What makes a good college basketball coach is difficult to quantify, but that's not going to stop me from attempting to do exactly that. Recruiting is obviously a big part of the puzzle. Once the players are in place though, a coach needs to be able to establish a culture within the program and put together the basic X's and O's to have the team actually run. Then there's all the off-the-court responsibilities of keeping boosters happy, showing up at charity events, and (apparently) apologizing on the court before a game just because your guys got into a little bit of a fracas last time out.
Anyway, a program generally rises and falls on the quality of the person filling the head coaching position. A good one can vault a school from obscurity into perennial contention. A bad one can take a good program and run it into the ground so hard that it takes Scott Drew the better part of a decade to pull things back together. I know Baylor wasn't that great a basketball school at the time, but Dave Bliss remains the man who set the bar that all other coaching failures need to clear. Anyway, here is my take on the current coaches of the Big East, from worst to best.
10. Dave Leitao, DePaul
I don't understand this hire for the Blue Demons. They took one aging, less than dynamic coach in Oliver Purnell (who I hate besmirching because he was a fixture of my childhood) and replaced him with an almost literal retread in Dave Leitao. Leitao is 55 and last held a head coaching position in 2012 for the Maine Red Claws. He had some success previously at DePaul when they were in
the AAC Conference USA, but his only high-major experience is a 63-60 record with one tournament appearance in four years at Virginia. I have a hard time imagining he's going to get kids excited to play for him.
9. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Seven years into his head coaching career (three at Iona before his four at Seton Hall), Willard has zero tournament appearances. When I say tournament I mean NCAA tournament; nobody is getting excited about the CBI. His defense has slid from 8th in the nation in his first year in the Big East to 146th last season, and the offense has not developed apace. Almost more concerningly, his program has recently given the appearance of having the inmates run the asylum: Sterling Gibbs punched a dude in the face, Jaren Sina left mid-season among some fairly strong rumors of locker room fracture, and prized recruit Isaiah Whitehead generally couldn't get along with anyone. These things can be ignored if a team is winning, but they usually aren't when you're running to 16-15.
8. Chris Mullin, St. John's
Do you know how much coaching experience this guy has? I feel like I've touched on it before. Beyond that though, Mullin has some things going for him. He has assembled a staff of highly-regarded assistant coaches, he's recruiting aggressively in New York, and he has plenty of roster flexibility. Mullin has been in the game of basketball for almost literally his entire life; it's now only a question of if he can connect that experience to the modern college game effectively. If nothing else, I'm pulling for him because the dude won me a lot of games in NBA Live '95.
7. Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette
Wojciechowski was a long-time assistant at Duke before getting his shot to replace that clown Buzz Williams at Marquette. His first-year record of 13-19 was poor, but his team wasn't as bad as its results and they consistently competed. Culture and recruiting are make or break issues early on for a new coach, and Wojciechowski appears to be doing well on both fronts. He has landed a five-man recruiting class that included McDonald's All-American Henry Ellenson and former Xavier target PG Traci Carter; four of the five players appeared on top-100 lists for the class. Only a lack of a track record holds Wojciechowski back in this ranking.
6. Greg McDermott, Creighton
I got to this point and realized that there are a lot of good coaches in the Big East. The last team McDermott took to the tournament that didn't feature his son was UNI in 2006. That was also the last team he had win 20 games without his son. He used that team to vault to four really mediocre years at Iowa St. (59-68) before landing the Creighton job. He went 14-19 with an admittedly rebuilding roster last season, but this year will give him a chance to show that the success he had a decade ago is repeatable without his own flesh and blood on the roster.
Stay tuned for part two this afternoon.