The Big 12 is incredibly difficult this season. 8 of the 10 teams are in KenPom's top 50 and 9 are in the top 100. The league's average Pythagorean rating of .8506 is by far the best in the country and is better than any other league since the Big 10 in 2011.
It should be no surprise, then, that the Big 12 is littered with good and great coaches. In fact, I don't think there is legitimately a bad coach in the bunch. Some who probably aren't right for their school, but none I would classify as bad without any modifiers.
I took to twitter (because that is what people do these days) to try to find the worst coach in the league, and name my ultimate winner (or loser, as it were).
First, the four guys who didn't get any votes and if they would have would have drawn my immediate ire and scorn:
1. Bill Self (Kansas)
Average KenPom rating: 7.31
Self is the best coach in the league, and even with how good the coaches in the league are, it's not all that close. He will finish this season ahead of Coach K's win pace, even if he won't coach long enough to break the record. There is a strong argument to be made that he's already the best coach in school history, regardless of sport.
2. Bob Huggins (West Virginia)
Average KenPom rating: 37.08
Huggins had a nice run at Cincinnati, recruited a lot of talent to Kansas State for a year, and then turned West Virginia into one of the most underrated programs of the decade. Huggins finished lower than 25th just once in Big East play, and while it has taken him a couple years to get things going in the Big 12, he is doing one of his best coaching jobs this season. Huggins has also shown a tremendous ability to adjust, with the 15th fastest tempo this season after being 235th just two years ago.
3. Lon Kruger (Oklahoma)
Average KenPom rating: 56.64
Kruger has NBA experience under his belt, and is the only coach to take 5 different programs to the NCAA tournament. Kruger took Florida to its first final four, took Kansas State to an Elite 8, and will get Oklahoma to the tournament for the third time in his four seasons there. Kruger's lone black mark on his resume is the fact that he's won just 1 conference title.
4. Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State)
Average KenPom rating: 39
The only thing keeping Hoiberg so "low" on this list is that this is just his fifth season on the job. He has struggled to recruit elite high school talent to Ames, but he has gotten an impressive list of transfers to suit up for him. Hoiberg is much more of an offensive coach than defensive, having finished in the top 100 defensively just twice, and he's finished last in the league as often as he's finished third. Still, Hoiberg is sought after by NBA teams for a reason, and he'll either have a successful pro coaching career, or a successful college one.
Everyone else in the league got at least one vote. I was planning to share all the votes while profiling the candidates, but some people listed multiple coaches in one tweet, so get ready for a deluge of tweets.
@rockchalktalk Travis Ford. Barnes comes a close 2nd but at least Barnes can recruit.— Matthew Gaylor (@MatthewGaylor) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Travis Ford— David (@kspen124) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk I'd thrown Tubby in the mix for same reason as Barnes - has history of doing less with more.— Ed Fox (@edfoxno2) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk If we're judging by right now and not on past performance, I think it's Tubby or Ford.— Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk has to be Ford. Give Weber + Tubby time since only been there 3 years. Drew has 3 sweet 16s in 5 years. Barnes has final 4.— Eric Grant (@EricGrant11) January 28, 2015
.@rockchalktalk Trent Johnson. The way they blew that game at West Virginia was ridiculous!— MrD (@UCITYJAYHAWK) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Travis Ford is the worst coach in the Big 12— Will (@W_Scofield_5) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Scott drew— Randy Elliott (@Ran_Tan_Texas) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk I’d probably go 1) Ford, 2) Drew, 3) Weber 4) T. Johnson But, do you mean program coach or in-game or plyr development?— Benjamin Winters (@SKCBensa) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Scott drew.— Daniel nelson (@RockchalkfanKU) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Ford. His teams look lost offensively. Underachieved w/ M. Brown and Smart. Roster often lacks legitimate depth.— Seth Krug (@Seth_Krug) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk travis ford but it might be Tubby at this point in his career. Lucked into ready made team 1st us at UK, never back to FF— Kevbo™©® (@kevbo9) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk This is a great question because honestly, I don't think the Big 12 really has a bad coach. Going with Drew or Ford though.— Derek Harberts (@dharberts) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Barnes and Drew can recruit, which factors in being "good" or "bad" as a coach. It's Travis Ford.— Ryan Landreth (@ryan_landreth) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Tubby Smith. He is Charlie Weising Texas Tech.— Bradley Hope (@Brad_Hope) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Rick Barnes— Isaac Henderson (@32_Ginger) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Rick Barnes.— Chase Hager (@ChaseMikeHager) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk in game coach? Travis Ford— Kevbo™©® (@kevbo9) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk flip a coin between Ford and Drew— HH57 (@HH57) January 28, 2015
@rockchalktalk Easily Ford.— Seth Krug (@Seth_Krug) January 28, 2015
When discussing coaching ability, there are three major areas by which to evaluate coaches. First is recruiting. A lot of people tend to underrate pure recruiters and say they can't coach or whatever. Sometimes that's true, but even if I don't think Calipari is the best in game coach or talent developer as a lot of basketball people do, he still gets the best players, which is why he wins.
Second is talent development. If you saw the Morris twins their freshman year and then their junior year, you realize how great Self is at turning raw material into excellent basketball players.
Last is Xs and Os and in game strategy. This can cover things like picking out the perfect time to deploy a zone defense or a triangle and 2, or mastering when to take guys out because of foul trouble, or knowing when to foul up 3 late. We can differ on the importance of the three traits, but I listed them in order of what I find to be most important. Lastly, while end of season KenPom ratings are great, and while process is obviously important (and honestly probably the most important) coaching is a results oriented business, so they need to be taken into account.
