Cost-effective coaches to keep an eye on 

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
9:12
AM ET
Kevin Mackey is famous for many things.

The former Cleveland State coach famously beat Indiana and Bob Knight in 1986 -- the year before Knight's last NCAA title team -- then infamously was caught coming out of a crack house with a prostitute a short time later.

Mackey is known in the minor leagues of hoops for the "5, 5, 5, 5" philosophy. In the old Continental Basketball Association, American Basketball Association 2000, United States Basketball League and the D-League, coaches had to be prepared to lose or cut their guys loose. They had to put five on the court, then have five on the bench to replace the five on the floor, five on the bus to replace the bench guys and five on a list in a drawer to replace the bus guys. And so on and so forth. In minor league hoops, turnover is day-to-day, but the philosophy is sound.

Maybe Hall of Fame coach John Wooden's famous quote, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail," works in this instance. Either way, if as a coach you lack a list of what you would do if you were to lose the guy or guys you count on most, the shame is on you and not them if you're unprepared.

[+] EnlargeStew Morrill
Tony Ding/Icon SMIUtah State coach Stew Morrill might be underrated to some, but his peers know who he is.
So with Mackey in mind, every athletic director in the country needs to have a similar list for coaches. For this argument, let's make it a list of fives. With the economy in the tank but the desire to win at an all-time high, ADs have to assume that they could make a change or be forced to replace a departed coach at any time.

But now they might have to do it without the unlimited funds that the most elite programs have thrown around the past two offseasons.

In other words, who are the most viable, cost-effective and sustentative basketball coaches to keep an eye on? For this case, all make less than $500,000 per year. All are head coaches. They have not been fully discussed by the media in terms of their upward mobility. They are listed in teams of five and are available at a cost that is far less than the cost of stealing another BCS team's coach.

Here are my five on the floor:

Stew Morrill, Utah State: Ask any coach in the country who he thinks is the best coach whom no one talks about. One name will come up ahead of all others. Morrill has had the fifth-highest winning percentage in the country the past nine years and has coached nine straight 20-win seasons in Logan, Utah. He is a coach's coach. He grinds out wins with a few talented stars and a team full of tough, physical defenders who feed off those stars. Want to win at a school in the middle of nowhere, with passionate fans and an administration that will allow some academically borderline kids? Morrill is your guy.

Positives: He's 76-8 at home in league play, and it might cost only $500,000 to get him.

Drawbacks: Age (56). He's not a well-known name and isn't talked about much. Appearance can be a bit disheveled.

Dave Rose, BYU: He took over a nine-win program and has won 20, 25 and 27 games in his first three years at the Division I level. Rose was a well-respected junior college coach before he left for Provo as an assistant and later took over as head coach. He has used his juco connections as well as BYU's Latter-day Saints connections to push the program back to being a consistent winner. His teams compete, defend and play up-tempo.

Positives: Two trips to the NCAA tourney. Was one of the country's most respected junior college coaches when he coached at Dixie Junior College (now Dixie State) of Utah. Could be had for cheap at the top level.

Drawbacks: One athletic director who hired a big-time coach said he had never heard of Rose. BYU could pay him well if it wanted to.

Mark Fox, Nevada: "Foxy," as he is known in the coaching world, was current LSU and former Nevada and Stanford head coach Trent Johnson's right-hand man. He took over the Pack and led them to a 102-30 record and four WAC titles in his first four years. Fox has recruited three NBA draft picks (first-rounder JaVale McGee and second-rounders Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions) and just signed the school's first McDonald's All-American, Luke Babbitt.

Positives: NBA draftees. Conference success. Is a young family man. Has NCAA tourney experience.

Drawbacks: Turned down Nebraska. His wife works in the athletic department, so he sees his family throughout the day and receives a dual income from the school, which binds him more closely to it. He's not a big national name. Has never reached the Sweet 16.

[+] EnlargeFran McCaffery
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesFran McCaffery has Siena on the map and will be looking toward another March run.
Fran McCaffery, Siena: Upset Vandy in Round 1 of the Big Dance and will bring back most of the entire team for another run at the Sweet 16. McCaffery, who previously took UNC-Greensboro to the tournament, has a long history of recruiting quality players in the Northeast during his time as head coach at Siena, UNCG and Lafayette and as the top assistant at Notre Dame. His teams play fast. He is well-liked in the AAU community, and he is great with the media.

Positives: NCAA wins. Quality resume as an assistant and head coach. Terrific with the media. Has a great feel for NYC and Philly hoops.

Drawbacks: He's picky because he has the best job in his league. He might be waiting to coach Temple or Villanova because of his Philly roots or to jump to St. John's because of his Notre Dame background.

