It's Coaches Week on ESPN.com and today we're going conference by conference to rank the best and worst coaching jobs, as voted on by 14 of our writers and television analysts.
A few important notes: This is not an attempt to rank the programs or their histories. A school's tradition was taken into account of course, but more emphasis was given to recent years and how hard or easy it is for a new coach to win there. Current recruits don't remember much beyond, what, 2008?
When voting, our 14 panelists were asked to take into consideration facilities, expectation level, athletic budget, wins and losses, recruiting base, fan support/pressure and all of the other factors that go into determining the "best" jobs in the ever-crazy profession of college basketball coaching.
In short: If you were an agent and every single job was open in a particular conference, where would you direct your client? Where would you tell him to avoid if there are better options?
There's no right or wrong answer of course. These rankings are very much up for debate, and we're sure you'll do so in the comments section. But at the very least, this polling of 14 people clued into the inner workings of college basketball offers a glimpse into how the coaching position at your favorite school is perceived on the national scene.
(Editor's Note: Realignment makes the college landscape a confusing one these days, but for the purposes of this poll, panelists were asked to vote based on what each conference would look like for the 2012-13 season.)
1. UCLA: This job might have lost some of its luster in recent years, but it’s still the best in the Pac-12 and one of the top gigs in America. UCLA’s legacy, established with 11 national titles, has been preserved through its ongoing success. This coming season -- with the help of the nation’s top recruiting class -- UCLA should regain its perch atop the Pac-12. It’s an easy sell for recruits. Sure, L.A. can be a tough scene for a losing team. But when the Bruins are winning, there’s always a great vibe in Pauley Pavilion. A refurbished Pauley won't hurt. Few drawbacks of running this program.
2. Arizona: Like UCLA, the past few years don’t define the lure of this post. The Wildcats added another top-10 recruiting class in 2012, proof that elite players still view Tucson as a top destination. A new practice facility is just another asset the program can use to lure players to the program Lute Olson built. Sellout crowds are the norm. The Wildcats haven’t won the national championship since 1997, but they’ve managed to assemble squads that contend. Sean Miller makes more than $2 million per year, and he’s earned it by re-assembling the program with talented recruiting classes. He’s in a good spot.
3. Washington: The Huskies have managed to create a niche in the Pac-12, accruing NBA-level players and competing against the Pac-12’s best. Retention has been an issue for U-Dub, but it will continue to draw top players based on the reputation that Lorenzo Romar has established during his tenure. The state’s top school has access to an underrated market in Seattle, where numerous current and soon-to-be NBA players were raised. There’s certainly viable competition nearby with the other Pacific Northwest schools, including Gonzaga, pursuing the same talent. But Romar has a good job that offers the tools necessary to build a program.
4. California: The school’s academic standards limit the pool of players it can recruit. But the Bay Area has a decent recruiting scene, and the Bears are just six hours away from Los Angeles, where Pac-12 all-conference performer and Cal wing Allen Crabbe was raised. Cal, however, has to fight off UCLA, Arizona and other national powers for L.A.’s best. But it’s managed find its own space within the Pac-12 and earn multiple NCAA tourney bids in recent years. The school’s commitment to basketball was exemplified by the completion of the $57.5 million Haas Pavilion in 1999. Fan support hasn’t been great, but the pros outweigh the cons for the position currently occupied by Mike Montgomery.
5. Oregon: The first problem with this job is that you have to coach on that hideous floor. But there are certainly some benefits, too. See: Nike and money. When Phil Knight, Nike’s chairman, loves your program, you get trinkets such as the $227 million Matthew Knight Arena, which opened last year. But that booster power has led some to believe that Knight yields a little too much power. In 2010, the eligibility of a few players was questioned during an NCAA investigation related to illegal benefits. But young players love fancy stuff -- and Oregon has a lot of fancy items to lure talented players. The Ducks have struggled recently, but they’ll always invest in basketball with Knight in the background. That’s a plus for any coach, including Dana Altman, who signed a 7-year, $12.6 million contract when he arrived in 2010.
6. Stanford: In 1998, Stanford reached the Final Four, so it can be done. The program has to identify players that can meet its rigid academic standards, but with its mediocre success in recent years, there’s never a guarantee that they’ll choose the Cardinal. Still, there’s comfort for a head coach who knows his athletes will be equally invested scholastically. It’s a West Coast school that tries to hold its own in the Pac-12 each year. Maples Pavilion buzzes for big games, and the Cardinal continues to balance its identity as the Pac-12’s leading brainiac.
7. USC: The stain of the recent sanctions stemming from O.J. Mayo’s first and only year with the school left a mark. The Trojans vacated every win from the 2007-08 campaign as a result. That was just another barrier for a program that’s dwarfed by USC football and basketball power UCLA. But the Trojans are in Los Angeles, where a multitude of elite prospects reside. So there’s always potential for growth. But it’s still a tough position with all of the competition and the negative perception of the program created by the recent scandal. The program has a beautiful, fairly new arena ... but does anyone care?
8. Colorado: The Buffaloes compete in a conference that consists of West Coast schools. It just doesn’t fit with the rest. Sure, you can get lucky and grab a top-50 recruit or two, but the program lacks the constant stream of West Coast talent that its league’s superiors possess. A new practice facility should be a draw for prospects, and Tad Boyle has done a nice job on the recruiting trail so far. And last season’s Pac-12 tournament title and NCAA appearances could be a boost, too. Still, competing for the league’s title each year could be an ongoing challenge.
9. Arizona State: Well, right now, this is one of the worst jobs in the country. Instability has plagued the program since its last NCAA tourney bid in 2009. Multiple players, including former standout Trent Lockett, have decided to transfer. Herb Sendek is on the hot seat after accruing 22 wins in the past two seasons. That’s only hindered any hopes of catching up with in-state rival Arizona, a program back on the rise. It’s definitely one of the league’s worst jobs right now.
10. Utah: Here’s the bright side. Utah has achieved the financial gains it anticipated with a move to the Pac-12. But its 3-15 league record last season showcased the chasm between Utah and Pac-12’s best. Luring top prospects to Salt Lake City is a difficult task. And conference affiliation only goes so far. But Utah has signed NBA-level players in the past that have fueled its 27 individual NCAA tournament runs. Right now, however, the Utes seem so far from their Pac-12 peers.
11. Oregon State: This is a tough position for many reasons. You’re not the top priority in the region. Oregon is stronger in almost every category we were asked to base this on. Craig Robinson, and future program leaders, face an uphill battle selling recruits on the Beavers. The program was a power in the 80s, but the school has faced a multitude of budgetary problems in recent years, and OSU hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1990.
12. Washington State: The worst job in the Pac-12 earned that reputation with its ongoing struggles to rise in the standings. The Cougars had some success under the Bennetts, but with just six NCAA tournament bids, the program is still searching for ways to break through and compete in the Pac-12. That’s a tough task with in-state schools Gonzaga and Washington succeeding in recent years. It’s No. 2 to football and rarely registers on the national radar. Not a great job.
-- Team blurbs written by Myron Medcalf