Evaluating “Flavor of the Month” Coaches

Every year there are certain teams that get hot during the postseason and become the “Flavor of the Month” (FOTM).  What defines a FOTM?  Usually they are a mid-major or smaller team, mostly with high tournament seeds, and they’ll usually reach the Sweet 16.  Since the coaching search is what’s dominating all discussions I thought it would be interesting to see what coaches from past years became FOTM and how they fared.  This is important because it helps define how much risk there is when looking to hire a Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens.

First off I decided to go back to the 2000 NCAA Tournament for looking at coaches.  Why 2000?  You try doing this research and see how long it takes you.  First you’ll see who I consider the FOTM for each NCAAT.  Most are what I defined earlier but others are non-traditional basketball schools having great years and some are just coaches who have been around a long time and are having an unusually good year.  First off, your 2011 FOTM Coaches:

2011 NCAA Tournment “Flavor of the Month” Coaches

NOTE: Auto/AL designates if it was an automatic qualifier (won their conference tournament) or an At-Large team.

If you look at past tournaments several of these coaches will be identified as FOTM in previous years (Stevens, Miller, Hamilton) and then there is Fisher who is well into his coaching career but took a team who traditionally doesn’t fair well with the postseason and took them to the Sweet 16.  The rest are the true FOTM so lets look at their careers a little closer:

Not too bad.  Except for Mooney, Smart and Williams both made their first Sweet 16 in their first  4 years as Head Coach.  So how is this supposed to help us with evaluating if any of these coaches will continue, or increase, their success?  Let’s go back from 2010 to 2000 and see how other FOTM coaches fared after reaching their first Sweet 16.

2006-10 NCAA Tournment “Flavor of the Month” Coaches

2000-05 NCAA Tournment “Flavor of the Month” Coaches


Let’s look at a couple of years to see how various FOTM mid-major coaches have fared after their (first) one-shining-moment.

Here are all of the seasons:

2010 FOTM Coaches

2009 FOTM Coaches

2008 FOTM Coaches

2007 FOTM Coaches

2006 FOTM Coaches

2005 FOTM Coaches

2004 FOTM Coaches

2003 FOTM Coaches

2002 FOTM Coaches

2001 FOTM Coaches

2000 FOTM Coaches

Now let’s break these coaches down into different categories:

