Though I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a "message board junkie", perusing the forums of BlueGoldNews.com is still a part of my job. While trolls often infiltrate the main football and basketball boards with worthless muck, sifting through the garbage is often a necessary evil for me to keep earning the big bucks that make up my salary, which of course rivals only that of Kevin Garnett and ARod as the most lucrative in all of sports.
As I was sifting through threads on the basketball board Tuesday night, I found a debate that often crosses my mind. The thread, available here, asked where WVU head coach Bob Huggins ranks among the impressive list of Big East bosses. In a league stacked from top to bottom with incredible coaching talents and accomplishments, such a debate was too good for me to pass up. Unfortunately, the writer in me took over as I was posting my response. So instead of crafting a lengthy, time-consuming reply that would likely have people clicking to the next thread at the mere sight of my long-winded (dictated?) drivel, I instead have decided to take up precious space on the front page. Without any further adieu, I give you my opinionated rankings of the Big East coaches, starting with No.'s 16-9 in this installment, followed by a separate column with No.'s 8-1.
16)Norm Roberts, St. John's – Roberts's bio on the St. John's website begins like this: "Like the city he was born in, lives in and coaches in, St. John's head coach Norm Roberts is always on the move." And if the New York native doesn't put the Red Storm into some sort of post-Big East Tournament event next season, it's a not so unreasonable bet that the raspy-voiced Red Storm mentor will be moving on from Jamaica, Queens after five largely-unsuccessful seasons at the helm of one of the league's flagship programs.
Look, Roberts seems like a great guy, the type of coach who would have your back in any situation as a player. And I'll even give him some credit for taking over a thankless situation due to the mess he inherited after the 2003-04 season which saw the St. John's program riddled with scandal. But the facts are this: he hasn't won. Not as a head coach, at least. As an assistant to Kansas head coach Bill Self in Lawrence and previous Self depots such as Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois, Roberts was around a lot of wins. However as head coach at Division II Queens College in the early 1990's and St. John's since the 2004-05 regular season, his record is a combined 72-149. If the Johnnies can get some of the Big Apple's top talents to stay home for their collegiate careers, Roberts might yet salvage his tenure in Queens. One has to wonder, however, just how much time is left for him to do so.
15)Fred Hill, Rutgers – To be fair, Hill is just getting started in Piscataway. But in two seasons at one of the conference's New York metropolitan area schools, Hill's Scarlet Knights will have missed the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden both times. As an assistant at Rutgers as well as Villanova, Hill developed a reputation as a tireless and successful recruiter. So far, that recruiting ability has not translated into on-court success as a head coach.
That being said, it looks as though the New Jersey native is bringing more and more talent into the state university. Might Rutgers be a Big East sleeper in the next three years? Hill had better hope so. On the plus side, I can guarantee that RU will be on the court of the World's Most Famous Arena one year from now as the Big East's new (old?) policy of letting every conference team compete at the Garden in postseason play takes effect next season.
14)Mick Cronin, Cincinnati – While he's not physically imposing by any stretch of the imagination, Cronin's Bearcats have inflicted some pain on the Big East race from day one of the conference slate, opening league play with a win at Freedom Hall over Louisville. A year after winning just two league games, the Bearcats are currently sitting at 8-8 in conference play, assuring themselves of a trip to New York City for next week's Big East Tournament.
Cronin's sideline antics have warranted him many a technical foul and plenty of abuse from opposing student sections, but his 64-27 coaching record and two NCAA Tournament appearances as head coach of the Murray State Racers certainly made him worthy of a promotion. Like Hill, it's hard to gauge just how good of a coach he can be in the Big East, but unlike Hill, Cronin has shown remarkable improvement from year one to year two.
13)Tim Welsh, Providence – Poor guy. As head coach of one of the league's original programs, Welsh has constantly been overshadowed in the northeast by the likes of UConn, Boston College, etc. While there is talent around him in the New England states, seldom does that talent opt to play its college ball for Welsh's Friars. And really, why should they? I mean after all, it's not exactly easy to get pumped up about playing in a place called the Dunkin' Donuts Center. For obvious reasons, the name of that facility just doesn't leave me with images of athleticism and fitness in my head. To be frank, Welsh's job is arguably the worst in the Big East. Will he still hold it after this season? That remains to be seen.
12)Stan Heath, USF – Back in the spring of 2002, Heath was one of the country's most sought after coaching commodities after leading Kent State to the Elite Eight, where the Golden Flashes had a memorable battle with eventual national runner-up Indiana. Heath's name came up for every major coaching vacancy in the country that offseason, including at West Virginia where he interviewed before the Mountaineers ultimately hired John Beilein away from Michigan.
Heath finally landed at Arkansas, where he was fired after five marginally successful seasons replacing the legendary Nolan Richardson. He landed on his feet at South Florida, taking over a Bulls program which has yet to see the Big East Tournament since joining the conference in 2005-06. Heath's first campaign didn't bring any different results to the Sun Dome despite having a solid inside-outside punch with center Kentrell Gransberry and guard Dominique Jones. If Heath can build a solid supporting cast around Jones over the next four years, the Bulls might be able to make a little bit of noise in the Big East. As of now, that scenario is hard to imagine.
11)Jerry Wainwright, DePaul – Wainwright was successful for years in the CAA at UNC-Wilmington, guiding the Seahawks to the NCAA Tournament before taking over for John Beilein at Richmond soon after the Spiders moved to the Atlantic 10. A Chicago native, Wainwright jumped on the chance to return home and achieve his dream of coaching in a major conference.
Right now, the jury is still out as to whether the Blue Demons can cut it consistently in the Big East. DePaul is currently in a race with St. John's and Providence for the final spot in this year's conference tournament, and unless they make it to New York and go on a run, Wainwright's squad won't be going anywhere this March.
10)Bobby Gonzalez, Seton Hall – For years, Gonzalez's name came up for big jobs. He would be mentioned, interview, and then never be heard from again. Gonzo has a reputation for being cut from a different mold, but his candid mentality has scored him big points with New York City-area recruits.
Just two years into his tenure at Seton Hall, Gonzalez has the Pirates in contention for a postseason berth, thanks in no small part to the play of freshman sensation Ricky Hazzell. If he can continue to recruit good players to The Hall from its surrounding areas, Gonzalez has a chance to be very successful. So far, he's shown that ability and at least this year has put up some results on the court. Can he keep it going? If so, the Pirates could emerge as a sleeping giant in the Big East.
9)Jamie Dixon, Pitt – OK, so this conference is really, really good. All Dixon has done at Pitt is win at least 20 games every season, and go to the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers have set a benchmark for consistency in the nation's best conference, and Dixon is a big reason why. Even dating back to his days as an assistant under Ben Howland, he's been an integral part of Pitt's success.
So, you ask, why isn't he higher on the list? Why doesn't a guy who has never ended a season in any place but the NCAA Tournament even get a spot amongst the top eight coaches in the league? Well, for starters as mentioned above, there are some guys in the league who are not only the best in the Big East, but in college basketball. And they have been for some time. Dixon took over a strong program, and has not taken a step back. Still, you can't say that the Panthers are any better off now than they were when Howland left.
Stay tuned for part two of this column on BlueGoldNews.com.