New hire report card: From John Calipari to Kevin Young, we grade the new college basketball coaches

The transfer portal for major college basketball coaches is closed.

Well, not really.

That never happens.

If a coach wants to up and leave for the NBA this Friday, that can happen, so long as there’s an NBA team eager to make a change. It’s always been this way. They can depart despite signed contracts, but players who have no such arrangement are excoriated for seeking out better deals.

That’s the way of college athletics for the near future, apparently.

But we have seen every major position that had been open this spring filled as of last Friday. And there’s one tradition you can count on: The Sporting News grading the coaching hires at big-time basketball programs. It’s as dependable a rite of spring as a crocus plant busting through the thawing Earth.

MORE: If coaches can bolt programs, why not players?

New coaching hires at major programs

Arkansas

Hired: John Calipari

Record: 855-263

Overview: The Razorbacks are getting Calipari at the close of the toughest four-year stretch of his college career – which included three March Madness appearances, two top-3 NCAA seeds and three top-3 finishes in the SEC. That should tell you something about the talent and accomplishment of the man Arkansas just hired to run its program. They also are getting Calipari at age 65. That doesn’t mean he is short on energy, but it does mean the Razorbacks won’t be getting 15 years out of him, like Kentucky did. There have been plenty of theories about why Calipari won just a single NCAA Tournament game the past three years, and most have them have been proven to be bunk. He supposedly was behind the offensive curve, then produced a 2023-24 attack ranked No. 7 in efficiency at KenPom.com. He supposedly was too wedded to five-star freshmen, but lost twice in the first round as a high seed with multiple upperclassmen in his rotation. No one’s likely to believe it was anything as mundane as bad injury luck. But Arkansas seems convinced it made the right hire. The Razorbacks are correct. How many times do you get the opportunity to land a Hall of Famer at any age?

Grade: A+

MORE: Calipari on new squad: There is no team

BYU

Hired: Kevin Young

Record: 0-0

Overview: For every Fred Hoiberg, there are about a dozen guys like Chris Mullin, Eddie Jordan, Avery Johnson, Mike Dunleavy and, most recently, Juwan Howard and Jerry Stackhouse. Each accepted command of a Division I basketball program with little to no college coaching experience but most often extensive backgrounds playing and coaching professional basketball. Coaches who arrive from professional basketball without having worked extensively in college have about a 9 percent success rate. The problem isn’t whether they know and teach basketball strategy; it’s that knowing and teaching basketball strategy is about 35 percent of the job. One of the few who made this transition successfully: Fred Hoiberg, who now has reached March Madness in half of his 10 seasons as head coach at Iowa State and Nebraska. Young might want to get Hoiberg on the phone.

Grade: C-

DePaul

Hired: Chris Holtmann

Record: 251-171

Overview: It is a measure of DeWayne Peevy’s promise as an athletic director that he could get Holtmann to consider accepting a job that has produced 12 last-place finishes in the past 16 Big East seasons – with four different coaches involved in that struggle. Holtmann received an eight-figure buyout when he departed Ohio State, so he could have waited to see if a less daunting challenge was presented to him. There’s no guarantee he’ll turn around the Blue Demons. Many have tried and failed, and the likes of Jerry Wainwright and Oliver Purnell had demonstrated elsewhere they were capable coaches. Holtmann has, as well.

Grade: B+

Kentucky

Hired: Mark Pope

Record: 187-108

Overview: So many who were invested in Kentucky basketball over the past half-decade were eager for a change in the head coaching position. Was it to punish the coach for failing to advance in recent NCAA Tournaments? Or was it a genuine belief there was a better coach out there, or a coach with a better chance to reach the Sweet 16 and beyond? Mark Pope has a demonstrated ability to design offensive attacks around 3-point shooters, something essential to success in modern college basketball. He only has been a high-major coach for a single season, but four of his five BYU teams won at least 20 games. He will need to navigate the recruiting process at a higher level than he’s been required at any point in his career.

Grade: B

DECOURCY: Kentucky is still a blueblood, but what does that mean in the NIL era?

Louisville

Hired: Pat Kelsey

Record: 261-122

Overview: It’s hard to imagine anyone on this list hired someone with a greater degree of energy and enthusiasm than Kelsey, and his record as a head coach nearly is immaculate. One losing season in a dozen years at the mid/low-major level, only two finishes outside the top three of his league, five NCAA Tournament bids – is that impressive or amazing? It remains puzzling, though, why it took this long to climb to a big-time job.