  • First one we’ll look at is Mid-majors who become FOTM and immediately move on to a bigger job.
  1. 2000: Bill Self.  In his third year at Tulsa he goes to the E8 and then moves on to Illinois.  Yeah, I’d have to say Self became a success.
  2. 2002: Stan Heath. In his first year at Kent St. Heath took them to the E8.  He took the Arkansas job and didn’t have much success.  Just over 0.500 overall record but losing conference record.  Plus only took the Razorbacks to 2 NCAAT’s.
  3. 2004: Thad Matta. In Matta’s third year at Xavier, and fourth overall, he took the Musketeers to the E8 (not to mention every year he attended the NCAAT).  Off he went to Ohio State and yeah, he was successful too.
  4. 2004: Trent Johnson.  In his fifth year he took the Nevada Wolf Pack to the S16.  He then followed this up with taking the Stanford Cardinal to the S16 in just four years.  Now he’s at LSU and has struggled with only 1 NCAAT appearance in 3 years.
  5. 2005: Bruce Pearl.  In his fourth year he took Milwaukee to the S16 then jumped to Tennessee.  Over 6 years he took the Vols to 6 NCAAT appearances including 2 S16 and 1 E8.  Then the fun really started.  He was very successful until he got caught.
  6. 2008: Darrin Horn.  In Horn’s fifth year he took Western Kentucky to the S16, jumped to South Carolina, and has struggled to the point he’s on the hot seat after 3 seasons.
  7. 2010: Steve Donahue.  After 10 season’s Donahue was able to take Cornell to the S16 and accepted the Boston College job.  In his first season he took BC to the NIT.
  • Next category lets look at mid-major coaches he became FOTM but stayed at their job at least another year before moving on.
  1. 2002: Bruce Weber.  In his fourth season at Southern Illinois he took them to the S16 but didn’t leave immediately.  He stayed for another season, took them back to the NCAAT, then left for Illinois.  He took Illinois to 6 NCAAT appearances in 8 seasons including 1 S16 and 1 National Title game appearance.  He’s been successful but the natives are getting restless.
  2. 2003: Todd Lickliter.  In his second season he took the Butler Bulldogs to the S16 but stayed for another 4 seasons and took the Bulldogs back to the NCAAT only once more but it was another trip to the S16.  Now after 4 seasons at Iowa he has failed to take the Hawkeyes to the postseason once.
  3. 2004: Mike Anderson.  In his second season he took UAB to the S16 and followed it up with 2 more NCAAT appearances in 2 seasons before moving on to Missouri.  In 5 years with the Tigers he took them to 3 NCAAT appearances with one trip to the E8.  He just left for the Arkansas job.
  4. 2006: Mark Turgeon.  In his sixth season he took the Wichita State Shockers to the S16 and failed to reach the NCAAT the following season before moving on to Texas A&M.  He’s taken the Aggies to 4 NCAAT appearances in 4 seasons.
  5. 2008: Sean Miller.  In his fourth season with Xavier he took them to the E8.  He followed it up the next season with a trip to the S16 before leaving for Arizona, where he took the Wildcats to the E8 in his second season.
  • The last category we’re going to look at are the mid-major’s who became FOTM yet never left their job.
  1. 2000:  Mark Few.  The original FOTM coach.  Few took the Zags to the S16 in his first season.  Even though his name has come up for ever job since that season he’s stayed put at Gonzaga.  In the following 11 seasons he’s made the NCAAT 11 times and returning to the S16 three more times.  Here’s the thing about Few, he’s a big fish in a small pond and he likes it.  Just don’t expect him to make a run unless he’s loaded with seniors and even still his ceiling is currently the S16.
  2. 2004: Phil Martelli.  In his ninth season he took St. Joseph’s to the E8 (the previous 8 seasons he made 3 NCAAT appearances with 1 S16).  The following 6 seasons he’s only been to the NCAAT once.
  3. 2006: Jim Les.  In his fourth season with Bradley he took them to the S16 yet has failed to return to the NCAAT in the following 5 seasons.
  4. 2006: Jim Larranaga.  In his ninth season with George Mason he took them to the Final Four.  The following 5 seasons he’s only returned to the NCAAT twice.
  5. 2007: Chris Lowery.  In his third season he took Southern Illinois to the S16 but in the next 4 seasons he’s only taken them to 1 NIT.
  6. 2008: Bob McKillop.  With the help of a certain Curry brother he was able to take Davidson to the E8 in his 19th season. He hasn’t been able to catch the magic again with only 1 NIT appearance in the following 2 seasons.
  7. 2010: Chris Mack.  In his first season with Xavier he took them to the S16 and followed it up in his second season with another NCAAT appearance.
  8. 2010: Ben Jacobson.  In his fourth year he took Northern Iowa to the S16 but failed to reach the NCAAT the next season.
  9. 2010: Brad Stevens.  The Ultimate FOTM coach.  He took Butler to the Championship game in only his third season where he followed it up with another trip to the Championship Game.  Still playing he could possibly exceed what he accomplished in 2010.
  10. 2010: Randy Bennett.  In his ninth season he took Saint Mary’s to the S16 and could only make the NIT the following season.


Let’s add this up.

  • In the first category where the mid-major jumps after becoming the FOTM, 3 out of 6 you can consider successful where the 7th is too early to determine.
  • In the second category where the mid-major stays before leaving the FOTM, 4 out of 5 can be considered as successful.
  • In the final category where the mid-major stayed at their school only 1 out of 6 (pre-2010 class) has been able to recapture that magic.  Of the 2010 FOTM class only Stevens has been able to duplicate the magic the next year.  The jury is still out on them until they have a couple of more years to see how they succeed.

So if you want to translate this back to NC State and the media telling Smart to stay at VCU and still be successful; don’t believe them Smart, the odds are against you.

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About 1.21 Jigawatts

Class of '98, Mechanical Engineer, State fan since arriving on campus and it's been a painful ride ever since. I live by the Law of NC State Fandom, "For every Elation there is an equal and opposite Frustration."

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62 Responses to Evaluating “Flavor of the Month” Coaches

  1. mak4dpak 04/03/2011 at 12:27 PM #

    Randy Bennett of Saint Marys is 106-29 the last four years, and in the S16 last year, and this year Gonzaga was the only WAC team in NCAAs, as they won the conference tourney, though Saint Marys won the regular season. In the ACC, qualifying for the NCAA tourney would have been a no brainer. And again no star players on his teams.

