Candid Coaches: Who was the best coaching hire in college basketball in 2021?


CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at smaller Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics. Through the end of this week we’re posting the results on 10 questions asked. Today is question No. 8. 

College hoops in 2021 had its most hectic spin of the coaching carousel … maybe ever? More than 60 jobs switched hands; north of 20% of those openings came from power conferences. 

What’s more, you had four of the top 10-12 jobs in the sport — UNC, Indiana, Texas and Arizona — come open, some of them in unexpected fashion. So yeah, thinking back to March, well that parallel blast of news between the NCAA Tournament and new hirings/firings, it was exhausting. I don’t think we’ll ever see a more collectively consequential year of coaching-change news than 2021. (Duke and Coach K kind of apply to this as well.)

It made this here annual question here interesting. With so many names to pick from, who would receive the votes? Let’s get to the evidence.

Who was the best coaching hire this year?

Chris Beard (Texas) 61%
Shaka Smart (Marquette) 17%
Porter Moser (Oklahoma) 8%
Wes Miller (Cincinnati) 3%
Craig Smith (Utah) 3%
All others 8%

Others receiving votes: Tommy Lloyd, Hubert Davis, Mike Woodson, Ben Johnson, Tim Miles, Earl Grant, Pat Kelsey.

Quotes that stood out

On Beard

On Smart

  • “Marquette is VCU with more resources … He will kill it there as it’s right in his wheelhouse. Urban school in a basketball league where he only has to focus on his team and players. He will win big at Marquette.”
  • “Big Shaka fan. He got f—– at Texas with the one-and-dones. I think he’s a damn good coach.”
  • “He’ll be who he was without the nastiness [around him] in Austin. Texas is a political job, which is why Chris Beard will thrive there. Marquette is a basketball job, and Shaka does well at a basketball place. He’ll thrive because he built a culture and atmosphere around the love of college basketball at VCU. He’ll have a chance to get back at that and away from all that other bulls—.”

On Moser

  • “[Oklahoma] got a good coach to replace a great coach (Lon Kruger). He has has a style that can translate well into the Big 12.”
  • “I think he’s going into a situation that I know well. Working for a big-time athletic director and a university with resources. Following a guy who’s taken a team to the Final Four. And the coach wasn’t fired. You’re taking over a program that has done it before, has been able to do it. When you walk into those situations, you have a huge advantage. And on top of that, he’s a really good coach who has proven that he can X-and-O.” 

On other coaches

  • On Wes Miller: “Competed against Wes a zillion times. He’s a whale of a coach, a program-builder. I think that job is built to win and I think he’ll do really great.”
  • On Craig Smith: “Very underrated. Facilities are amazing there and that place can get humming. He’s a great coach who has a style that can be effective in the Pac-12. Could be a contender soon.”
  • On Tommy Lloyd: “I love Mark Few, but I think he (Lloyd) did a lot there with what Gonzaga is. Was a great hire [for Arizona] and he should be able to keep that team at an elite level nationally.”
  • On Ben Johnson: “He’s a Minneapolis native who played and coached for the Gophers, understands the landscape of the state, wants to be there and won’t use the job as a stepping stone to go elsewhere. Very smart hire.”

The takeaway

Folks: The new Texas coach came in first and the guy who left Texas came in second. They combined to earn 78% of the vote. Whoo, boy. (It should come as little shock that the top three vote-getters are also the only guys up for a vote who have been the head coach of a Final Four team.)

Beard winning the poll was the expected outcome here, but the margin by which he won is outlandish. The winning vote-getter has never come close to dominating the final tally the way Beard did here. Let’s have a quick stroll down memory lane to see the coaches who have previously won this CBS Sports poll question. 

2020: No winner (no poll/only a few hirings due to COVID-19)
2019
: Fred Hoiberg, Nebraska (30%)
2018: Chris Mack, Louisville (32%)
2017: Archie Miller, Indiana (38%)
2016: Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State (25%)
2015: Shaka Smart, Texas (41%)
2014: Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech (29%)
2013: Steve Alford, UCLA (percentage lost to the internet ether)

Of the seven previous winners, two were later fired (Alford, Miller), two are still TBD (Mack, Hoiberg), another didn’t end well (Smart) and two were quick success stories before moving on elsewhere (Williams, Underwood).

It’s the second time a Texas coach has gotten the nod, as you can see. Beard’s situation feels different, though. If he’s to remain in college basketball coaching for the rest of his career, it’s hard to imagine he’d leave to coach anywhere else in this sport. Texas is his alma mater, his dream job, the program has been afforded almost every imaginable resource he could want (including a sparkling new arena on its way in 2022). Talk to people in the industry and they’ll say that Texas under Beard has the potential to become as prominent and dominant in the next 15 years as any blueblood — Kentucky and Duke included.

That, combined with Beard’s immediate impact in recruiting some of the most coveted transfers (Marcus Carr, Devin Askew, Christian Bishop, Timmy Allen), is why so many coaches voted for him. Texas is carrying an intimidating presence already, and it’s helped with this reputation that the Longhorns are projected to be good enough to earn a top-three seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

What’s fascinating is Texas hasn’t begun to make real noise in recruiting yet, but that’s probably coming, too. Beard and his staff have one five-star prospect in 2022 committed (point guard Arterio Morris) to this point, but no other five-star players on the board in that class are projected to go play for UT. Nothing is guaranteed, obviously, but to take you inside my conversations with more than two dozens coach, just know that this question was a no-brainer pick for so many of them. It feels like the most impactful hire with the highest floor and smallest probability for not working out. 

But this was not a 100% vote for Beard. There were a handful of dissenters and a few who were a bit cynical about Beard being an automatic major success. Some coaches voted for Shaka Smart, Porter Moser, Craig Smith or Wes Miller because, in their view, they were hired to places that fit them just as well as Beard’s fit in Austin. A few of the coaches who voted for Smart were emphatic that we’ll look up in 2025 and see Marquette in a better spot under him than Texas will be under Beard. 

Smith is sort of as under-the-radar as you can get for a power-conference gig, but his move from Utah State to Utah is a natural one, and I agree that it’s likely he will thrive there. Miller left UNCG to take Cincinnati, then essentially received a second promotion four months later when news came in that UC will be going to the Big 12 as soon as 2023. Moser’s success with Loyola Chicago has clearly convinced a faction of college coaches that he’ll be good enough to last for multiple contracts at OU. 

I always find it interesting to see which coaches either don’t receive any votes or only get one or two nods. Guys like Tommy Lloyd, Hubert Davis, Micah Shrewsberry or Mike Woodson. It’s not hard to envision one of them ultimately emerging as the best hire. After all, when we ran this poll question some years back, there was one coach who received only three votes after he took his new gig in the Big 12. Wasn’t a known guy, really, back then. 

In 2016 some dude named Beard finished eighth in the voting to this very same question


Previously in Candid Coaches:





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