We can split the remaining six coaches into three categories:
Absolutely not the worst:
5. Rick Barnes (Texas)
Average KenPom rating: 25.85
Yes it's Rick Barnes who has the second best average KenPom finish in the Big 12. If you take out 2013, when the team finished 89th because Myck Kabongo and Jcovan Brown both unexpectedly left for the NBA, and Ioannis Papapetrou took a pro deal in Europe, his average rank rises to 20.58.
I (sort of) get why Barnes gets some heat. He only made it to the second round with Kevin Durant, he's had some really good recruiting classes but hasn't made a sweet 16 since 2008, he has had some great chances to take down Kansas but hasn't gotten it done (most notably 2011 when the Longhorns won at Allen Fieldhouse but lost 3 of their last 5 games), and the famous reason of "hey it's Texas and with all their money they should always be good."
Still, if Texas was such an easy place to win at someone would have before. Barnes is by far the best coach in school history, has made the NCAA tournament every year but 1 in Austin, and has over 400 career wins. He has a school record for most consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and most consecutive 20 win seasons. Texas might be able to hit a home run if they hire a new coach, but Texas fans should be careful what they wish for.
I can see the argument but still no
6. Scott Drew (Baylor)
Average KenPom rating: 84.75
Drew orchestrated one of the best turnarounds in NCAA history when he brought Baylor back from the brink. The argument for Drew is the revitalization of the program, and his pair of Elite 8s. The detractors could point to him finishing third or higher just twice. Drew is a fantastic test case for both the relative value of regular season and post season success, as well as the three factors of good coaching: Drew has brought in some good talent (Perry Jones, Isaiah Austin, etc.) developed and found some diamonds in the rough (see the years Rico Gathers and Kenny Chery have had under him) but does some weird stuff Xs and Os wise (see basically all of his decisions during the Kansas game).
In the end, I think Drew is probably the 6th or 7th best coach in the league. His strategic moves don't detract from the talent he gets to Waco, and some of the talent he develops. Still, he helped tank the draft stock of Perry Jones, has made the NIT final four more than the NCAA final four, and not that NCAA tournament results are a total crapshoot, but two Elite 8s can happen to a lot of coaches given the right matchups and shooting days. I would say Drew isn't as bad of a coach as most average joes think he is, but not as good as Baylor fans think he is either.
7. Trent Johnson (TCU)
Average KenPom rating: 111.21
Johnson has taken TCU from horrendous to respectable in just two seasons, and has brought in a couple good transfers and recruits, and with TCU situated in the heart of the Dallas area, his recruiting figures to pick up even more.
Johnson has been named coach of the year in three different conferences, and I bet he will add a fourth before he's done at TCU. Unlike Barnes, Johnson has never been at a place where he "should" win, so his records should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, if he were an upper echelon coach he probably would have a bigger job by now.
8. Travis Ford (Oklahoma State)
Average KenPom rating: 108.92
Ford's rating takes a big hit from his years at Eastern Kentucky, but he had good years at UMass and has been better than you'd think at Oklahoma State. Ford has recruited some impressive players to campus, such as LeBryan Nash and Marcus Smart, but has won just one NCAA tournament game at Oklahoma State, in his first season.
The counterargument is that perhaps Marcus Smart was a petulant child whom no one could coach, but I think it is pretty easy to make the argument he should have had more success with a trio of him, Nash, and Markel Brown. Still, Ford has consistently recruited talented players to Stillwater, Oklahoma State is a tough place to play at, and he has as many third place finishes in the Big 12 as Fred Hoiberg does.
9. Tubby Smith (Texas Tech)
Average KenPom rating: 33.61
Tubby saw immediate success at Kentucky, but after finishing as an 8 seed two years in a row he was fired and ended up taking the job at Minnesota. While he made the tournament in 3 of his 6 seasons in Minneapolis, he never finished above .500 in Big 10 play. Like Bruce Weber, Tubby had most of his success at a major conference job with someone else's players, and hasn't been able to live up to the early hype. Tech just misses out on having the worst coach in the league in both football and basketball by virtue of Smith having a tougher Big 10 job to coach and recruit to, and the tougher Big 12 one as well.
10. Bruce Weber (Kansas State)
Average KenPom rating: 35.69
Weber probably wins the underachiever award, as he's finished the seasons with nice KenPom ratings (more on why in a bit) but hasn't done much with it in terms of results. He went to the 2005 title game, but the giant elephant in the room with Weber is that he's a pretty poor recruiter, and has had his best seasons with other coaches' players. He was a 4 seed, 1 seed, and 5 seed with Self's players, but then made the tournament just three times in his final six seasons at Illinois, winning just one game. He took Frank Martin's players to a share of the Big 12 title and a 4 seed in his first season at K State (before losing to LaSalle), then went 10-8 in the Big 12 last year (losing in the first round) and will be fortunate to be that good this year. He also has a gigantic inferiority complex when he really should be proud of how he's somehow gotten the Illinois and Kansas State jobs without being able to recruit
Weber isn't a terrible in game coach, but he's a good example of how important getting talent in is. Weber isn't a bad coach, and it's probably unfair to judge his results against those of Bill Self and Frank Martin, but he's won just one NCAA tournament game with his own players (two if you want to count 2006), and the fact that I got so excited when Kansas State signed him to an extension (even though it was just a year) tells me something. Weber probably is best suited at a place like Southern Illinois where his lack of recruiting ability won't hurt him.