At the Watercooler: Coaching jobs

Originally Published: June 7, 2012
ESPN.com

(Editor's note: On Wednesday, ESPN.com went conference by conference to rank the best and worst coaching jobs, based on the voting of a panel of 14 ESPN writers and analysts. After the lists were published, Myron Medcalf and Eamonn Brennan returned to the watercooler to discuss the subject. To rank your top 25, click here.)

Myron Medcalf: How's it going, Eamonn? It's been awhile. Trying to get out and enjoy the weather, play some bad golf and keep up with college basketball. Speaking of the latter, we've spurred a lot of chatter about the best jobs in the business with our Wednesday package on ESPN.com. The barbershops should thank us.

Eamonn Brennan: Greetings, Myron. Your offseason plan sounds remarkably similar to mine, although I must admit I have formally retired from golf. (One can spend only so much money, and post only so many plus-100 rounds, before one decides his time is better spent elsewhere.)

So, by way of explanation for the readers, here's what happened: All of us in the college hoops world at ESPN filled out ballots designed to order and rank the best and worst jobs throughout college basketball. We each had but one vote. So I'm wondering: Did any of the final selections or rankings surprise you?

[+] EnlargeRyan
Greg Bartram/US PresswireMyron thinks Bo Ryan has an underrated gig in the Big Ten.

MM: Definitely. I guess I'll start with the Big Ten. How on earth did Wisconsin finish fifth? Great facilities. A faithful crowd. Perfectly positioned among three major metro areas (Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago). Reasonable expectations and a winning pedigree. I think Bo Ryan has the best job in the league.

EB: I can see that. I'm not sure Wisconsin belongs above any of the top three, but I could definitely hear a reasonable argument about Michigan at No. 4. I think there might just be a bit of brand-name bias at work here. For all its struggles in the past decade or so, Michigan does have that brand name, and now that its basketball practice facility is up and running and the Crisler Center renovations have made the arena significantly less rundown, John Beilein has fully put Michigan back on the map. I could go either way.

The one thing I noticed is that it's always hard to accurately rank programs or jobs when one coach has so dominated a program's culture for a decade or more. How good would Wisconsin be were Ryan not the picture of sensible consistency? What about Michigan State without Tom Izzo? Connecticut without Jim Calhoun? Duke without Coach K? MSU and UConn, two of the most dominant programs of the past 15 years, were ranked third in their respective conferences. I think that's because people struggle to figure out the program without the coach. It's difficult to parse.

Whereas a place such as Indiana, which has suffered existentially for a decade, has all the natural advantages (facilities, location, fan base, etc.) that make it a no-brainer almost regardless of coach. (Not that Tom Crean hasn't done an amazing job, but you know what I mean.)

MM: I agree. It's hard to pinpoint specific criteria for the rankings. But the top five jobs in the Big Ten are all luxury level. What other league can boast as many coveted slots? Good money, good facilities, good locations and Big Ten Network dollars. Strong arguments for Indiana. And how many coaches would turn down Wisconsin if it called? I think the present state of the program, however, carries a lot of weight. And those Big Ten squads are basking in a variety of riches right now. Can't say the same for the Pac-12. Sure, Arizona and UCLA are great gigs. But can't really see another "dream job" in that league. Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe I can't erase memories of last season. Which is it?

EB: I think Washington has some natural advantages, as does Oregon, what with all the Nike dollars flowing through the Ducks' fat athletics budget. USC has a really nice arena, Cal is in Berkeley (where I would happily live for free for four years), and Utah has tradition and a dedicated fan base, and … that's about it, actually, outside of the two powers. Maybe that's why the Pac-12 has struggled so mightily in recent years. The middle-of-the-road programs don't really stack up.

MM: Agreed. All have some great attributes but I don't think Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens or some of the other young prodigies would consider them. They'd certainly consider the top posts in the ACC. Even Maryland and North Carolina State are great gigs right now. But it comes down to North Carolina and Duke. I think most view UNC as the best job in the league, perhaps the country. But does Duke have a case for that honor? Legacy, academics, NBA-level talent, devoted fan base, big pocketbooks. Any chance for Duke?

