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Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Potential Belichick in College Hoops

He didn't say so in so many words, but Dick Vitale thinks so.

As you probably know by now, Quin Snyder resigned as head coach of the Missourit Tigers. One of the first of Mike Krzyzewski's assistants to get a head coaching job (and a big-time one at that), Snyder never got the Tigers above what I would call mid-major status (that is, an attractive pretender as opposed to a perennial contender). Yes, the Tigers got publicity, but it wasn't always positive. Some of the recruits were controversial, proved to be distractions and ultimately derailed Snyder.

Much has been written lately about the NFL coaching line that starts with Bill Parcells and goes through Bill Belichick. There are lots of big names in that line, many successful coaches (some of whom are Parcells' coaching grandchildren, as they got their shots as assistants not to Parcells, but to Belichick). Belichick's compelling story is well-known, that of being the son of an excellent coach, Parcells' defensive coordinator and unsuccessful in his first head coaching gig in Cleveland. After he left Cleveland, many thought that the Belichick story was simply one of a coordinator not being able to handle a head coaching job. That's an old theme, and it's been re-worked many times. As Paul Havey would say, "you know the rest of the story." Belichick now is on the contemporary version of pro football's Mount Rushmore along with Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs. Sorry, Tuna, but until you win another one, the Parcells name doesn't quite get there, that's how rareified the air is.

Back to basketball, the Coach K line includes the likes of Snyder, Michigan's Tommy Amaker, Notre Dame's Mike Brey and Delaware's David Henderson. Good guys, all, I am sure, with Brey being the most successful to date (and he is not a Top 25 head coach). Amaker has yet to break out, either, and I found his hiring at Michigan a bit curious if only because he hadn't set the world on fire at Seton Hall. Henderson's fate is probably sealed at Delaware, with rumors out of the Philadelphia papers already stirring -- that he'll be replaced after this season.

College basketball is a brutal meritocracy. It doesn't matter if you were a great player, played on a national championship team, have a mentor who helped you get the job or, yes, have a Duke degree. In the end, as with sales, the numbers do not lie. If you don't win, the laws of coaching will catch up with you and you'll lose your job.

I don't know whether Quin Snyder will be an excellent head coach some day, because I haven't followed Missouri that closely to know whether that will be the case. That said, many an outstanding coach has had bumps along the road to success. John Wooden was at UCLA for about 15 years before he won a national title, and in the early 1960's his Bruins went 0-8 against Pete Newell's Cal Bear teams. Many of the NFL's all-time greats had losing records in their first four seasons on the job. The key for Quin Snyder will be whether he can learn from the past, leave the past there, and improve in the future.

And that's where the pedigree does help and does come in. If Snyder builds on all of the success he has had in the past and learns from the present, his future could be quite bright indeed.

He's far too young to get sent to the coaching junkyard, and my guess is that within the next couple of years he'll surface as the head coach of another D-I program.

And perhaps one that won't have the daunting task of going head-to-head with the storied programs of Kansas and Oklahoma State and the perennial threat that an Oklahoma poses.


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