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Summer epidemic produces
rash of coaching changes

Nov 9, 2004 6:38 AM


mong all the team sports, college basketball is probably the one most influenced by the team’s coach.

It’s no coincidence that teams that regularly perform well contain continuity in the coaching program.

For instance, among the preseason Top 25 college basketball teams, 10 have coaches who have been at the school an average of nearly 15 years. Those universities include Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, Arizona, Florida and Maryland.

Because of the coach’s impact, it is be helpful to carefully evaluate coaching changes. And this year, there are a whopping 25 new coaches set to take the helm at Division 1 schools.

Here is thumbnail look at some of the new coaches and what they bring to their respective programs.

UNLV: In Nevada, both schools have new coaches. UNLV welcomes Lon Kruger, who replaced Jay Spoonhour. Expectations are high with Kruger, who had coached successful programs at Kansas State, Florida and Illinois before jumping to the NBA (he was an assistant for the Knicks last season and coached Atlanta for three seasons). Kruger’s overall record is 318-233 in 18 years of college coaching.

Nevada: Up in Reno, Mark Fox takes over the coaching duties from Phil Johnson at the University of Nevada. A longtime assistant to Johnson, Fox takes over a program that won a school-record 25 games last year and reached the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. While expectations are understandably high, Nevada lost three key players from its starting rotation.

Air Force: The academy had a breakthrough season last year as the Falcons won 22 games and made it to the NCAA tourney. New coach Chris Mooney was a longtime assistant to Joe Scott, who left Colorado Springs to take the head coaching position at his alma mater, Princeton. At 32, Mooney, who also served at Princeton, becomes the youngest coach in the MAC and one of the youngest in the nation.

Princeton: Even though Joe Scott built a winning program in four years at Air Force, he couldn’t resist returning to his alma mater to replace John Thompson III (who took the coaching position at Georgetown). A former player and coach under Princeton’s legendary Pete Carril, Scott served as Bill Carmody’s top assistant at Princeton from 1996-2000. He knows the territory and should be able to continue the Tigers’s winning ways — they were 13-1 in the Ivy League last year and have won at least 16 games for 18 straight years.

Georgetown: How could John Thompson III resist taking the helm at his famous father’s alma mater? Even though Thompson established a solid career as a player and coach at Princeton (in four years he won three Ivy League titles and two NCAA tournament berths), he couldn’t say no to the challenge of turning around a program that won only 13 games last season. "Obviously, there’s a tradition of winning here at Georgetown and we need to restore that," Thompson said. All indications are that he will indeed restore that tradition, but it won’t be done overnight. His record at Princeton was 69-42.

Akron: Keith Dambrot was an assistant here to Dan Hipsher before his boss was fired after losing in the first round of the MAC tournament. Dambrot was previously an assistant at Eastern Michigan before becoming head coach at Central Michigan in the early 1990s. In six years of coach he is 108-70.

Auburn: Jeff Lebo is considered one of the up-and-coming young coaches in college basketball. He played for Dean Smith at North Carolina, and was an assistant there as well as at Vanderbilt and South Carolina. At smaller schools, Lebo transformed Tennessee Tech from an Ohio Valley Conference also-ran into a postseason tournament team and guided a Chattanooga team that had fallen on hard times to the finals of the Southern Conference Tournament twice in his only two seasons.

Houston: The media guide calls the team’s new coach "Mr. Fix It." That’s precisely what Tom Penders intends for a Cougars squad that failed to win 10 games each of the last two seasons. Even though Penders has been out of coaching for three years, he compiled an impressive 527-361 mark over 30 years with schools such as Texas, Rhode Island, Fordham and Columbia. In that time he took 10 teams to the NCAA tourney and six to the NIT.

James Madison: Dean Keener takes his first assignment as a head coach after Sherman Dillard was fired following a 7-21 season. Keener, however, has a solid career as an assistant. Last year, he was an assistant at Georgia Tech, which lost in the national title game to Connecticut. He also coached two seasons as an assistant at Drake, one at USC, four at Virginia Tech and two at Southern Methodist.

LaSalle: New head coach John Giannini inherits a mess at LaSalle, which hasn’t had a winning season in 11 years and is coming off a scandal-plagued summer. He’s had solid success, however, albeit at much smaller schools. Giannini has a career record of 125-111, although he elevated the program at Maine, as well as Rowan University, just over the bridge from Philadelphia.

Loyola-Chicago: The Larry Farmer ended here last season after the Ramblers lost 14 of its last 15 Horizon League games. Enter Jim Whitesell who brings an impressive resume from Division II Lewis University in suburban Chicago. While Whitesell is short on major college experience, he competed against tough teams such as Southern Indiana and Kentucky Wesleyan in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. His philosophy is starting with defensive intensity and guarding the basketball. Neither was a strong suit for Loyola last season.

Ohio State: The program is still mired in an NCAA investigation of payments and other benefits to players. Former coach Jim O’Brien was fired over the scandal and former Xavier coach Thad Matta takes over a program under a cloud. Matta left a strong team behind. The Musketeers reached the Elite Eight last season, losing to eventual national runner-up Duke and were a solid 78-23 in Matta’s three seasons.

San Francisco: Jessie Evans takes over a program that was a mediocre 139-123 under former coach Phil Mathews. Evans comes off three straight 20-win seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette, three straight postseason appearances and two trips to the NCAA tournament. He was also a former assistant to Lute Olson at Arizona, where he recruited superstar players Mike Bibby and Damon Stoudamire.

St. John’s: Former coach Mike Jarvis was fired in mid season last year — a first for a Big East school — after the Red Storm hit rock bottom, both on the court and off. Besides finishing with a dismal 6-21 record, the team was rocked by drug and strip club scandals that resulted in Jarvis’ February firing. Taking over is Norm Roberts, whose only previous head coach experience was at Queens College, where he was 24-84 from 1992-95. He was also an assistant for nine years to Bill Self, most recently at Kansas.

Stanford: Just how badly will the Cardinal miss former coach Mike Montgomery? Known as one of the icons of coaching, Montgomery is famous for recruiting players that stay for four years, graduate from school and actually win games, including a final four run for the national championship in 1998. But the bright lights of the NBA were too much for Montgomery, who is replaced by former Nevada coach Trent Johnson. The latter, who once worked as an assistant for Montgomery, compiled an impressive mark while in Reno, where he took the Wolf Pack to the Sweet 16 last year.

Utah: The task of replacing another coaching icon, Rick Majerus, falls on Ray Giacoletti, after Majerus retired because of heart and other physical problems associated with his weight. Giacoletti led Eastern Washington University to its first-ever NCAA tourney berth last season. And, while his 69-50 record isn’t too impressive, his Big Sky conference mark of 41-17 is the seventh best winning percentage in the league’s 41-year history.

Xavier: Sean Miller takes over coaching duties after the unexpected departure of Thad Matta, who took over O’Brien’s position at Ohio State. A former All Big East point guard at Pittsburgh, Miller worked as an assistant for five years at NC State before taking an assistant position at Xavier. As Matta’s assistant, the Musketeers were an impressive 78-23 over the last three seasons. Prior to Xavier, Miller served under experienced coaches at Wisconsin (Stu Jackson) and Miami-Ohio (Herb Sendek).