Grade: B+

Dusty May

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Michigan

Hired: Dusty May

Record: 126-69

Overview: In the spring of 2023, after leading Florida Atlantic to an improbable Final Four appearance, May essentially gambled there would be an ideal job for him available a year later if he coached the same group for another year. He did, and it wasn’t a smashing success, but still there were big-time programs who believed he could do even more with greater resources. Of the many that pursued him, May chose Michigan, which has reached Final Fours with Johnny Orr, Steve Fisher and John Beilein. It’s lately been assumed May would find his way back to the Big Ten, although that was predicated on him eventually becoming the next coach at Indiana, his alma mater. He’s a Michigan man, now.

Grade: A-

Ohio State

Hired: Jake Diebler

Record: 8-3

Overview: Diebler did an outstanding job as interim coach, including a massive upset of Final Four-bound Purdue and a winning streak of five consecutive games. That doesn’t mean the decision to hire him as the permanent Buckeyes head coach wasn’t puzzling. One theory that seemed plausible was that he’d established a firm connection to a talented, young squad that might be worth seeing through to fruition. But that notion was damaged when Scotty Middleton, Roddy Gayle and Zed Key all entered the transfer portal. Look, Diebler might end up crushing this. He does have a terrific track record as a recruiter, most notably helping to land Darius Garland for Vanderbilt. This is a huge leap, though – and a huge leap of faith.

Grade: C

Oklahoma State

Hired: Steve Lutz

Record: 69-35

Overview: Lutz only has been a head coach three years, but he can’t seem to avoid excellence. He’s batting 1.000 in getting teams to the NCAAs: Texas A&M Corpus Christi twice, Western Kentucky once. He even won a game in the 2023 First Four. Lutz has been an assistant for two of the most consistently successful Division I coaches: Greg McDermott at Creighton and Matt Painter at Purdue. There’s so much to like about this decision.

Grade: A-

SMU

Hired: Andy Enfield

Record: 261-175

Overview: We’ve seen enough of Enfield to know he’s not elite – but also to recognize he’s pretty damn good, and SMU could use all of that in moving to the much greater challenge of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Since Jon Koncak nearly spoiled the 1984 NCAA Championship run of Georgetown and John Thompson, the only period SMU basketball resembled an ACC program required the coaching of maybe the best ever to do it, Larry Brown. But the ACC opened its arms (and pockets) and now the Mustangs need someone who gives them a chance. Enfield was an inspired choice.

Grade: B+

Southern California

Hired: Eric Musselman

Record: 221-93

Overview: The man they call Muss has been a D-I head coach only nine seasons, and he’s demonstrated a propensity for significant March success. His three trips in four years at Nevada included a run to the 2018 Sweet 16, and he followed that at Arkansas with three appearances in five seasons, two of which resulted in Elite Eight finishes. His public displays are not to everyone’s tastes, but winning is.

Grade: A-

Stanford

Hired: Kyle Smith

Record: 258-193

Overview: He won at Washington State. Know who’s done that? Marv Harshman, George Raveling, Kelvin Sampson, Tony Bennett. That’s really all you need to know.

Grade: A

Mark Byington

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Vanderbilt

Hired: Mark Byington

Record: 220-137

Overview: Byington built a tremendous team in 2023-24 at James Madison, with the Dukes winning 32 of their 34 games, but what did that tell us about his ability to build a program at the SEC level? It’s a little bit disconcerting he’s spent so little time at power programs: one season at Virginia under Pete Gillen, another at Virginia Tech under James Johnson. It’s all basketball, but it’s a different world competing against Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky and Arkansas.

Grade: B

Washington

Hired: Danny Sprinkle

Record: 109-50

Overview: Washington’s desire to hire Sprinkle was obvious even before the Huskies formally separated from Mike Hopkins. His last three teams all reached the NCAA Tournament (two at Montana State, one at Utah State). It was admirable that after a 39-point beating against Purdue in this year’s second round that Sprinkle did not join the chorus (to be fair, it was mostly fans, not coaches) complaining about Zach Edey earning too many foul calls against defenders. That reflected an honest competitor.

Grade: B+

West Virginia

Hired: Darian DeVries

Record: 150-55

Overview: It’s honestly surprising no one beat the Moutaineers to DeVries – not in this hiring season, but years ago. He won 20 or more games in each of his half-dozen years as Drake head coach. He won 24 or more in all but one of them. It takes a legitimately great coach to win here, and WVU has had its share: Gale Catlett, John Beilein, Bob Huggins. With the exception of what amounted to an interim year for Josh Eilert, that trio takes West Virginia basketball back more than 45 years. That’s a lot to measure up to, but the university has done well in appointing someone to aspire to that standard.

Grade: A-

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