April 19, 2021

Grading the 15 Most Notable CBB Head Coaching Hires in 2021

Since the end of the NCAA Tournament, the college basketball coaching carousel has been moving at an insane pace.

More than 50 programs have hired a new head coach or still have a vacancy to fill. While that may sound like a lot, considering there are roughly 350 programs at the Division I level, the number of coaching changes is on par with other sports.

Unfortunately, we can’t take on the Herculean task of analyzing every head coach hiring in the country. But we would like to assign letter grades to some of the more high-profile programs that have found a new coach and will begin a new era for the 2021-22 season.

North Carolina: Hubert Davis

If we’re being honest, Wes Miller would have been the better choice. However, it would have been somewhat unreasonable and unfair to pass on Hubert Davis after he spent the last 10 years as an assistant to Roy Williams. It helps that Davis is also a former UNC player and will keep some semblance of stability in the program after Williams retired.

On the other hand, he doesn’t have any head coaching experience and the Tar Heels have had two straight subpar seasons by their standards, so this isn’t quite a slam dunk.

Grade: B

Texas: Chris Beard

Any time you can steal a coach from a conference rival, especially someone who is two years removed from being National Coach of the Year and leading his team to the national championship game, it’s a huge win. That’s exactly what the Longhorns are getting with Beard.

As someone who went to Texas and served as a student manager, it wasn’t tough to sell Beard on coming home to Austin. This might be the best hire any college basketball program has made this offseason.

Grade: A

Indiana: Mike Woodson

For a program like Indiana with so much history, it never hurts to hire one of your own.

Mike Woodson is an Indianapolis native and a beloved figure in the Hoosier State. He also spent nearly a decade as an NBA head coach. Woodson even managed to get the Knicks to the playoffs a couple of times, which is not something many coaches this century can say.

The only caveat is that Woodson has no experience as a head or assistant coach in college, so there could be a transition for him as he gets up to speed on recruiting and understanding the mindset of today’s youth.

Grade: B

Arizona: Tommy Lloyd

After 20 years as an assistant to Mark Few, Tommy Lloyd is finally getting a chance as a head coach. But that means he has no experience as a head coach.

Considering the mess that Sean Miller leaves behind at Arizona, the program may have benefited from hiring someone with head coaching experience or a connection to Arizona.

Nothing against Lloyd, but it’s not easy getting your first job at a program where expectations will be high and patience will be limited.

Grade: C

Marquette: Shaka Smart

As a Wisconsin native, Shaka Smart choosing to go to Marquette was an easy decision and a huge hire for the Golden Eagles.

A cynic would point to Smart losing five straight NCAA Tournament games and winning just two tournament games since guiding VCU to the Final Four in 2011. But the guy can coach and should fit better in the Big East than he did in the Big 12.

Hopefully, he brings back more of his famous “Havoc” style that we didn’t see much at Texas.

Grade: B

Utah: Craig Smith

Utah doesn’t get any points for creativity; all they did was pry Craig Smith away from Utah State.

In fairness, Smith is undoubtedly qualified. He coached a powerhouse at the Division II level at Manville State and did some great things at South Dakota before coaching at Utah State the last three seasons.

He’s worked his way up the ladder and went 74-24 with Utah State, so he’s ready for a step up to the Pac-12.

Grade: B

Oklahoma: Porter Moser

The Sooners knocked it out of the park with this hire.

Of course, Porter Moser took Loyola-Chicago to the Final Four in 2018 and showed that it wasn’t a fluke by bringing the Ramblers to the Sweet 16 this past season. Over the last four seasons, Loyola has won at least a share of the Missouri Valley regular-season title three times.

He’ll do just fine at Oklahoma, who grabbed a coach that a lot of teams wanted.

Grade: A

Iowa State: TJ Otzelberger

TJ Otzelberger is a nice pick in the sense that he’s had two separate stints as an assistant at Iowa State, covering almost a decade. His familiarity with the program should help him to rebuild a program that was 2-22 this past season.

However, Otzelberger had a losing record over his two seasons at UNLV and has just five seasons of experience as a head coach. Granted, he took South Dakota State to the NCAA Tournament twice in three seasons and won two Summit League regular-season titles, he took over a stable program that was already one of the best in its league.

In other words, he’s yet to prove that he can rebuild a program.

Grade: C

Minnesota: Ben Johnson

While Ben Johnson is a former Minnesota player and assistant, it’s hard not to think that the Golden Gophers should have done better.

He’s never been a head coach and is now walking into what was the deepest conference in the country this past season. Johnson has been an assistant more or less since his playing career ended, so there’s a chance he’s ready for this. But he has a big challenge ahead of him and a 40-year-old first-time coach may not be the best choice for Minnesota.

Grade: D

Cincinnati: Wes Miller

When North Carolina didn’t offer him the job at his alma mater, Miller took the position at Cincinnati. It was only a matter of time until a big program lured Miller away from UNC Greensboro, where he’s built an outstanding mid-major program.

In the three and a half seasons before he became the coach at Greensboro, the program was 22-80. He leaves a program that’s won three regular-season and two conference tournament titles in the last five years. He knows how to build a program and should do wonders at a basketball hotbed like Cincinnati.

Grade: A

Texas Tech: Mark Adams

This was a rather uninspired continuity hire with Mark Adams being an assistant for Chris Beard since 2015 at both Little Rock and Texas Tech.

For what it’s worth, the 64-year-old has a lot of head coaching experience at the Division II level and the junior college level. He also coached Texas-Pan American at the Division I level in the 1990s, going 44-90 over five seasons.

On some level, it makes sense, but it’s not exactly an exciting hire for a program that didn’t experience much success before Beard showed up.

Grade: D

Boston College: Earl Grant 

This hire won’t turn many heads, but BC did a decent job by hiring Earl Grant.

Honestly, the Boston College job just isn’t that appealing. He’s been an assistant under Gregg Marshall and Brad Brownell, so he’s had good mentors. The few years he spent with Brownell at Clemson should also pay off for Grant in the ACC. He also won 20-plus games in three straight seasons during his seven years at the College of Charleston, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.

He should be ready for this challenge, although that won't be easy at Boston College.

Grade: C

Penn State: Micah Shrewsberry

The Nittany Lions may have been better off hiring someone with more head coaching experience than two seasons at IU South Bend from 2005 to 2007. But Shrewsberry brings experience as an assistant in both college and the NBA.

He’s also relatively young at 44, so he should be able to recruit and give Penn State a fighting chance. His problem is that he’s at a football school and has to find a way to win at a program with little success.

Grade: C

DePaul: Tony Stubblefield

Outside of 14 uninspired games as the interim coach at New Mexico State in 2005, this is Stubblefield’s first crack at being a head coach.

For someone who’s been an assistant for nearly 30 years, it’s about time. He was an assistant under Lou Henson and Mick Cronin before spending the last decade with Dana Altman at Oregon. That’s a nice resume, making Stubblefield a decent hire for a DePaul program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2004.

Grade: B

Loyola-Chicago: Drew Valentine 

Let’s be honest, this is a high-risk, high-reward hire for Loyola. No matter what, it was going to be difficult to replace Porter Moser.

Ultimately, the school went with a 29-year-old who’s been on the staff since 2017. He was around for Loyola’s Final Four run in 2018 and watched Moser for a few years. However, giving a program that now has high expectations and competes in one of the best mid-major leagues to a 29-year-old is a risky move.

Even if Drew Valentine works out a few years down the road, it will have been a gutsy hire by the Ramblers.

Grade: C

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