  2. West Coaster 04/03/2011 at 12:33 PM #

    Great analysis. One thing…it’s the Stanford Cardinal (no plural “s”).

  3. BJD95 04/03/2011 at 1:02 PM #

    Smart is extremely intelligent, and he has to know that this is the best time to jump. And he has only one logical landing spot.

  4. VaWolf82 04/03/2011 at 1:13 PM #

    Interesting stuff.

    It appears that most mid-majors have trouble keeping enough top-qualifty players even if they keep their coach. Gonzanga is an obvious exceptions.

    Xavier is different than most mid-major schools in that they have had multiple successful coaches move on to larger schools. Alot of familiar names from Xavier…Bob Staak, Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser along with Matta and Miller that you mentioned. Is this just incredible good luck in getting coaches, or does Xavier have some inherent advantages that helps them draw in better talent compared to their competition?

    But the key point seems to be that good coaches are successful everywhere. The key is hiring a Matta, Miller, etc instead of a Gillen, Sendek, etc. Not quite so easy separating the two groups.

  5. roandaddy 04/03/2011 at 1:27 PM #

    Why isn’t the Butler coach the one being considered instead of Smart? Just curious, but if Smart is FOTM, then he would be Flavor of the Year (or decade).
    Flash in the pan coaches either turn into a Pearl.. who had a LOT of coaching success, but not much personal success at UT. Or you turn into Horn who is a good “guy” but a rather lousy coach. The reality is that you have so many candidates in the FOTM category, you are bound to have a big winner just by the law of large numbers.
    As much as I hate to sit, but tried and true typically wins the race. There is a reason that Roy Boy, Tubby, and others can change schools yet have the same success. They are known product that simply market their name vs taking a risk on an up and comer.

    Call me what you want.. but I still hear the name Amato echoing in my head whenever someone is willing to “take a risk” on a coach. Smart’s interviews and recent “take a charge” stunt are things that make you a hero win you win or a zero when you lose.. sort of like red shoes and crazy sunglasses.

  6. otisthetowndrunk 04/03/2011 at 1:35 PM #

    I look at those numbers and see that while most do not make it, some do. Then I look at the traits of the ones that do. I then look to identify these traits in the current “flavor of the month” coaches and see if I can pick out the winner.

    I look at Smart and see many of those positive traits. If our odds are one out of five, it is not the same as a 20% chance of being right. It is being able to find the winner in a group of five. IF we were just gonna through darts in the dark, I don’t like 20%. If we have some one who can recognize talent making the choice, I like those odds.

    Stats can not quantify everything, Shaka has all of the “unmeasurables”. If we hire someone else, I feel like we will be kicking ourselves for letting this one get away – ala Sean Miller in 06.

  7. quacko 04/03/2011 at 1:53 PM #

    has anyone brought up randy bennett yet?

  8. mak4dpak 04/03/2011 at 1:59 PM #

    quacko, who is randy bennett?

  9. tjfoose1 04/03/2011 at 2:06 PM #

    I’m with Otis on this one, as far as the odds vs traits comment.

    I’m undecided on Shaka. My point has been, and remains, whether we hire him or not, it shouldn’t be based on a 2 week period of time.

  10. projectwentynine 04/03/2011 at 2:06 PM #

    “Why isn’t the Butler coach the one being considered instead of Smart?”

    Let’s hope that he is. What a contrast. Not getting my hopes up though.

  11. tjfoose1 04/03/2011 at 2:12 PM #

    Stevens isn’t being considered because he’s not an option. He’s not leaving Butler to come to NC State.

    I’m sure his interest was gauged. After that, time to move on. Keeping him as a consideration would be a waste of time.

  12. wallacepark 04/03/2011 at 2:28 PM #

    Great Analysis, SFN. I think Smart is savvy enough to realize this is his golden opportunity to not only make some big time bucks but to also capitalize on his buzz. With the attention he’s gotten this year and with the success he had as a recruiter at Clemson, he should be able to hit the ground running at NC State. It will still take time to rebuild the program, of course, but he will have a great opportunity if he leaves this year.

  13. Pack85EE 04/03/2011 at 2:53 PM #

    Did anybody notice that Smart in his post game interview did not mention “Next Year”. – Wishfull thinking on my part but….

