College Basketball Coach of the Year: The Final Five Candidates and Reader Poll

I tweeted 140 characters worth of musings on the college basketball Coach of the Year candidates a few weeks back, but since it’s a fluid process, I can elaborate a bit more here, as this season seems to present more deserving men for Coach of the Year than in years past.

As we motor forward during March Madness 2012, here are the leading candidates, in no particular order (alphabetical actually), for the top college basketball coach in 2011-2012.

The Final Five

Mike Brey, Notre Dame

Picked ninth, the Irish lost three starters then their best returnee, and were 5-4 in early December. They gave Syracuse their only loss Jan. 21, had good road wins, pounded Marquette (a team ‘Cuse was lucky to beat and avoided on the road), and finished third.


Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Did you know Brey’s teams have won 20 games six years in a row?

Frank Haith, Missouri

Mizzou was picked fourth, which many local writers thought was too high, yet the Tigers were the best team in the Big 12 (and the nation) much of season.



Haith, a controversial hire after a last and ninth place ACC finish the past two years — plus being linked tangentially to the vile Nevin Shapiro — has exceeded expectations. 27-4 is remarkable with a Big 12 schedule.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

Picked a distant second in The Valley after missing the Field of 68 last year, Wichita was the second hottest team in America before a hiccup in the MVC semi-finals to 20 win Illinois State Saturday.


Beyond U Sports

The Shockers had been in the RPI Pomeroy Top 10 most of 2012, and are an NCAA-best 19-3 on the road since the beginning of last season (a most relevant stat since anyone can win at home, and why “mid-majors” succeed in March). And though the MVC was top-heavy this season with Creighton & WSU being Top 25 squads, only two teams had losing records in the nation’s #8 RPI conference.

Wichita should be no worse than a 5 seed (having watched them all season, I would still go 4), which is noteworthy for the at-large school from southern Kansas.

Bill Self, Kansas

The Jayhawks lost four starters, including three to NBA, but the emergence of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor from bench and role player, respectively, to legit player of year candidates, helped KU win the nation’s best conference with a sparking 16-2 mark, including eight straight wins to close the season.


Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Buzz Williams, Marquette

The Golden Eagles were picked 6th in the Big East, laid under radar until late February, then made their move, finishing a solid second in the 16 team conference.  A top 10 ranking, 14 Big East wins and 25 wins overall.

And unlike many coaches, Williams is a mature, sincere, humble guy, who even apologized for a minor, humorous transgression a few weeks back.


GIF source: SBNation

What do you think?

Who would you choose for College Basketball Coach of the Year?

  • Mike Brey, Notre Dame (4%, 6 Votes)
  • Frank Haith, Missouri (46%, 78 Votes)
  • Gregg Marshall, Wichita State (4%, 6 Votes)
  • Bill Self, Kansas (21%, 36 Votes)
  • Buzz Williams, Marquette (6%, 10 Votes)
  • A coach not listed here (be sure to comment below and defend your choice) (20%, 35 Votes)

Total Voters: 171

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Honorable Mention 

(There have been so many exceptional coaching jobs this season that I would not object to any of these guys winning the award. Alphabetical order below.)

Tom Crean, Indiana

Fourth year rebuilding a legendary program, undefeated outside the Big Ten, won 24 games after 28 victories the last three seasons combined.

Bryce Drew, Valparaiso

Replacing his father, the 37-year-old first year coach was picked 5th, won the Horizon title, ousting conference king Butler three times in one season, besting the Bulldogs twice in the past nine days.

Scott Drew, Baylor

Top five team much of season, four of six losses to Kansas and Missouri, 25 wins.

Fran Dunphy, Temple

Won a very good Atlantic 10 for first time in 12 seasons after being picked a distant second. 13-3 in conference, 24-6 overall. Wow. As impressive as Duke or North Carolina for sure.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Lost his four BEST players off a Sweet 16 team, picked distant third, finished with 24 share of regular season title (top seed in MWC tourney) in fifth best conference.

Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State

39-year-0ld second year coach was picked 8th, finished 4th, beat Kansas and Baylor in Ames, plus tourney-bound Kansas State twice.

Tom Izzo, Michigan State

Arguably the only intrepid major conference coach willing to schedule tough in November and December. After being picked fourth, the Spartans shared the crown in the nation’s best (or second best) conference with Michigan and pre-season king Ohio State.

Rick Majerus, Saint Louis

Second place (12-4) in a conference equal to the ACC, if not better; 24 wins overall for a team that hasn’t made the tourney in 12 years.

