The first major dominoes in the men’s college basketball coaching carousel fell earlier this week when openings at Indiana, Iowa State, Minnesota and Utah became available.
In three cases, the previous hires by the Power Five programs came directly from mid-majors. Success when moving up the coaching ladder is hard to predict, but in each instance there was reason for optimism.
Archie Miller went to four consecutive tournaments at Dayton, including an Elite Eight, before taking the Indiana job. Steve Prohm was 104-29 at Murray State when Iowa State called. And Minnesota seemed on solid ground when hiring Richard Pitino, who had an obvious coaching pedigree and significant experience as an assistant at major programs, plus one year leading Florida International.
The results weren’t great in each instance. But if any of these three programs or any other big schools with future openings this offseason want to look toward the mid-majors, there’s a talented group available.
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Here’s eight coaches that should be receiving some calls:
Porter Moser, Loyola-Chicago
Having a Final Four on your résumé certainly is a nice start to any conversation with a potential employer. Moser has that. But even if that was written off as a one-year phenomenon, this season’s run by the Ramblers with a largely remade roster shows that he has staying power. The question is whether the Illinois native would be willing to move out of his comfort zone and face bigger expectations.
Brian Dutcher, San Diego State
The transition from Steve Fisher to Dutcher has gone better than expected. The Aztecs have won 96 games in four seasons, including a 53-6 record the past two years. The 61-year-old Dutcher has ties to Minnesota — he attended the school and his dad was coach of the Gophers — and was a longtime Michigan assistant under Fisher. Prying him out of the sunny weather in California after he waited so long for his first head coaching job might not be as easy as it seems should something bigger come along.
Anthony Grant, Dayton
Obi Toppin celebrates scoring his 1,000th career point with coach Anthony Grant in March 2020. Dayton was expected to earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament before it was canceled because of the pandemic. (Photo: Aaron Doster, AP)
The Flyers coach might already be in another job if the NCAA Tournament was held last year. His team went 29-2 with All-American Obi Toppin and was in line for a top seed before the season shut down. Grant had a taste for a higher-profile gig at Alabama after his initial opportunity at Virginia Commonwealth. Life in the Atlantic 10 might suit him better unless the right opportunity comes along.
Craig Smith, Utah State
Smith could be an intriguing candidate for Minnesota. He was born in the state and his first Division I head coaching job was next door at South Dakota. The Aggies are 74-23 in his three seasons and an at-large tournament berth this year illustrates their standing above typical mid-majors that must rely on conference tournaments to get in. He might be inclined to continue building upon that foundation, especially with no seniors in his starting lineup. The ceiling for Utah State could be higher next year.
Ritchie McKay, Liberty
The Flames are in the tournament for the second consecutive season, two years after knocking off Mississippi State in the first round. McKay, who had previous stops at Colorado State, Oregon State, New Mexico and Liberty, rebuilt his career as an assistant under Tony Bennett at Virginia before returning to Liberty. His success down the road in Lynchburg with the same defensive-oriented mindset would be attractive to any program looking to win games. It might not be as eye-pleasing for fans, however it’s not unreasonable he could replicate the formula used by the Cavaliers at a similar program.
Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure
Not all program builders are looking for greener pastures. Schmidt first took the Bonnies to the tournament in 2012 but continued on. They’re back in the dance after winning the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament. Could he be induced to leave after 14 years at the same stop? A former Boston College player, the opening with the Eagles made sense. That job went to College of Charleston’s Earl Grant. Another possibility was Penn State, where Schmidt was previously an assistant. Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry ultimately was the choice.
Pat Kelsey, Winthrop
Leaving proved to be tough for Kelsey four years ago when he accepted the Massachusetts job and then returned to Winthrop two days later. That was the same year the Eagles were last in the tournament. They’re back now and it’s safe to presume that Kelsey is going to generate some interest if he can assure athletics directors that he is committed to any new job. His performance as coach speaks for itself. This is the Eagles' third berth in five years after winning the Big South tournament last year.
Rick Pitino, Iona
Since taking the Iona job, Pitino has been adamant this is the last stop on his intercontinental coaching career that has taken him to national titles at Kentucky and Louisville, twice to the NBA and overseas to Greece. He led the Gaels to the tournament in his first season, which led to media speculation that he would be a candidate for bigger jobs. Pitino confirmed again Tuesday that he is not interested in leaving when asked about the Indiana opening. Still, even at 68, he’s a tantalizing option for a big program that wants a proven commodity, even with his baggage. For now, you must take him at his word.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith
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