CBB Coaching Changes, Part 1

NCAA Basketball Coaching Changes | Part 1

by Jonathan Burke (@Burkenstockss)

Each year, there are dozens of coaching changes across Division 1 NCAA basketball. So far this offseason, 59 schools hired a new head coach. The group includes several high-profile coaches at historically successful programs. Most of the well-known coaches in this transition period found positions at other schools, but there were some surprising moves. Now that the offseason has reached month four, the yearly coaching carousel is winding down. This provides an opportunity to analyze what moves were made and examine the significance that it will have on each program. 

Michigan

Out: John Beilein

In: Juwan Howard

In perhaps the most high-profile coaching change this offseason, John Beilein left Ann Arbor after 12 successful seasons at the helm. Under Beilein, Michigan won two Big Ten regular season titles, and two conference tournament championships. His teams were perennial contenders, missing the NCAA Tournament only 3 times in 12 years, and finishing national runner-up twice. The hallmark of the Wolverines under Beilein was discipline and teamwork. In the last 12 years, Michigan was in the top 20 in the nation in TO% ten times. In May, Beilein signed a five-year deal to become the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. After Cleveland’s 19-63 season, Beilein will continue the uphill battle to rebuild the Cavs after Lebron’s departure to LA. 

In order to replace the winningest coach in school history, the Wolverines turned to alumnus Juwan Howard. Howard played basketball for Michigan from 1991-1994 and was part of the ‘Fab Five’ teams that appeared in two straight National Championships. After a 19-year career in the NBA, Howard served as an assistant for the Miami Heat from 2013-2019. While it is rare for a storied program such as Michigan to hire a coach with no previous head coaching experience, this situation is different. Howard has widely been expected to receive a head coaching job soon, and he has a special connection with the Michigan program. In order to land top recruits, colleges focus on preparing players for the NBA, and Howard has more NBA experience than any coach in the nation. 

Alabama

Out: Avery Johnson

In: Nate Oats

At the end of the 2018-19 season, Alabama decided to relieve Avery Johnson of his duties after four seasons as the team’s head coach. Overall, it was a disappointing term for the Crimson Tide, culminated by an 18-16 record last season. Johnson’s lone NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2018, led by current NBA PG Collin Sexton. One of the biggest issues throughout Johnson’s tenure was the average free-throw percentage (FT%) of his teams. In all four years, Alabama never ranked higher than 307th in the nation in FT%, with an average of 65.8%. This stat is a microcosm of the Johnson era at Alabama, and it shows that his teams struggled with the basics and did not improve. In fact, in Johnson’s first year, Alabama finished with a record of 18-15 overall and 8-10 in the SEC. In his final year, the numbers were nearly identical (18-16, 8-10). 

Only three days after firing Johnson, Alabama signed former Buffalo head coach Nate Oats. His hiring came as a surprise to many Buffalo fans, considering Oats signed an extension through 2024 only two weeks prior. However, it is easy to see why Alabama AD Greg Byrne wanted Oats to lead his staff. Under Oats, the Bulls won the Mid-American Conference Tournament three out of four years and logged a combined record of 31-5 in the MAC over his final two seasons. Buffalo did not just show up to the dance, they won their opening-round games in 2018 and 2019. Oats’ main basketball philosophy is to push the pace, crash the glass, and take quality three-pointers. In his last two seasons at UB, the Bulls placed in the top-5 of Average Possession length (APL) each season, averaging one of the shortest offensive possession times in the nation. They also ranked inside the top 75 in Offensive Rebound Percentage in each of the past two years. It will be fascinating to see if Oats is able to continue his success at a Power-5 school, and Tide fans are hopeful to have a second fall sport to cheer for this season. 

Virginia Tech

Out: Buzz Williams

In: Mike Young

After five seasons with Virginia Tech, Buzz Williams decided to leave Blacksburg to become the next head coach of Texas A&M. Williams, a native Texan, finished his career at VT with three NCAA Tournament appearances and a .592 overall winning percentage. In his first season, the Hokies were 11-22 overall, and 2-16 in the ACC. He did a tremendous job turning the Tech program around after that first year, and 2018-2019 was his best season yet. Last year, the Hokies ranked as high as #9 in the AP Poll, but eventually lost a heartbreaker to Zion and Co. in the Sweet 16. In each of the last three years, Williams’ teams have finished in the top 15 in Effective Field Goal Percentage. (This stat is similar to FG%, but it factors in 3-pointers being worth 1.5 times the amount of a two-point FG). Williams will need to use his offensive coaching prowess to improve an A&M squad that was 240th in the nation in PPG last year. 

Mike Young joins Virginia Tech after leading Wofford to their best season in program history. Young is the program’s most successful coach, and he is the only coach to take the Terriers to an NCAA Tournament. Last year, Young’s team finished 30-5 overall, and 18-0 in the SoCon. A team full of offensive firepower, Wofford ranked #2 in the nation in 3-point percentage, and 17th overall in PPG. Although his success was at a smaller school, there are few doubters of Young’s coaching ability. His offensive mindset will fit well with the program that Buzz Williams left behind and should make Tech an exciting team to watch over the next few seasons. 

Texas A&M

Out: Billy Kennedy

In: Buzz Williams

In March, Texas A&M fired former head coach Billy Kennedy after 8 seasons with the team. His firing occurred only a day after the Aggies bounced out of the SEC Tournament, a feeling that is far too common for A&M fans recently. Kennedy took over in 2011 after the most successful stretch in school history, in which the Aggies appeared in the NCAA Tournament six times. Unfortunately, Kennedy only added two more appearances to that total during his 8 years leading the team. Like Avery Johnson’s teams, Kennedy’s squads also struggled with free throws throughout his time in College Station. Throughout the 8 seasons, A&M ranked higher than #230 in the nation in FT% only once. Poor free throw shooting coupled with a 20% turnover rate led to a 14-18 overall record, and an 11th place finish in the SEC. As a result, Texas A&M hired Buzz Williams to return the team to relevance in both the SEC and the nation. Williams plans to use his Texas roots in order to pull from the rich talent pool located in and around the Lonestar state.

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