The first few weeks of April have been a wild coaches' carousel and the three coaches you thought might be a big part of the carousel, George Mason's Jim Larranaga, Drexel's Bruiser Flint, and Hofstra's Tom Pecora, are actually watching from the park bench, happy to be where they are (well maybe not Bruiser), while the merry go round for other CAA teams goes on.
First it was Delaware firing David Henderson, a move not unexpected by yours truly. Then it was Northeastern's Ron Everhart leaving for Duquesne, which I wrote about in an earlier blog posting. Next, it was the courting of Tom Pecora by Seton Hall, which resulted in Hofstra making a big statement by extending Pecora's contract (ie sweetening the deal) for him to stay at Hofstra. However, Hofstra would lose Associate Head Coach Tom Perrotta, who accepted the heading coaching position at Canisius in the MAAC. Then in a truly stunning move, UNC Wilmington's Brad Brownell resigned to take the head coaching position at Wright State in the Horizon League (more on that in a second). Delaware then hired Monte Ross, assistant coach at St Joseph's and their top recruiter to fill its vacant coaching position.
It doesn't end there. In perhaps the biggest move of all, Jeff Capel resigned from VCU to accept the head coaching position at Oklahoma (I thought a year ago, Capel would be hired at Virginia, so I was off by a year and a major conference). Seeing a trend, Old Dominion wisely then extended the contract of Coach Blaine Taylor through the 2010-11 season. Then Northeastern hired Bill Coen, the associate head coach of Boston College since 2001 and spent nine years as an Eagles assistant, as Everhart's replacement. VCU may have made the biggest splash of all hiring Anthony Grant, Billy Donovan's top assistant and recruiter, as their new head coach. Finally, after being spurned by North Dakota State's Tim Miles, more on that in a second, UNC Wilmington hired Benny Moss, the top assistant coach at Charlotte, as their new head coach.
Whew! Ok, are you keeping score? We had three coaches resign to take new positions, a fourth fired, and four new coaches, all top assistants at highly successful programs. Plus we had two top coaches have their contracts extended to ward off potential suitors. Meanwhile Bruiser Flint was left at the altar, with Temple hiring Penn's Fran Murphy over him, after interviewing Flint for the job. Here's the kicker, perhaps the most successful coach of all, George Mason's Jim Larranaga, stayed put and as far as I know, no contract extension or raise. Weird.
Ok, lets delve into the coaching moves. First, the resignation of Brownell to accept the head coaching position at Wright State is stunning, but from what I am told there is a reason for it. Brownell basically accepted a position in a conference that at best is on equal terms with the CAA, the Horizon League, and personally I think is lesser of a league than the CAA. To me Brownell took a step down. However, I have a good source that tells me that it was personal. Brownell and the Athletic Director at UNC WIlmington, Mike Capaccio, did not get along at all. Brownell perhaps decided that with several of his top players graduating from his NCAA tournament team, this was the time to leave and start anew. There is evidence of this apparent discord in Capaccio's statement when Brownell resigned. Capaccio stated only the following;
“Late this evening, I was notified by men’s basketball coach Brad Brownell that he was resigning his position here at UNC Wilmington.
“We realize this was a difficult decision for Brad and his family and wish nothing but the best for his wife, Paula, and their family.
“I want to assure those who follow our program that we will begin work immediately to find a replacement. Timing is obviously critical, but we will take the necessary steps to find the best possible person to serve in this very important role within our department.
“Those who follow the Seahawks know we have been through this scenario before. Our previous two coaches accepted positions elsewhere and we moved ahead. It’s tough to deal with sometimes, but it’s simply the world of college basketball. We must deal with it and do what’s best for our program.”
Don't you find it strange that Capaccio did not complement Brownell on the absolutely terrific job he did at UNC Wilmington. Brownell led the Seahawks to two CAA championships and an 83-40 record in four years after Jerry Wainright left for Richmond. Brownell dispelled any notion that his success was a result of Wainright when his team went 25-8 this past season and nearly (and should have) beat George Washington in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Look for Wright State to become a power in the Horizon. Brownell is a terrific coach.
Well perhaps Brownell had a good reason to dislike Capaccio after the interesting turn of events that has happened in the last few days with the coaching position at UNC Wilmington. North Dakota State's Tim Miles was offered the UNC Wilmington position a day AFTER the UNC Wilmington search committee endorsed now coach Benny Moss for the position. North Dakota State's Athletic Director Gene Taylor confirmed that on Wednesday. Miles turned down the offer to stay. Now only one person could have made that offer to Miles. Capaccio. I wonder how Benny Moss feels knowing that he was not the first choice of his athletic director.
Second, we have a potential delicious subplot going on with Delaware and their old America East rival Drexel. Monte Ross was Phil Martelli's top recruiter at St Joe's, and a Philly native, an all city and City Academic player of the year in 1988. He was responsible for recruiting Jameer Nelson, Delonte West, and Dwayne Jones, all part of St Joe's famous 2003-04 30-2 Elite Eight team, and all three in the NBA. Delaware's Ross will now be tapping into the recruiting area of the Dragons' Bruiser Flint, another Philly native. Expect Ross and Flint to have some recruiting wars over Philly prospects. It will take Ross sometime, but I expect Delaware to get better within three years.
Third, Billy Coen gives Northeastern a highly respected recruiter and a longtime basketball coach and assistant for Al Skinner at both Boston College and Rhode Island. Look for Coen to bring in players from throughout the nation and to continue BC's type of physical play at Northeastern. It may take a while as well, Northeastern lost three of its top six players, but Coen will keep them competitive.
Finally, the hiring of Anthony Grant is a perfect fit for VCU. Capel left Grant some very long athletic players that will fit in well with Grant's Florida Gator philosophy of up tempo pressure basketball on both ends. What's impressive is that VCU was focused on who they wanted..Grant. "There were no other candidates for this job," said athletic director Richard Sander, at the press conference. "Anthony Grant was our man from the get-go." Smart decision by VCU. Grant's coaching philosophy along with being an excellent recruiter (look at all the talent the national championship Gators have had the last few years thanks to Grant, the top recruiter at Florida), plus the talent they already have makes them a force for possibly many years to come . Billy Donovan called it a "one of the greatest coaching coups that (VCU) could ever have possibly dreamed of." This could be a team in as little as two years that will be the CAA's top team.
All in all, it just goes to prove again how good the CAA has become, and all of these coaching moves will make the CAA an even more elite conference and for the teams in it, more difficult to play in conference, night in, night out.