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Comparing the Resumes

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How Kevin Keatts’ Background Matches with Other Coaches

Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I currently teach an AP Comparative Politics class on the high school level. We look at 6 different countries and compare their history, governmental structure, politics and political culture. This is one of a few classes I’ve had in my near decade of teaching all the Social Studies courses that students have immersed themselves in the actual content. Why is that? We are naturally inclined to find the similarities and differences in things to make sense of the world around us. This is no different in sports and especially college athletics.

Outside of the defensive numbers which have been discussed and debated here perfectly with technical precision, the only other major question about Kevin Keatts is his lack of experience as a head coach on the college level. Most of our other highly regarded POPAS candidates had significant years of experience or spent time at more than one stop as a head coach. Even runner-up, the youngster Will Wade, had only 4 years of head coaching experience but was at 2 separate programs compared to Keatts’ 3 solely at UNCW. So I thought it’d be fun to take a basic look at guys with similar resumes as Keatts. For that purpose I chose to include his most notable qualifications: his time as an assistant under Rick Pitino & his tenure at Wilmington. So we are looking at those who have had under 5 years (only seeing 1 full recruiting class graduate or less) as head coach at just one mid-major school and previously served as an assistant under a National Championship coach all before transitioning to the head job at the high-major level.

Anthony Grant

First Mid-Major Head Coaching Tenure:

VCU (2006-09) 45-9 in conference; 76-25 overall; 3 CAA titles; 2 NCAA appearances; 59 KP avg

First High-Major Head Coaching Record :

Alabama (2009-15) 54-49 in conference; 117-85 overall

Notable Accomplishments Post-Mid Major:

1 SEC division title; 1 NCAA Appearence

Current Status:

Head Coach at University of Dayton (2017- )

Similarities to Kevin Keatts Resume

Both Keatts & Grant have significant experience as head coaches on the lower level before college. They also were instrumental in helping Louisville & Florida reach a national title under coaches Rick Pitino & Billy Donovan respectively. Interesting that both also spent very short tenures as assistants at Marshall as well. Both took over mid-major programs that had missed postseason play the year prior to their arrival.

Differences from Kevin Keatts Resume

Keatts’ time at Hargrave (a prep school, not a high school) was more extensive than Grant’s time in Miami. Grant spent more time as an assistant under Donovan and also had more assistant coaching positions. Also, Grant’s 59 KP avg is much better than Keatts’ 105 at their mid-major. Yet note that Keatts took over a UNCW program with 6 straight years of losing records while VCU at least had winning records in the few years before Grant arrived.

Analysis

While there are a number of distinct and odd similarities in their resumes (We Are Marshall?), one thing stands out as a primary difference. Keatts turned around a UNCW program that had hit hard times under both Buzz Peterson & Benny Moss. Although his stint at ‘Bama is worrisome in comparison, it’s at least worth a mention that Grant took over one of the toughest jobs in high-major college basketball at Alabama in terms of recruiting, fan interest and history. Our job is infinitely better than ‘Bama so if Keatts ends up with Grant-level results, we’ll be looking at another POAPS in 5 years or so.

Mike Anderson

First Mid-Major Head Coaching Tenure:

UAB (2003-06) 42-20 in conference; 89-41 overall; 1 C-USA title; 1 Sweet Sixteen; 3 NCAAs; 57 KP avg

First High-Major Head Coaching Record :

Missouri (2006-11) 43-37 in conference; 111-57 overall

Notable Accomplishments Post-Mid Major:

1 Big 12 title; 1 Elite Eight; 5 NCAA Appearances

Current Status:

Head Coach at University of Arkansas (2011- )

Similarities to Kevin Keatts Resume

Both took over mid-major programs that had a losing record and immediately improved them. Both also took their programs to the postseason in the first year of their career. Not listed in these cold hard facts but it’s notable that they run a similar style of play on the court.

Differences from Kevin Keatts Resume

Keatts has his time at Hargrave to lean on but Anderson spent many more years as an assistant under Nolan Richardson’s dominate Arkansas squads. Anderson’s years at UAB show a much higher KP rating average than Keatts (57 to 105). Anderson also was able to take UAB into the 2nd weekend of the NCAAs during his time there. Again Anderson came into a much easier situation than Keatts as in, only a few years prior, UAB had both winning records and an NCAA appearance under Murray Bartow.

Analysis

Anderson found a ton of success at Mizzou turning that program around with a conference title and a deep tourney run. He also may have remained at Mizzou if his dream job at Arkansas didn’t open up. While it was tough sledding at first, he’s made strides there and was only a couple of “strange” calls this year from defeating U*NC and boasting at least Sweet Sixteen. Anderson has shown himself to be a solid coach that has improved a couple of tough situations. Yet if Keatts and he end up with comparable results we’ll be just as mediocre as we’ve been for the majority of the past 15 years.

