Take Two: Best coaching hires?

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
10:23
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Editor’s note: Each week, ESPN.com writers will debate a topic of interest in the college basketball landscape. Today’s topic: Which teams made the best coaching hires?

Dana O'Neil: Illinois' John Groce

He wasn’t the first choice. He might not have been the fifth choice (I frankly lost count) and maybe he still isn’t the popular choice.

That’s fine. I still believe John Groce is the right and best choice for Illinois.

Here’s the thing, Illinois fans: I hate to be harsh but your perception of the job and the reality of it are not exactly in the same city limits. Right now, Illinois is not an easy gig, so it would be a calculable -- and probably foolish -- risk for a Shaka Smart or a Brad Stevens to take the leap. I get that you have to ask. In fact, you, like every other BCS school, might be contractually obligated to at least float the offer by college basketball’s two It men.

But when the inevitable rejection is returned, the idea is to go for the best guy available. For Illinois, that’s Groce, a man who has made more than a decent impression in his tenure at Ohio, upsetting Georgetown two seasons ago in the NCAA tournament and taking the Bobcats to the Sweet 16 this past season. One more made free throw against North Carolina and we might have finished up March talking about Groce as the "next Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens."

Groce is smart, talented and perhaps most critical for Illinois: He’s a very good talent evaluator. Note, I didn’t say recruiter. Yes, he helped Thad Matta lure Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Deshaun Thomas to Ohio State, and recruiting those guys was huge, but it didn’t exactly take James Naismith to figure out they are talented.

Groce also found D.J. Cooper. Overlooked for virtually everyone else coming out of high school, Cooper is now on everyone’s wish list, so much so, in fact, there were reports that some schools might have violated tampering rules in an attempt to lure him into a transfer.

That’s what Illinois needs right now, a coach who can make inroads with top recruits and maybe find one that prefers a program "on the rise" to one that’s arrived, but also a coach who can find a few unexpected, overlooked future stars.

Oh, and by the way, Cooper is from Chicago.

Jason King: Colorado State's Larry Eustachy

Just when it looked as if Colorado State was poised to name Ernie Kent as its basketball coach, the Rams reversed course last month and hired Larry Eustachy.

It was about time somebody hired him.

Eustachy shouldn’t have had to spend eight seasons at Southern Miss before getting a better job. The alcohol issues (and photos of him drinking and partying with students), which led to Eustachy’s resignation at Iowa State in May 2003, were serious, to be sure.

The situation may have ruined Eustachy’s chances of ever landing another job in one of the six major conferences.

To me, that seems a bit extreme. Coaches have been given second chances after committing far worse acts, and a lot of them aren’t nearly as accomplished as Eustachy, who is clearly a new man after making some well-documented changes in his life off the court. The more I read about Eustachy, the more confident I am that his problems are in the past and that he’s completely focused on his job and winning basketball games.

He certainly did that at Southern Miss, where the Golden Eagles won 20 or more games in each of the past three seasons. He led the school to the NCAA tournament in 2012, which no doubt helped him land the Colorado State gig after Tim Miles bolted for Nebraska.

Kudos to the Rams for giving him a shot.

It may seem like eons ago, but Eustachy won two Big 12 titles at Iowa State -- not an easy task with Kansas in the league -- and also earned conference crowns at Utah State and Idaho.

He’s familiar with the Midwest and Western parts of the country, which will be advantageous in recruiting. And he’s inheriting a healthy program, so Eustachy should be able to pick up where Miles left off.

There were a ton of good hires this offseason. Frank Martin to South Carolina, Pat Kelsey to Winthrop, Bruce Weber to Kansas State and Larry Brown to SMU (yes, I actually liked that one) to name a few.

But I like the Eustachy hire the most, mainly because I like to see deserving coaches -- especially good ones -- get a second chance.

We all make mistakes. Eustachy has obviously learned from his.

Dana O'Neil | email

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