Bill Self’s words served as panic-attack tonic the last time conference realignment threatened to blind-side Kansas University all the way into non-BCS-conference status. No need for him to step to the podium now because the uneasy feelings about the stability of the Big 12 have a more distant feel.
Self’s high job satisfaction has a soothing impact on KU’s fan base because as long as Self stays, Kansas has a big-time basketball program and appeals to at least some major conferences.
Some might argue that no matter who sits in that chair, Kansas ranks as an elite national powerhouse and a nearly annual threat to get to the Final Four, thanks to a winning tradition, Allen Fieldhouse and a committed fan base. All those factors loom large, but despite all the advantages, the truth is no college basketball program can overcome a bad coaching hire.
Three extraordinary coaching hires in a row, a streak unmatched by any other elite power, has more to do with KU staying on top than any other single factor. No other school can match the consecutive hires made by athletic directors Monte Johnson (Larry Brown), Bob Frederick (Roy Williams) and interim AD Drue Jennings (Self).
Consider, in alphabetical order, the other schools that rank in the Elite Eight of the college game: Connecticut, Duke, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and UCLA.
When Jim Calhoun retires, UConn might hire a great replacement, which is another way of saying the Huskies might not.
Duke’s streak of great coaching hires is one. Mike Krzyzewski has elevated the job to a great one during his 32-year reign of dominance, putting the Blue Devils in position to make a strong hire when he steps aside, but coaching hires don’t come with guarantees, which brings us to the next school in the alphabet.
None of Bob Knight’s successors — Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson and Tom Crean — maintained national-power status, although Crean’s recent recruiting coups appear to be building the groundwork for a return to prominence.
Kentucky? Eddie Sutton had a great coaching career, but his time in Lexington generated more NCAA controversy than banners. Rick Pitino, a great coach by any definition, left, and Tubby Smith took over. Both men won national titles for the Wildcats, but Smith didn’t sustain it well enough for the fan base, felt the heat and escaped to the cooler Minnesota climate. Billy Gillispie, his can’t-miss successor, flopped quickly. With John Calipari, the hiring streak of great coaches is one.
Michigan State won a national title under Jud Heathcote in 1979 and Tom Izzo in 2000, which makes two great hires in a row.
North Carolina’s streak is one. The Tar Heels already have won two national titles under Williams. Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty didn’t make anybody forget Dean Smith.
At UCLA, Steve Lavin bridged national-title winner Jim Harrick and Ben Howland, who took the Bruins to the Final Four three consecutive years. Lavin made it at least as far as the Sweet 16 in five of his first six seasons and walked the plank when he went 10-19 one year.
Nothing lasts forever, unless, of course, you make the right hire every time.