ACC basketball needs coaches as good as 20 years ago

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During the early 1990s, ACC basketball was the model of stability. Each of the conference's nine coaches advanced in the NCAA tournament and remained on the job at least six years. Eight reached multiple Sweet 16s, and eventually, three won national championships.

Today, ACC basketball is as stable as Middle Eastern politics, a reflection of expansion, impatience and ill-advised hires.

Seven of the conference's programs have changed coaches since 2009, three in the last two months. Only seven ACC jobs turned over throughout the 1990s.

Not coincidentally, the product has suffered.

From 1990-99, the ACC's nine schools combined to reach 29 NCAA tournament regional semifinals. All made at least two during the decade except North Carolina State (zero), coached during the decade by Les Robinson and Herb Sendek.

In the last 10 years, the ACC's 12 programs have reached 20 regional semifinals. Only Duke, North Carolina and Maryland boast more than one, with Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami and Clemson shut out.

That said, the three vacancies this offseason netted coaches with encouraging credentials.

Most notably, Miami last week landed George Mason's Jim Larranaga, whose Patriots defeated Villanova in this year's NCAA tournament and famously reached the 2006 Final Four. At 61, he is an outside-the-bun choice for new athletic director Shawn Eichorst, but anyone who believes Larranaga views the gig as a leisurely bridge to retirement and daily shuffleboard doesn't know him very well.

N.C. State hired former Alabama and Murray State coach Mark Gottfried, who took those programs to seven NCAA tournaments. Gottfried's Crimson Tide reached the 2004 Elite Eight, but he bailed on 'Bama midway through the 2009 season and hasn't coached since.

Finally, Georgia Tech chose Dayton's Brian Gregory, a Tom Izzo protégé whom many consider Izzo's logical successor at Michigan State. The Flyers reached two NCAA tournaments and won an NIT in Gregory's eight seasons.

The irony is that Eichorst, the least-experienced of the three athletic directors and with the worst job to offer, found the most-accomplished coach. In fact, Miami is only the third ACC program to hire a big whistle with Final Four pedigree — the others were North Carolina with Roy Williams (four with Kansas) and South Carolina with Frank McGuire (one each with North Carolina and St. John's).

Maybe Eichorst was lucky, good or both. Or maybe Larranaga will be a bust.

You never know with coaching searches, witness the ACC's recent experiences.

Remember the universal praise that accompanied Pete Gillen's 1998 arrival at Virginia? He'd coached Xavier to seven NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16, and Providence to an Elite Eight — his 10th-seeded Friars dusted Duke in a 1997 second-round game.

But Virginia made just one NCAA in Gillen's seven seasons, losing in the first round. And after a 10th-place ACC finish in 2005, divorce was unavoidable.

His successor, Dave Leitao, was less-credentialed with one NCAA in five seasons combined at Northeastern and DePaul. Despite a promising start highlighted by a shared ACC regular-season title in 2007, he lasted only four seasons.

The common thread: Each was hired by a Virginia athletic director with a basketball coaching background. Terry Holland appointed Gillen, and Craig Littlepage chose Leitao.

Littlepage's 2009 selection of Tony Bennett? Few doubt his X and O chops — he was national coach of the year at Washington State — but whether he can recruit ACC-caliber talent remains to be seen.

The one conference opponent Bennett has owned (3-0) is N.C. State, and to no one's surprise, the Wolfpack last month parted ways with Sidney Lowe. A program icon from his days as Jimmy V's point guard, Lowe had zero college coaching experience before replacing Sendek in 2006.

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