EB: I think that's why the coach-versus-program argument we just touched on is so difficult. Coach K built that program by sheer force over the past 30 years. What are the Blue Devils without Coach K? We don't know, and we can't know, not until the man himself eventually decides to hang them up. In UNC's case, given all the former or current pro talent, and the facilities, and the fact that Michael Jordan went there -- never underestimate the power of MJ in recruiting -- I think Carolina barely gets the nod.

Which brings me to the list I compiled of the top 10 jobs in the country. I have UNC No. 1 overall, with Kentucky a close second. I have a feeling lots of Kentucky fans will not be entirely pleased with this, but it wasn't that long ago that UK wasn't under the spell of the one-of-a-kind John Calipari, and found itself struggling to keep pace with other bluebloods on the strength of brand recognition alone.

Rupp Arena is charming in its own way, but even the most ardent Kentucky fan would agree that a huge overhaul of the arena is needed. That apparently is coming in the future with a proposed $300 million renovation project ($300 million!), but for now, that was the difference between the top two for me. Your thoughts?

MM: Well, you know I always respect your opinion. But I respectfully disagree. I can't separate the past from the success Calipari has enjoyed. Yes, it's close. But I pick Kentucky. The period that followed the 1998 national championship was a great one for the Wildcats. Meanwhile, North Carolina maintained its legacy with titles in 2005 and 2009. But the UK fans and school remained committed to the program. That's what I think separates Kentucky -- slightly. It's not about Calipari. It's about the entire program. Calipari is a gigantic personality but he's not bigger than Kentucky basketball.

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Lexington Herald-Leader/Icon SMIJohn Calipari is a rock star in Lexington, but Kentucky is still Kentucky.

I agree with your take on Rupp. And yes, if you can invite MJ to practice, that certainly helps. But today's elite players want to stay for a year and make millions at the pro level. And no school has put together a better model than Calipari in recent years. Cal is genuine in his approach. Yes, his guys are leaving after a year. But he's going to develop them. Instead of starring at separate schools, these five-star kids come together, shed their egos and play for a collective goal, albeit for a year. That's why I pick Kentucky at No. 1.

I like the list. Great jobs all. I'd just flip-flop 1 and 2. We're talking about the best jobs, the jobs that everyone craves. But what's the most underrated gig? What job deserves more praise, in your opinion?

EB: Among the more underrated schools I noticed was Purdue, which came in at No. 7 in the Big Ten rankings. The facilities have needed some love for a while, but they're getting there, and Matt Painter has proved he can sustain Big Ten title-level teams in West Lafayette. Seven feels low, especially if you think the Illinois job -- and the constant discussion of its proximity to Chicago -- is overrated. (And we've been over this before.)

MM: Good point. Painter has a nice position. He's been the subject of various rumors in recent years, but he's stayed in West Lafayette. He knows he has a good thing there.

I think West Virginia's coaching gig is attractive. And now that the Mountaineers are a Big 12 school, it will be more attractive. Energetic fans. A solid niche on the recruiting front. And it's sort of on an island, especially in the Big 12. That's a boost for Bob Huggins' program. It's No. 4 right now, and I think that's about right in the Big 12. But don't be surprised if it moves up a slot soon.

EB: That's one other factor in all this: how conference realignment will affect different programs. That was a consideration when I was voting, but just a minor one.

MM: Yeah, realignment definitely changes things. But it's too early to understand its true ramifications. I just think schools such as Missouri and West Virginia will benefit.

Well, as always, it's been a great chat. Fun to talk about college hoops in June with you, Eamonn. Helps me deal with my withdrawal symptoms, so the therapist says. I'm off to watch the Uncle Drew/Kyrie Irving commercial for the 10th time today. Kanye West's "Mercy" video (mind-blowing) after that. Until next time.

EB: Same to you, Myron. In the words of the saddest little Heat fan ever: Good effort! Good job! Good effort! Let's do it again real soon.