Tate: Coaching success hard to judge
John Beilein, who unleashes another bouncy gang of Wolverines jump shooters tonight at State Farm Center, is one of America’s unique coaches.
Michigan is his sixth stop in a 39-year career (beginning in junior college), and he never has been an assistant. He always has been the boss.
This is a sharp contrast with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Wisconsin’s Greg Gard and Northwestern’s Chris Collins, all of whom stepped out of extended roles as assistants before landing Big Ten head-coaching jobs.
Purdue’s Matt Painter was the “coach in waiting” at Purdue after one season as a head coach at Southern Illinois.
And Minnesota’s Richard Pitino, who served under his father at Louisville, was head coach for one year at Florida International.
So there you are.
Five of the Big Ten’s top coaches combined for two seasons of college head-coaching experience before their present jobs.
That might chill the idea that it takes a “proven winner” and a king’s fortune to be successful.
Gard served under Bo Ryan for 23 years at three schools.
Izzo learned for a decade under Jud Heathcote.
Many more get their promotions the way Illini coach John Groce did, making NCAA tournament splashes with midmajors, in his case Ohio.
That’s what Iowa’s Fran McCaffery did at Siena. Rutgers’ Steve Pikiell won 192 games in 11 seasons at Stony Brook.
Ohio State’s Thad Matta earned his spurs at Butler and Xavier, while Penn State’s Pat Chambers moved up from Boston U.
Tim Miles advanced from North Dakota State and Colorado State to Nebraska.
Money doesn’t solve everything
The road to success can be arduous and bumpy.
Steve Alford won three NCAA games in his first 14 seasons as a Division I head coach, was 61-67 in the Big Ten at Iowa and, just last season, was 15-17 at UCLA.
Suddenly, this Bruins team may be his best ever.
Some claim a $3 million or $4 million salary would save a struggling program. But you’re not going to attract Arizona’s Sean Miller with that. He’s already making $4.9M, with potential bonuses of more than $1M.
Before going on, understand that when these salaries are tossed out, they are not exact. Numbers are hard to pin down and often fluctuate depending on incentives, raises, bonuses, etc.
Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams received a boost in July carrying him through 2023 and topping out at $3.3M ... which, if he is successful, surely will be boosted along the way.
The most respected of the nation’s coaches in their mid-40s, Tony Bennett of Virginia, has base income of $2.1M with a $3M buyout before 2018. Among other potential bonuses, he’ll get $50,000 if he earns his third national Coach of the Year award.
Bennett was 30-7, 30-4 and 29-8 the last three seasons but, if you’re expecting immediate success, take note that he was 32-34 in the ACC in his first four years.
Matta makes about $3.4M but also received a $3.1M longevity bonus in 2014. Mark Turgeon draws roughly $2.36M, but that’s just a starting point.
He received a $450,000 relocation bonus when he moved from Texas A&M to Maryland in 2011. Before moving to the Big Ten, Turgeon’s Terrapins were 23-29 in the ACC.
Indiana’s Tom Crean, who is believed to be in the $3.6M range with an ever-increasing deal running through 2020, received $125,000 for winning the Big Ten last season, has multiple incentives plus two cars, a club membership, tickets and all those extra benefits that most coaches have.
A closer look at the numbers
If Mark Few left Gonzaga, it first would require a sanity test.
He might be deemed crazy to leave that sweet spot where he’s likely to win 30 games every season (Gonzaga was 35-3 in 2015 and 15-0 now).
Same for Gregg Marshall, who is already over $3M at Wichita State and with a direct Missouri Valley route into the NCAA tournament.
Greg McDermott found a great landing spot in Omaha. Could he be pried away? Well, he can’t guarantee success. While Creighton is in the Top 25 now, he shows eight losing seasons on his resume, including four consecutive sub-.500 teams at Iowa State.
And for all those Scott Drew supporters: Yes, Baylor reached No. 1 this week, but Drew’s career Big 12 record is 98-122 after Tuesday night’s 89-68 loss at West Virginia.
And before you start shouting Cuonzo Martin, take note: The East St. Louis Lincoln and Purdue product, who took Tennessee into the NCAA Sweet 16, has no other NCAA wins in eight head-coaching seasons. And his record at Cal in the Pac-12 is 21-19 after Sunday’s 74-73 defeat of Southern Cal.
Nutshelling, you can’t buy championships.
Coaches arrive from all angles. You can’t tell which assistants or which midmajor coaches are going to explode.
All you really know is that Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas are going to attract the best players, and you need a super salesman to beat out Louisville, UCLA and Indiana for the next best.
And then you might get lucky and become Villanova, learn to play defense and be Virginia ... or, if all else fails, avoid fouls and turnovers and be Wisconsin.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.