Barring a surprise, the ACC coaching carousel is closed for another season, and the big winner is ... Virginia Tech?! Looks that way right now.
Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Head coaching experience: seven years (one at New Orleans, six at Marquette)
Postseason history: five NCAA tournament appearances (one E8, two S16)
Head coaching record: 153-86 (.635), 8-5 NCAAT
On the surface, absolutely nothing makes sense about Williams' move from Marquette to Virginia Tech. He was making upwards of $3 million per year at a program with good history and strong support, and a little over 12 months ago, he was getting the Eagles ready for an Elite Eight game. It was a good gig:
At more than $260,000 per player per year, Marquette spends more on men's basketball than any school in the country except Duke. At $2.8 million a season, Williams was drawing a top-10 salary. The Golden Eagles stay in five-star hotels and little expense is spared on the coach during recruiting trips.
He's getting good money from Tech ($18 million over seven years), but he's nonetheless taking a pay cut in Blacksburg.
Despite the hiccup that was this past season, Williams had a stable, winning program at Marquette, and his success on his own terms after replacing Tom Crean proved he could handle the pressure of a major-conference program.
He had opportunities in the past to take much better jobs than the one Virginia Tech offers, but sometimes circumstances come together perfectly. The Big East imploded, the Eagles had a down year, and Williams reportedly already had a tenuous relationship with the Marquette administration. Given those circumstances, I'm not surprised Williams would be inclined to hit the eject button--but good lord did he mash that sucker with urgency, what with opting for Virginia Tech and such.
Williams' personality will create some challenges for Virginia Tech, but what a holy-shit-let's-go-get-drunk slam-dunk hire by the Hokies. If there were Tech fans with reservations, they should be feeling much better after seeing what Boston College and Wake Forest did with their openings.
Jim Christian, Boston College
Head coaching experience: 12 years (six at Kent State, four at TCU, two at Ohio)
Postseason history: two NCAA tournament appearances, four NIT appearances, one CIT appearance, one CBI appearance
Head coaching record: 236-152 (.607), 0-2 NCAAT
Boston College could have used a hire with a least a smidge of buzz around it to prod its dormant fan base, if nothing else. Instead, the Eagles opted to go with an experienced but unknown mid-major coach, and one that hasn't been in the NCAA tournament since 2008.
The Christian hiring at least shows that BC's priorities are not misplaced, in one sense--the goal ain't to nab the guy who'll roll up on a motorcycle, crack some jokes, and turn the first press conference into a pep rally. Those things help fans heal, at least temporarily, but you could roll off countless cases where that stuff just hid a larger mistake. There are no such pretenses here.
The trouble is that Christian is going to have to create his own energy within a fan base left mostly dead and wholly skeptical by the Steve Donahue era. The artificial excitement isn't there, and Christian may well be buried under another heaping of losses before he ever gets a shot at generating any real optimism. I suspect he'll get the benefit of the doubt early on, and he's owed that much. How much patience does he have to work with, though? That's where having a little sizzle helps--it extends the honeymoon, however you might want to define it.
Steve Addazio wasn't exactly a sexy hire, though, and that seems to be going okay for BC. The question is whether or not Christian can find the basketball-equivalent to that success (NIT?) straightaway. This much seems fairly clear about Christian: he is capable of maintaining the winning ways of successful programs, which he did at both Kent State and more recently at Ohio. He didn't quite match the success of his immediate predecessors in those cases, but he kept the programs among their respective leagues' best. He failed in his lone rebuilding attempt, though that was at TCU, so I'm not sure we should bother counting that.
Clearly, going this route wasn't the best way to create a surge of season ticket sales heading into next season. I would've liked to see the Eagles take a calculated risk more along the lines of the one Wake Forest is taking, but that's not to say Christian can't eventually prove to be a shrewd addition.
Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Head coaching experience: two years (both at Tulsa)
Postseason history: one NCAA tournament appearance, one CBI appearance
Head coaching record: 38-29 (.567), 0-1 NCAAT
The first step to every coaching search these days is, of course, to give Shaka Smart a call. By all accounts, Ron Wellman did that and got the same answer Smart has given to everybody who has inquired about his availability over the last few seasons.
Wellman's job seems to hinge on this hire, so it would have been understandable if, after moving on from Smart, he chose to hedge on a relatively safe pick. Ben Howland has been sitting by the phone for weeks just waiting on a call from somebody. There's probably 20 Jim Christians out there at any given time. He could have looked right down the road to LeVelle Moton, who did an incredible job at NC Central this season.
Instead, he's gambling on Manning, who has only been a head coach for a couple of years. This is the kind of gamble I can get behind. If this works out for Wake, it could work out huge, and in any case, it's hard to imagine Manning being worse than Jeff Bzdelik.
I won't be surprised if Manning is good on the recruiting trail, it's just his short coaching track record that lends itself to worry. What little is there is encouraging: his Tulsa team improved during his second season, and he also spent a half decade working for Bill Self, which isn't a bad way to learn the ropes.
Wellman's betting that's enough to prepare Manning for a major-conference job and I think there's a pretty good chance he's right. If not, I'll just come back in a few years and delete all this.