Profile Of A Possible Savior: Mark Gottfried

Mark Gottfried is our guy, but is he our savior?

Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:

1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?

Not really. He was an assistant at UCLA for a long time and was there when they won the national championship in the '90s. He was a big part of their recruiting efforts, but as far as guiding a lot success in the tournament himself, that hasn't happened. His Murray State teams made the tournament two out of three years but never made it out of the first round. At Alabama he took the Crimson Tide to five NCAAs and made it out of the first weekend just once. But Alabama's Elite Eight appearance under Gottfried is the only E8 appearance in the program's history.

His Alabama teams did make regular appearances in the rankings. They were in the preseason AP top 25 five times, cracked the top five in three different seasons, and finished ranked twice (once in the top 10). And as has been noted a lot in the last couple of days, the Tide reached #1 in 2003. From 2001 to 2007 (seven seasons), Alabama spent 82 weeks in the AP Poll (out of 126 possible).

Murray State finished the year in the top 25 once during his tenure, something the program has done just twice in its history.

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?

No. At Murray State he was simply continuing the program's run of recent success, much like what Sean Miller did with Xavier. The Racers were OVC heavyweights by the time Gottfried arrived; they'd made five NCAA tournament appearances in the eight seasson prior to his arrival, and they won the league regular season or tournament title in seven of those eight years. Gottfried kept the ball rolling, winning a regular season and/or tournament title in each of his three seasons, and as mentioned, he made two NCAA appearances.

Alabama was more of a rebuild, but wasn't a huge undertaking. In fact, Alabama pre-Gottfried looks a bit like NC State pre-Gottfried, though his predecessor at Bama was better than Sid Lowe.

1995: 23-10 (10-6; NCAAT)

1996: 19-13 (9-7; NIT)

1997: 17-14 (6-10)

1998: 15-16 (6-10)

They'd become afterthoughts in the SEC but weren't totally lifeless.

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?

He did, yes. His first two seasons at Alabama were struggles, though he did take the team to the NIT in his first year. He began to turn the corner in his third season; that team missed the NCAAs but finished 25-11 (8-8), which at least got them back into the conversation. In year four (2002) the Crimson Tide were back atop the SEC and in the NCAAs; the school's 12-4 league record took the regular season crown.

That 2002 NCAA appearance was the Tide's first since 1995. They were ranked in 2001 for the first time since 1997. Their regular season SEC title was their first since 1987.

For whatever reason, though, he couldn't sustain that success and keep the program moving forward. Alabama missed the NCAAs in his last three seasons.

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

Yes.

5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

Yes. Both. He worked as an assistant at UCLA from 1987 to 1995 and was head coach at Alabama from 1998 to 2009.

6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

N/A.

7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

Not so much, no, and this is a serious red flag. KenPom data goes back to 2003, which encompasses his final seven seasons at Alabama, and only once in that time did his team finish in the top 50 in defensive efficiency (right at #50). I explained a couple of their defensive issues in my post about tempo yesterday, namely that they had issues forcing turnovers and rebounding the ball defensively.

This sound familiar?

He'll have to light a fire under a program that went 86-78 under Lowe, including 25-55 in the ACC. That'll be a challenge because lighting a fire under his players wasn't considered one of Gottfried's strengths at Alabama.

Crimson Tide fans remember a head coach who'd lost his way, whose program had slipped after five straight NCAA trips for various reasons, including inconsistent effort and sporadic interest in defense.

8. Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?

Absolutely. He signed four Burger Boys while at Alabama (JaMychal Green, Richard Hendrix, Maurice Williams, Gerald Wallace), all four of of whom were consensus top-20 kids. The school had signed just five McDonald's All-Americans prior to Gottfried's efforts, and none since 1989. All told, Gottfried signed 21 top 100 kids during his 11 years at Alabama.

Using Scout.com's recruiting archives, I looked at seven of his classes (2002-2008). Over that span, he signed three 5-star recruits and 11 4-star recruits (those numbers include the McD A-As mentioned above). According to StatSheet, he brought in eight top-25 recruiting classes while at Alabama.

9. Does he run the Princeton offense?

No. He runs what is called the UCLA High Post Offense, which was developed by John Wooden. Wikipedia offers some info and links:

The UCLA High Post Offense is flexible in its ability to use the strengths of most players on the floor. This man-to-man offense is designed to take full advantage of a center with good passing, shooting and one-on-one skills out of the high post, but it can also take advantage of the post up abilities of either guard and forward. It is commonly run out of the 2-2-1, 4-out/1-in set (also known as a two-guard front), but can also be initiated out of a 1-4 set with a variety of entries. The two-guard front keeps the pressure off a team's playmaker from having the ball in his hands all the time, as well as allowing the offense to be initiated from either side of the floor and giving either guard an opportunity to run the side-post game.

Pack Insider has some good stuff on this subject as well.

While his defensive track record is iffy, his offenses have been excellent: 35th in offensive efficiency in 2003, 16th in 2004, 8th in 2005, 19th in 2006, 31st in 2007, 50th in 2008, 103rd in 2009. That's a better string of success than Herb Sendek had here, and Herb's Princeton outfits were good.

In general, Gottfried's offenses rebounded well and took at least decent care of the ball. They posted effective field goal percentages over 50.0 five straight years from 2003 through 2009. They were never overly reliant on the three-pointer, preferring to take them at about the NCAA average rate. There was one year where 37% of their attempts were from three, but that's an exception and no doubt more about the makeup of that roster than philosophy.

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?

If you count the fact that he has known Debbie Yow for decades, then sure. Aside from that, the answer is no. Gottfried was born in Ohio and went to school at Alabama. His coaching stops have been documented. He's been in the region, and recruited across it, for a long time, but he's had no association with the ACC.

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

He's been out of coaching since he resigned from Alabama in January of 2009. It's not often that college basketball coaches leave in the middle of the season, and there was a little controversy surrounding his departure. Specifically, there were rumors that he had relations with Alabama co-ed and that said relations were part of the reason for his departure. These rumors were never proven.

But this is the lady in question. And this is her sorority.

Summary:

Will he be better than Herb?

I wish I could say yes confidently. If his recruiting goes as well here as it did at Alabama, I think he's a good bet to at least match Herb's peak seasons. If he has learned from his past mistakes and adjusted his approach in beneficial ways, if his coaching staff proves solid, then it's certainly possible for him to exceed the Herb-line.

Would he take the job if offered?

And how!

How do I feel about the hire?

I don't love it, I don't hate it. I had started to panic after reading Yow's letter on Monday, so in a way I'm very happy to have Gottfried. I'd been fearing the worst. Instead we got a coach with a lot of experience at the high-major level, a guy with a solid history of success, and a guy who is still young. I like his recruiting rep. He's better than Sidney Lowe, and he will therefore make the program better.

How does the fan base as a whole feel?

It's a loooong way down from the A-list to the Mark Gottfrieds of the world, and it doesn't even matter if Barnes or Donovan were ever serious candidates. Once those rumors start they infest everything, and expectations naturally begin to soar regardless of what is suggested by reality. That's working against Gottfried. Everyone was disappointed to some extent. But I think a lot of folks are coming around, or at least willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. How long the grace period lasts, I wouldn't dare guess. Tom O'Brien had the benefit of a track record of consistent success that bought him all sorts of time; Gottfried, on the other hand, has a high-profile failure on his resume. If he struggles for 2-3 years, that's not going to help mitigate doubts.

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