Randy Bennett, Saint Mary's: Bennett has done the unthinkable at tiny Saint Mary's in Moraga, Calif. In just seven years, he's taken a program that won two games the year before he arrived to two NCAA tourneys as at-large bids. Although the Gaels play at a small school that has a small budget, small gym (not arena) and generally terrible facilities in comparison to other teams in the league, they have been deemed good enough to be one of the 34 best at-large teams in the nation twice in the past four years. They will be better this year, too. Bennett recently turned down the likes of Oregon State and stands to command more offers by season's end.

Positives: Two NCAA tourneys. Quality style of play. Overseas recruiting in Australia. Fairly inexpensive.

Drawbacks: He's a very nice family guy but doesn't have a great personality. He's seen mostly as a West Coast guy even though he served two years at Saint Louis on Lorenzo Romar's staff.



My first five off the bench

Bill Grier, San Diego: Once the head coach-in-waiting at Gonzaga, Grier got tired of waiting and took a great job in a great city. Grier, who already was highly regarded before he arrived in San Diego, took the Toreros to the second round of the NCAA tourney in his first year as coach. Grier has the Zags pedigree, is a workaholic and has the type of personality that donors like their big boys to have. He wisely decided to stay at USD because all his players are returning, and that will give him more than one year as a head coach under his belt. He needs only more reps in the big chair, as well as another tourney berth, to make his next jump.

Positives: Gonzaga ties. Style of play. Has won a game in the NCAA tourney.

Drawbacks: Has been a head coach for only one year. Has a long contract in a great city. The coveted Oregon job does not appear to be opening any time soon.

Scott Sutton, Oral Roberts: Sutton, who has the obvious bloodlines of his father, Eddie, has taken Oral Roberts from a solid yearly competitor in its conference to the quality team of record with three straight postseason berths. His Eagles play an up-tempo offense. He recruits well in Texas, and his personality is polished thanks to his recent success. ORU, under Sutton's guidance, even beat Kansas a few years ago. The only curious thing about Sutton is that he has been loyal to ORU, even though it has had some major financial woes lately and he clearly could take a job elsewhere and make more money. If John Pelphrey were to leave Arkansas for, say, Kentucky, Sutton would be a lock to be a finalist for that position.

Positives: Three straight NCAA tourneys. Has recruited the Southwest extremely well and is strong in the Midwest.

Drawbacks: Why has he stayed? His team faces a low level of competition.

Bob Burton, Cal State Fullerton: Who? Burton's is a name you might scratch your head at, but if you know hoops and have watched the emergence of Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Conference, you know Burton has been magical during his time in Titan Gym. Burton had won 488 games at West Valley CC before coaching Fullerton. Although Fullerton has subpar facilities and is in a low-major league, Burton has taken transfers, nomads and players whom other coaches wouldn't take in order to compete. Last season's NCAA tournament appearance was no fluke. Look for Burton's star point guard Josh Akognon to carry the Titans to another NCAA disco.

Positives: Cheap. Is used to working with a slim budget. Implements a very fast offense.

Drawbacks: Carries no big name nationally. Fullerton could easily miss the tourney and make it tougher for him to be hired anywhere else.

Brian Gregory, Dayton: Gregory, a former assistant to Tom Izzo at Michigan State, was on the brink of having a season that would have allowed him to jump to a high-major school. But injuries derailed the Flyers last season after two promising wins against Top 25 teams Louisville and Pitt.

Gregory's attention to detail, recruiting relationships and overall presentation is of high-major quality, as is his support in Dayton, so he may be above the listed $500,000 salary cap for the article. His team, when healthy, was well prepared to face teams coached by both Rick Pitino and Jamie Dixon. With his resume, the news conferences would be a snap. Oh, and he has a great graduation rate.

Positives: Has a set style to play at the highest level. Helped coach the national championship team at Michigan State. Is a hard-core Midwest basketball guy.

Drawbacks: Needs to make another NCAA tournament appearance. Makes a lot of money.

Doug Wojcik, Tulsa:
Tulsa had 11 wins in Year 1, 20 in Year 2 and 25 in Year 3. Wojcik, a former top recruiter for UNC, Notre Dame and Michigan State, is the reason the wins keep increasing. Wojcik famously helped former Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty recruit Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants for a North Carolina team that ended up winning a national title. He also spent time in three different BCS conferences, so his recruiting base is well-rounded.

Positives: Coaching bloodlines. Was David Robinson's point guard at Navy. Tulsa was the stepping-stone job of the '90s.

Drawbacks: Doesn't have memorable wins. Never coached a team to an NCAA tournament appearance.

On the bus