Greg McDermott, Creighton

28 wins and a second MVC title for the second year coach with a young team who was in the top 25 nearly all season, up to 15 at one juncture. Son Doug, especially after yesterday’s epic performance, should be national player of the year. Best shooting team in America.  Aside from a rough Feb. 4-11 week, CU hasn’t lost a game since December. Blue Jays making first NCAA tourney appearance since 2007.

Steve Prohm, Murray State

First year head coach unbeaten into February. The 37-year-old’s Racers avenged their only loss (Tennessee State) twice, and finished 30-1.

*Editor’s Notes:

Unlike Greg Anthony recently, I ignored Jim Boeheim, John Calipari, Mike Kryzyzewski, Thad Matta,  and Roy Williams because, like managing the Yankees, Phillies or Red Sox — and even moreso in hoops — these coaches did what they should’ve done with such incredibly deep, talented teams.

And of those five coaches, only Matta’s team played in a tough conference this season. Boeheim and Kryzyzewski, in particular, had double blessings, benefiting from lucky scheduling breaks within down years for their conferences. The SEC was less than stellar as well in 2011-2012.

It will be interesting to see how these candidates fare over the next month versus the five aforementioned “big time” coaches. Not challenging your team during the season has resulted in early exits for many of these folks recently, while “mid-majors” make deep runs, even to the Final Four.

Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State did not have a non-conference road win between them this season.

This major problem in collegiate basketball was covered last week by MSF’s own Jon Washburn.

About AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.


  1. mrjonessodaandme says:

    Tom Crean. 100% increased in victories with practically the same line-up. Its a no-brainer.

    • I agree! As Ari can tell you, he and I had it over email when he submitted this article. My first question: where is Crean??? He would be my pick, and I think he’ll get a lot of national attention for the award. That said, I do like Ari’s choices otherwise, except for Haith, who I think is enjoying a Mike Davis-type season with another guy’s players. In college basketball, recruiting is so much of what a coach has to do, so I’m always wary of giving Coach of the Year to a guy who didn’t put his own roster together. It seems wrong. Seeing as how Crean totally rebuilt the program from nothing, and has done a 100-fold better job this year in-game than over the last three years, he’s my pick.

  2. Dan Nelson says:

    I know your anti-Michigan, but lets be real here.  Belien has won a share of the big 10 (the best college bball conference) with so little talent its almost criminal.  To not even include him as a “honorable mention” is a joke

    • Dan Nelson says:

      Follow up:

      I know we had returning players, but there really wasnt any “talent”. 
      Was there leadership? yes.  Did most players understand the system?
      yes.  Was there any returning recruits that were top 150? Only one.  
      There are probably only 2 players on this team that would even play on
      any other top 25 program

      By coaching this team to buy into the system and play their roles,
      he was able to get this team to massively over achieve and win a share
      of the big 10

      • Yes, he was on here until this week, but then I realized Michigan was picked a close 3rd pre-season and until yesterday, sat in 3rd place and had a ton of returnees.  He did was he was supposed to do with a veteran team — in my estimation.  And veteran teams in the Big Ten are rare.  
        I also removed Kruger at UNLV, Alford at New Mexico and a few others last week who also did really good jobs, but had immense talent back.  

        All depends upon your criteria. I’m not looking at recruiting or Xs & Os, but how much you won considering your roster.  Kruger, Alford and Beilein  did not overachieve like others did.

        And IU folks, nor did Crean.  He rebuilt the program, but the 2011-2012 Hoosiers have tons of talent.  Honorable mention is fine.

        If you want to list folks like Coach K, Roy, Boeheim & Calipari who have NBA type talent and won a lot of games, look to the Yahoo or ESPN writers who scribe for the masses.  I took my time on this :)

  3. Norris Crigler says:

    Eddie Payne, Coach of the University of South Carolina Upstate, 21-13 record in 2012, won 16 more games this year than last (5-25 in 2011) – best in Div I NCCA, only 2nd team to win more than 20 games in their first season of full NCAA D-I eligibility, finished 3rd in Atlantic Sun Conference (behind Belmont & Mercer), appearance in the Second Round of the 2012 College Insider Tournament (beat Kent State, lost to ODU), voted ASun Coach of the Year 2012, Had 2012 ASun Player of the Year, Torrey Craig and 2012 ASun Freshman of the Year, Ty Greene. Coach Payne had his 400th career this year. He is the only active coach to have been head coach at every Div level in the NCAA.

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