs, Capel has done an outstanding job of bringing in top notch talent to Norman, led by future stars Blake Griffin and now Willie Warren. He also engineered a remarkable turnaround last season, winning 23 games and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after finishing 7th in the conference a year earlier.
Capel should stick around long enough to build the Sooners into a perennial conference contender…so long as Coach K doesn’t retire anytime soon.
#5) Mark Turgeon, Texas A&M
The Aggies got off to a great start in Turgeon’s first season, finishing with a 25–11 record and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The 25 wins matched a Big 12 record for the most wins by a first-year coach.
While they lost DeAndre Jordan to an ill-advised decision to enter the NBA Draft, the Aggies still look like they could build on that success this year. Turgeon, like so many new coaches in the Big 12, is an outstanding recruiter and is building the foundation for long term success, starting with incoming freshman David Loubeau and what is so far an outstanding 2009 class.
#6) Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
Ford arrives at Oklahoma State as one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country, having turned down an offer from Providence, and taking himself out of consideration at LSU before accepting the job in Stillwater. He led UMass to 49 combined wins in the past two seasons, and before that memorably led Eastern Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament where they gave his alma mater, Kentucky, all they could handle in the first round.
Ford is aggressive on the recruiting trail, likes to constantly push his players, and likes to score – a lot. With the three point line moving back, Oklahoma State fans may not see the Cowboys throw up as many threes as UMass did last year (they attempted over 900), but they will definitely see a far more up-tempo style than they are used to.
#7) Jeff Bzdelik, Colorado
Coach Bzdelik came to Boulder having just overseen the most successful season in the history of the Air Force Academy, with a 26-9 record and a NIT semifinal run. He led the Falcons to only their second NCAA Tournament appearance in over 40 years in his first season.
Not to belabor the point, but if you can coach and recruit at a US military academy – where sky-high SAT scores and academic requirements for admission all but disqualify 85% of applicants – you can coach and recruit anywhere. Colorado is very young and in the process of rebuilding, but they should begin to show signs of growth under Bzdelik in his second season.
#8) Doc Sadler, Nebraska
The Nebraska Cornhusker basketball team opened their first practice on October 17th… in full view of about “30-40 Husker fans,” according to the school. By contrast, the Nebraska Spring football game drew a record crowd of more than 80,000 back in April.
Such is the life of college basketball at a football school. Still, having recorded a 20 win season last year, and an NIT berth, in just his second season, Doc Sadler looks like he has the program headed in the right direction. Losing Aleks Maric will hurt, but the Huskers could sneak up on some teams this year.
#9) Mike Anderson, Missouri
Mike Anderson showed glimpses of his potential after taking over for Quin Synder, going a respectable 18-12 in his first season. But the following year, just as Mizzou fans were starting to move on from the Ricky Clemons fiasco, off-court issues tripped up their season once again.
Right at the start of conference play, five players were involved in a bar fight that led to their suspension, and, eventually, the dismissal of leading scorer Stefhon Hannah – forcing the team to finish the year short-handed. Even before the season started, leading rebounder Kalen Grimes was dismissed from the team for smashing someone’s face with the butt of a shotgun, Darryl Butterfield – who was later one of the players involved in the bar fight - was arrested for punching an ex-girlfriend, transfer DeMarre Carroll was shot in the ankle, and Mike Anderson, Jr. – the coach’s son, had a DUI.
The Tigers have a lot of potential this season, especially with the arrival of transfer Zaire Taylor. But Coach Anderson will be judged not only by his ability to get his team back to the Big Dance after a five year hiatus, but also whether his strict new team rules can finally get this program under control.
#10) Greg McDermott, Iowa State
When Greg McDermott first began coaching, at Division II Wayne State, he compiled a losing record over his first two years at the helm. He then guided them to four straight 20 win seasons. At Northern Iowa, he endured a losing record in each of his first two seasons, then rattled off three straight 20 win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances before heading to Ames.
Iowa State has gone 29-34 under Coach McDermott in his first two seasons. Cyclones fans are anxiously awaiting his third.
#11) Frank Martin, Kansas State
It’s no secret that Coach Martin at least in part owes his job to his close relationship with Michael Beasley, specifically his ability to keep Beasley on campus after the shocking departure of Bob Huggins to West Virginia. Now that Beasley is gone, Martin has a lot to prove.
#12) Pat Knight, Texas Tech
Texas Tech fans are still stewing over the surprise mid-season resignation of Bob Knight, and the quick transfer of coaching duties to his son, whose only head coaching experience was a very brief stint in the USBL and IBA, with teams that folded soon after he arrived.
After taking over, the Red Raiders lost 7 of their last 11 games. Inconsistency was the main concern, evidenced by a great win at home against Texas followed up by a 58 point drubbing by Kansas.