Unless you’re at one of about 20 top schools in the country hiring a head coach is similar to recruiting. You go find the best one you can and hope they’re a good fit.
Using that logic I’m going to rate each of the coaching hires with a star rating from 1 to 5. It’s hard to be a 1-star coaching hire, few coaches have ever lost the opening press conference. Some schools though have taken an interesting route this season. Here’s a look at the new hires of seven schools I feel qualified to common on in alphabetical order.
Army: Jimmy Allen – 4 stars
After a stellar senior class took Army to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Zach Spiker jumped for the CAA and a job at Delaware. Army decided to keep the continuity of some of the best basketball in its history by hiring Allen, who spent the past six seasons on the bench at West Point. This seems like the logical continuation. Allen’s challenge will be rebuilding the roster and finding a way to take Army to its first ever NCAA tournament.
Central Connecticut State University: Donyell Marshall – 4.5 stars
The Howie Dickenman era at CCSU ended with a thud as the Blue Devils finished the 2015-16 season as the worst team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. Marshall has nowhere to go but up. He comes with a ton of pedigree. After being the fourth overall pick out of Connecticut Marshall went on to score more than 10,000 points in the NBA before moving into coaching. He has been a quickly rising star ever since with stops at George Washington, the D-League, Rider and Buffalo. The Broncs in particular had quite a bit of success while Marshall was an assistant there.
During the offseason Marshall was rumored as a potential assistant at a number of high-major schools, but he ultimately decided to take on the challenge of rebuilding the Blue Devils into an NEC contender. Because this is Marshall’s first stop as a head coach it’s impossible to know how he’ll perform, but his success in previous stops and Connecticut background seems to bode quite well for the future.
Columbia: Jim Engles – 5 stars
When Kyle Smith headed back West to take the head coaching job at the University of San Francisco there was one ultra-logical head coaching hire for Columbia to make. The Lions did and have the potential to continue the best run of play in school history. Engles is an excellent fit at CU for a number of reasons. One is that his style of play on the offensive end should fit excellently with the talented youngsters still on the roster. Also, as an assistant at Columbia and then the head coach at NJIT Engles has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the New York City area. He completely rebuilt a Highlanders squad that had trouble getting games against Division I opponents, eventually defeating nationally ranked Michigan and making the final four of the CIT the past two seasons. Engles knows the Ivy League well having coached at CU from 2003-08 as an assistant and he’s never had a coaching job outside of the northeast. The cupboard isn’t bare at Columbia so there’s some pressure on Engles to at least make the brand new Ivy League tournament next season, but Peter Pilling found the best guy for the job.
New Jersey Institute of Technology: Brian Kennedy – 4 stars
Engles leaving obviously left a void in Newark, but NJIT moved quickly to fill it by hiring his longtime assistant Brian Kennedy. Kennedy has family ties to the Hoop Group Network and had been on the bench beside Engles since 2012. Kennedy’s uncle Pat was a collegiate head coach for 31 years. Considering how much talent NJIT has coming back next season there’s a chance that the Highlanders could make quite a splash in the Atlantic Sun in 2017.
Rutgers: Steve Pikiell – 3 stars
The Eddie Jordan experiment didn’t work. The Scarlet Knights finished last season 7-25 and needed to beat Minnesota on the final day of the regular season to avoid finishing winless in Big Ten play. Rutgers was by far the worst major conference team in America last season. That’s all to say that Steve Pikiell has a long climb in front of him and it’s going to be difficult. Pikiell of course rebuilt the Stony Brook program and finally took the Seawolves to their first ever NCAA tournament appearance this season. He was able to recruit and develop such mid-major studs as Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy. Moving up to the Big Ten means that Pikiell won’t be able to finish off teams just by recruiting at a level way above the league he’s playing in. Instead he’ll need to figure out some sort of gameplan that maximizes the talent he can convince to come to New Brunswick. Early returns suggest that Pikiell does know what he’s up against, as he’s worked hard to construct a staff that should be able to recruit top talent. But it’s going to be quite the challenge.
Stony Brook: Jeff Boals – 2.5 stars
I’m skeptical about this hire. On one hand, Boals was an assistant under one of the best head coaches in college basketball that past seven years with Thad Matta at Ohio State. On the other hand, Stony Brook had the opportunity to keep program continuity and decided completely against it and went with a coach who has never been a head coach and has spent most of his career in the Midwest. Boals was dealt a rough hand this week when one of the players remaining on the SBU roster was charged with grand larceny along with one of his senior teammates. Considering how much the Seawolves have to replace this might take a long time to shake out. Boals certainly has potential, but it’s far from a sure thing.
University of Maryland-Baltimore County: Ryan Odom – 3 stars
Looking for a fresh start, UMBC went to the Division II level and hired a head coach with a famous name. Odom is a little unproven, he was a head coach for just one season at Lenoir-Rhyne, but he plays a fun, up-tempo style of basketball and has southern roots that seem to separate him from former coaches who have tried and failed to revive the Retrievers program. UMBC finished 7-25 last season and lost to Stony Brook in the first round of the America East tournament with an incredibly young team. How much talent Odom can keep in Baltimore and how fast he can develop it will determine his immediate success.