Fifteen teams are being led by first-time NCAA Tournament head coaches. All but one is a double-digit seed, so let’s just say a run to the championship is improbable.
Just don’t say impossible.
Kevin Ollie’s seventh-seeded UConn team won the 2014 title in his first tournament as a head coach. The previous coach to win it all as a newbie was Steve Fisher, who was promoted at Michigan in 1989 after Bill Frieder was famously fired after he agreed to take another job following the season.
Before that you have to go back to 1963 to find a first-timer who won the championship. That was George Ireland, at Loyola-Chicago. Rookie coach Ed Jucker pulled off the feat at Cincinnati in 1961 and did it again the next season. Fred Taylor won Ohio State’s only national title in his first appearance in 1960, with a roster featuring Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Bob Knight.
A look at some of this year’s tournament head coaching debuts:
AVERY JOHNSON, ALABAMA
Next game: Thursday vs. Virginia Tech in Pittsburgh
Notable: This isn’t his first rodeo. He led the San Antonio Spurs to the 1999 NBA title as a player and the Dallas Mavericks to the 2006 NBA Finals as coach. His first two Alabama teams were in the NIT. This season the Tide played their way off the NCAA bubble and to a No. 9 seed by knocking off Auburn, the top seed in the SEC Tournament.
PORTER MOSER, LOYOLA-CHICAGO
Next game: Thursday vs. Miami in Dallas
Notable: The Ramblers are in the tournament for the first time since 1985, having won 10 in a row and sweeping the Missouri Valley regular-season and tournament titles to earn a No. 11 seed. Moser has had success as a head coach at Illinois State and Arkansas-Little Rock, but it has taken until his seventh season with the Ramblers to make his NCAA breakthrough.
CHRIS JANS, NEW MEXICO STATE
Next game: Friday vs. Clemson in San Diego
Notable: Bowling Green fired Jans for inappropriate behavior at a bar in 2015, and Aggies athletic director Mario Moccia gave him a second chance when he hired him last April. In Jans’ first season, the Jemerrio Jones-led Aggies have tied the school record with 28 wins and won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament for the sixth time in seven years. NMSU is considered a dangerous No. 12 seed.
BRIAN DUTCHER, SAN DIEGO STATE
Next game: Thursday vs. Houston in Wichita, Kansas
Notable: Dutcher was a longtime assistant to Fisher at Michigan and with the Aztecs, and now he gets his chance as a head coach in the tournament in his first season. The Aztecs overcame some struggles to win the Mountain West tournament and land a No. 11 seed. They carry a nine-game win streak into the tournament.
TRAVIS DECUIRE, MONTANA
Next game: Thursday vs. Michigan in Wichita, Kansas
Notable: DeCuire was Mike Montgomery’s right-hand man at California, then returned to his alma mater and led the Grizzlies to 20-win seasons his first two years. After going 16-16 a year ago, Montana bounced back to sweep the Big Sky regular-season and tournament championships and earn a No. 14 seed.
DAN D’ANTONI, MARSHALL
Next game: Friday vs. Wichita State in San Diego
Notable: The 70-year-old and his 13th-seeded Herd are one of the feel-good stories of the tournament. Marshall made the surprise decision four years ago to hire the older brother of Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni for his first college head coaching job. Dan D’Antoni was a point guard for Marshall in the 1960s, a longtime high school coach and an assistant to his brother in the NBA. Playing what he calls ”hillbilly ball,” a wide-open style reliant on 3-point shooting, the Herd have gotten better each year under him.
Other First-Time NCAA Head Coaches
Casey Alexander, Lipscomb; Earl Grant, College of Charleston; Mike Jones, Radford; LaVall Jordan, Butler; Kyle Keller, Stephen F. Austin; Matt McMahon, Murray State; Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro; Ryan Odom, UMBC; and Dedrique Taylor, Cal State Fullerton.
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