Tubby Smith

First Mid-Major Head Coaching Tenure:

Tulsa (1991-95) 52-20 in conference; 79-43 overall; 2 MVC titles; 2 Sweet Sixteens; 2 NCAAs; No KP avg available

First High-Major Head Coaching Record:

Georgia (1996-2015) 19-13 in conference; 45-19 overall

Notable Accomplishments Post-Mid Major:

1 National title; 7 SEC titles; 4 Elite Eights; 7 Sweet Sixteens; 16 NCAAs

Current Status:

Head Coach at Memphis (2016- )

Similarities to Kevin Keatts Resume

Both coached below the college level for significant periods of time. Both also spent time as assistants at another school before arriving to UK & Louisville. Obviously both coached under Rick Pitino. Each took their mid-major to 2 NCAAs winning multiple conference titles at that stop.

Differences from Kevin Keatts Resume

Tubby was able to get into the second weekend twice while at Tulsa. Yet Tubby took over a program that had been to the post-season twice prior to his arrival and missed it altogether his first two years there. Keatts won a National Championship under Pitino while Tubby just helped build UK back to that high level it’s mostly maintained since.

Analysis

Tubby didn’t stay at Georgia very long but he did lead an inconsistent program to 2 NCAA appearances and a Sweet Sixteen. UK was a job he couldn’t turn down and went on to get a championship there while consistently winning the conference and making runs into the second weekend. Since then he has been slightly above average at tough jobs (Minnesota, Texas Tech) but still has those glory days to lean on. Safe to say if Keatts had the results from his time at Georgia to his time at UK we wouldn’t be running him out of town as the Wildcats did. I’d even bet that if our subsequent results looked more like Tubby’s recent records, we’d still be constructing the Kevin Keatts statue out on Coach’s Corner.

Billy Donovan

First Mid-Major Head Coaching Tenure:

Marshall (1994-96) 18-10 in conference; 45-20 overall; 1 Southern division title; No KP avg available

First High-Major Head Coaching Record:

Florida (1996-2015) 202-109 in conference; 467-186 overall

Notable Accomplishments Post-Mid Major:

2 National titles; 7 SEC titles; 4 Final Fours; 7 Elite Eights; 8 Sweet Sixteens; 14 NCAAs

Current Status:

NBA Head Coach at Oklahoma City Thunder (2015- )

Similarities to Kevin Keatts Resume

Both took over mid-major programs that had a losing record and immediately improved them. Both served under Rick Pitino at different times in his career. Both were coaches at Marshall.

Differences from Kevin Keatts Resume

Keatts took UNCW to the post-season and while Donovan was successful at Marshall, in two years they never made it further than their regular season. Keatts won a national title as an assistant to Pitino while Donovan was there during a Final Four run. Also, Donovan was an assistant a little longer than Keatts (5 years to 3 years) under Rick. Donovan was significantly younger than Keatts when he received his first head coaching gig (28 to 40).

Analysis

Donovan is the gold standard for hiring a former protégé of a Hall-of-Fame coach that has minimal experience at a low major. Outside of a Final Four run a couple year prior to Donovan, UF was in similar shape as State is now. In the years before Billy D arrive Lon Kruger’s Gators could only boast 2 NCAA trips, a division title, with that aforementioned Final Four. In the year prior to Donovan, they had a losing record and missed the post-season altogether. Donovan came in to a conference that had a national champion in UK, HOF coach Nolan Richardson at Arkansas, and an emerging Tennessee but after 2 years he was winning the conference, had them making deep runs in the NCAA and eventually brought Florida 2 titles. Not every coach is Billy Donovan but if Keatts leaves NC State with the results Billy D has had then he’d be canonized.

Closing

Some may notice that there are coaches that fit this (admittedly specific) criteria. And it was unintentional but this analysis seems to mostly center on the Pitino coaching tree (i.e. Richard Pitino could’ve easily been profiled). Obviously Herb Sendek (another Pitino branch) & Mark Gottfried are examples of guys who were assistants for National Championship coaches and spent a brief time at mid-majors before moving on to bigger things but we already know how their tenures’ turned out. The point is that it’s all relative. While there are vast similarities here among all these guys and Keatts’ resume, there is no way to tell how his tenure will end up. One noted example is Keatts happens to be much older in his first major job than everyone profiled, which could be a positive or a negative depending on how you look at it. Who knows what’s next? We could see an Anthony Grant flame out, some level of a Mike Anderson-ish status quo or we could finally reach our dream to have at least a young Tubby Smith if not a Billy Donovan on the sidelines.

I tell my class that making comparisons between countries is definitely fun. So while we can discern their pasts, and analyze their present, ultimately what we do is only a starting point for their future. For them and State fans alike, we’ll just have to see what that holds, won’t we?