Next coaching generation: Reason to fret?

July, 20, 2011
7/20/11
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Editor's Note: A group of 15 head coaches from around the country were recently asked a series of questions by Dana O'Neil. Here are each coach's pick for best late-game strategist and smartest overall.

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Bruce Weber was 24 years old when he joined Gene Keady’s staff at Purdue University.

Wet behind the ears and eager to learn his trade, Weber did everything he was asked, and back then the NCAA rules allowed him to. He could recruit. He could coach. It was grueling and challenging and to Weber, the only way to understand what it takes to be a basketball coach.

[+] EnlargeBruce Weber
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireIllinois' Bruce Weber and others worry that young coaches are too focused on recruiting and not being groomed correctly.
Which is why now, Weber is a little worried. He doesn’t doubt the passion in the next generation of basketball coaches. Nor does he worry so much about their integrity.

It’s the experience that gives him pause.

“I’m sure my dad said the same thing about me when I was a kid, but I’m just worried that maybe we haven’t developed the guys like we used to do,’’ Weber said. “When you were a GA, you did it all. Now you have to start as a recruiting coordinator. So I’m worried to be honest.’’

He’s not alone. During last week's EYBL Peach Jam, ESPN.com surveyed 15 coaches on a wide variety of topics, including this simple question:

Do you trust the next generation of coaches to care for the future of college basketball?

Plenty did. Eight of the 15 said they had full faith in the next generation, with three more straddling the fence.

“Sean Miller, Brad Stevens, they’re such good men, so I do trust them,’’ said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, echoing the sentiments of many. “They’re so smart and so focused and they really do care, so I think we’re in very good hands.’’

But some coaches, including some whose opinions are often valued because of their own stature as the game’s elder statesmen, had reservations.

And the worries are similar to Weber’s: That the coaches of the next generation have been denied the chance to be schooled in their profession.

“I don’t have a lot of faith and that’s a shame,’’ Michigan State's Tom Izzo said. “I’m just not sure they’ve come up the right way and at the same time, we probably haven’t been the best mentors. Now you’ve got guys who are good recruiters and guys who are good coaches. Well, when you have your own team, you have to be both.’’

This isn’t just old worrywarts braying that the young whippersnappers don’t have what it takes. As the game becomes more and more of an arms race -- about collecting and even hoarding talent because he who has the most talent wins -- some even of the next generation worry that the emphasis has been misplaced.

“Too few coaches learn the right way,’’ Georgia’s Mark Fox said. “Do people know how to make men out of kids? I’m not sure. They know how to recruit. That’s where the emphasis is now and there’s too much emphasis there.’’

The catch is: how to fix it? For good reason, the NCAA cut back on how many coaches can actually be on the floor coaching during a practice and how many can recruit. Some schools were creating staffs as big as an army, so the NCAA made strict rules about staffing sizes and job descriptions.

Consequently, it has become equally difficult to cut your teeth as a young coach and to stay on as an old coach.

“You can’t afford to keep an older coach on your staff because he won’t necessarily recruit,’’ Weber said. “So there’s a lot of wisdom that’s missing.’’

But is it really that bad? Or is the generational shift merely that -- the gap between the end of one era and the beginning of another. Roy Williams will be 61 on Aug. 1. Mike Krzyzewski is 64, Jim Boeheim 66 and Jim Calhoun 69.

None are headed out to pasture, but certainly the current Mount Rushmore of college hoops is aging, and in their place is the shift, that of the next group growing into its new roles and finding its way.

“I think when you’re immature you make mistakes. You’re in a hurry,’’ new Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “Over time, you figure it out. As guys mature, things get better.’’

And there is, plenty of coaches argue, reason to be happy right now.

This Final Four showcased two of the brightest young coaches in the game -- a pair of 34-year-olds, Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart -- coaches who did come up from their bootstraps, who boost even the doubters’ sagging hopes.

“My worry is that the game is tilting to the very young and you need experience and you need beacons of light,’’ said 56-year-old Phil Martelli of St. Joseph's. “Having said that, I think every administration right now is endeavoring to find the next Brad Stevens and he is a beacon of light. If we have guys like him, we’re in great shape.’’

Dana O'Neil | email

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