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Friday, May 19, 2006

C-USA New High Profile Coaches

C-USA landing some big-time coaching names

By Gary Parrish
May 19, 2006

DESTIN, Fla. -- A group of men stood in this resort's lobby the other day, just talking and laughing and acting like any other group of men. They wore trunks. They wore T-shirts.
They looked completely normal ... except nobody treated them that way because the unsuspecting vacationers who had brought their families to the beach for the week are used to only seeing big-time college basketball coaches on TV, not in the lounge chair next to them asking to borrow a bottle of sun block. "Some of our coaches have big names and big backgrounds and are recognizable," said Conference USA associate commissioner Chris Woolard. "When you look at the names of the coaches in our league, it's hard to argue C-USA can't be one of the best leagues in the country."

It's easy to bash C-USA.

From the pitiful RPI ranking to its status as a non-BCS league, there are plenty of reasons to look at this basketball conference and dream of the day the University of Memphis receives an offer to leave for bigger and better things.

Still, there's genuine hope.

And it revolves around the fact that with the additions of former Indiana coach Mike Davis and former North Carolina coach Matt Doherty this off-season -- to UAB and SMU, respectively -- C-USA now has some seriously accomplished/famous coaches representing five of its members.
Granted, it's not the ACC (Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina's Roy Williams, Maryland's Gary Williams, Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt and Florida State's Leonard Hamilton) or the Big East (Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Louisville's Rick Pitino, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Villanova's Jay Wright and Marquette's Tom Crean). But C-USA's list of coaches compares favorably with most other BCS leagues, and it's probably significantly better than all other conferences labeled mid-majors.

(Quick: Name five coaches in the Mountain West or WAC.)

"Every program has different challenges," C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said before his league's annual spring meetings adjourned Thursday. "But like I've said before, if you have the people in place who have gotten it done before and who know how to get it done, then you have a high chance of success."

The credentials are impressive.

Consider that C-USA now has two Final Four coaches (Memphis' John Calipari at UMass in 1996 and Davis at Indiana in 2002), two Associated Press National Coaches of the Year (Southern Miss' Larry Eustachy at Iowa State in 2000 and Doherty at North Carolina in 2001), and another coach (Houston's Tom Penders) who has won 566 career games and been to three Sweet 16s (in 1988 at Rhode Island, 1990 and '97 at Texas) and an Elite Eight (1990). Add that group to some first-time head coaches who were assistants at big-time programs -- Tulsa's Doug Wojcik at North Carolina and Michigan State; Tulane's Dave Dickerson at Maryland -- and the pieces for improvement and notoriety seem to be in place.

"We have a lot of coaches who know what it looks like at the highest level," Doherty said. "We know where we want things to go at our universities and in this league."

Now they just have to get going.

"We all have to go win games," Davis said. "Who you are, where you are or what you've done doesn't matter unless you win games. So that's what we've got to do."

-- Gary Parrish: 529-2365

New big-name Coaches in Conference USA
Mike Davis, UAB
Made his name at: Indiana (115-79 in six seasons)
Hoosier highlight: Coached Indiana to 2002 NCAA championship game, where it lost to Maryland
Hoosier lowlight: In 2004, coached Indiana to first losing season since 1970.

Matt Doherty, SMU
Made his name at: North Carolina (53-43 in three seasons)
Heel highlight: Carolina went 26-7 in Doherty's first season.
Heel lowlight: In 2002, coached first Carolina team since 1975 to miss the NCAA tournament.

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