  14. ClassOf91 04/03/2011 at 3:03 PM #

    I like otisthetowndrunk’s post above. An AD must look beyond just raw stats and try to analyze why did Coach X on the list above succeed where Coach Y failed. If you can start seeing some common traits between the ones who succeeded and/or the ones who didn’t then you can stay weighing those against the candidates.

  15. albunde6 04/03/2011 at 3:03 PM #

    1.21 Jigawatts thanks for putting numbers and logic to this evaluation. Still believe that DY is being deliberate and methodical. This is a business decision. Your hire will reflect on our current management and board. We will be creating a job opportunity in another conference.

    VCU will be ok, Smart will get a raise.

  16. wolf_at_my_door 04/03/2011 at 3:09 PM #

    My wife works in the field of college athletics. We live in Richmond. She does not work at VCU but knows their athletic department. It is a nickel and dime operation.

    If Smart stays at VCU he is missing a huge opportunity and he may not get another one.

    I guess it depends on his ambition. He will be comfortable if he stays at VCU but if he wants to be known as a great coach he needs to go to a big time program.

    What does he want? I don’t know. Is NC State a big time program? We can be with the right coach. Will it be Smart? Ask Debbie Yow and Shaka Smart.

  17. albunde6 04/03/2011 at 3:13 PM #

    SFN ask yourself this question? If this was your corporation and you had to please the board of directors and the share holders. Your choice to lead your company is the sales manager from company A. This manager has provided steady growth, profits and built a support team to take on the giant in your industry. Or you have a choice of sales manager B who has been in his position for 2 years. He has provided average performance, but just landed a major new customer away from the giant. Who do you hire?

  18. ADVENTUROO 04/03/2011 at 3:17 PM #


    I had heard this earlier in the day from a very reliable source, but chose not to post it as it was not in the public forum.

    We shall see what we shall see….

    Don’t even WANT to speculate where we are in our search….if, and I say that with a very BIG if, we have Smart on the list, then I would assume that there is a much bigger candidate that we are courting.

    The beat goes on and on and on…..

  19. BJD95 04/03/2011 at 3:17 PM #

    Things are very quiet. Can’t figure out whether this is good, bad, or neutral.

  20. wayofthemaster 04/03/2011 at 3:35 PM #

    If Mack goes pro, which is a possibility considering the tournament he’s having, then we know Stevens TRULY loves Butler.

    Without Mack and Howard, and Vanzant and Hahn, that team will be lucky to make the tournament next season.

  21. eas 04/03/2011 at 3:36 PM #

    I would hire sales manager A, unless the company is on the verge of shutting down and sales manager B’s client is large enough to save jobs/company. Since that is not the case I would prefer manager A all day long.

    I know Shaka was on the radar before the tourney but there is absolutely no way he was on the radar of big schools without the run. Absolutely no way. Not saying I am against hiring him but I do think this would be a back up plan hire. If I were a big donor I would have a hard time giving my money to someone without a longer history of building programs. However, I am broke and my opinion means nothing, so I will support whomever we hire (minus Cronin and Cali).

  22. wayofthemaster 04/03/2011 at 3:37 PM #

    Butler was on the bubble for much of this season.

    It started 4-4 and then lost four of five in January to stand at 6-5 in the Horizon and 14-9 overall.

  23. hball57 04/03/2011 at 3:56 PM #

    “If this was your corporation and you had to please the board of directors and the share holders. Your choice to lead your company is the sales manager from company A. This manager has provided steady growth, profits and built a support team to take on the giant in your industry. Or you have a choice of sales manager B who has been in his position for 2 years. He has provided average performance, but just landed a major new customer away from the giant. Who do you hire?”

    You make an interesting analogy, but I don’t think it’s a valid one. Corporations don’t (or shouldn’t) make changes to please their Board of Director’s or their shareholders. You make changes to produce success, which is all the share holders and Board of Directors are interested in. You choose who you think can make you successful. If you do that everyone is pleased.

  24. Butane 04/03/2011 at 4:53 PM #


    Still water runs deep. All is well.

  25. Big T 04/03/2011 at 5:06 PM #

    McKillop took Davidson to the Elite Eight, not the sweet sixteen. Nearly knocked off Kansas that year..one desperation shot from advancing. Kansas went on to beat UNC and Memphis for the title.

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