The Big 12 is considered to be one of the best conferences in college basketball. Loaded from top to bottom with teams that contend annually for the NCAA tournament, the men who lead the squads also boast impressive resumes.
This list ranks the coaches based on one question of criteria: If I was choosing a Big 12 coach to hire for my team today, combining all factors such as experience, tournament success, age, etc., how would I rank the 10 coaches I have to choose from?
10. Travis Ford – Oklahoma State
143-91 (.611) in seven years at Oklahoma State, 266-206 (.564) in 15 years overall
In the wake of the Rick Barnes firing, Ford’s seat remains the hottest out of all Big 12 coaches. Ford remains the only coach in the conference without a single Sweet 16 berth. He has never won more than 25 games in a season. In seven years at Oklahoma State, Ford’s teams have made the NCAA tournament five times. Only his first year (2009, loss in the round of 32), didn’t feature an immediate exit in the Round of 64.
Ford’s first two head coaching jobs were at Eastern Kentucky and Massachusetts, and he was introduced as the head coach at Oklahoma State for the 2008-09 season. Ford is just 1-6 in NCAA tournament games, and the Cowboys are currently riding a five-game losing skid in the big dance. His 60-65 (.480) mark in conference play isn’t any more encouraging. Ford’s 2012-13 team surpassed expectations by finishing 24-9, good for third in the league. That team returned seven of its top eight scorers the next year, including elite prospect Marcus Smart, who turned down a projected top-three NBA draft pick to return to school. The 2014 Cowboys turned out to be a colossal disappointment; they were selected as preseason Big 12 champions and surged to #5 in the AP poll in December, only to undergo a historic collapse that featured an seven-game losing streak and an eighth-place finish in the standings.
As for accomplishments, Ford’s recruiting and player development have been decent. Smart was a lottery pick. Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash were four-year guys and left Stillwater as two of the best players in school history. Ford’s four wins against Kansas during Bill Self’s tenure are tied for the most of any coach. He is the only coach to defeat a Self-led KU team in three consecutive seasons, and he’s one of nine men who have defeated Bill Self in Allen Fieldhouse.
Ford signed a big contract extension in 2009 that was designed to keep him in Stillwater through the 2019 season. Oklahoma State reportedly mulled firing him after this past year, but the $9.6 million buyout will ultimately prove too steep. Ford likely has a couple more years with the Cowboys to turn things around, but he seems to be the next coach in line to be eventually fired should things not improve.
9. Bruce Weber – Kansas State
62-38 (.620) in three years at Kansas State, 375-193 (.660) in 17 years overall
Both major programs that Bruce Weber has been in charge of have followed the same dubious path. When Bill Self left Illinois for Kansas in 2003, Weber was hired as the Illini’s coach and inherited a roster with three future NBA players. In his second season, the team went 37-2 and advanced to the Final Four. Over the next three years, however, Illinois regressed in the win column – 26, 23, and 16 wins following the record-breaking 2004-05 team. Weber was accused of being unable to recruit and build his own team; the narrative that he could only win with already-present players became Weber’s bad reputation. After going 89-16 (.847) in his first three years, the last of the Self-recruited players graduated, and the program consisted of only Weber-recruited guys.
The Illini lost double-digit games the next six years. They didn’t make the second weekend of any NCAA tournament. Weber was fired after the 2011-12 season, and following the sudden departure of Frank Martin, Kansas State swooped in and snagged their next coach. The former Illini leader brought immediate success to the K-State program, as the Wildcats went 27-8 in Weber’s first season and won a Big 12 conference title. After losing the NCAA tournament opener to a 13-seed, Kansas State fans expressed uncertainty about the future of the program. They saw what happened in Illinois when all of Bill Self’s players graduated, and the majority of them showed little confidence that the Wildcats would still be contenders once the last of the Frank Martin recruits left K-State.
In Weber’s second season with K-State, the Wildcats went 20-13. In his third, they dropped all the way to 15-17 and missed the NCAA tournament. The outlook for the 2015-16 team appears even worse, as Kansas State is losing six of its top seven scorers from last year. Weber could be fired unless the Wildcats surprise in a big way next year, but considering his track record after he’s settled into a position, there’s not much of an upbeat feeling in Manhattan.
Weber’s overall record and winning percentage is good, but his 11-10 NCAA tournament record is largely inflated due to his 2005 Final Four run. Since 2007, his teams are just 1-5 in March Madness. The Wildcats have yet to win a tournament game in the Weber era. They have beaten Kansas in consecutive years for the first time in nearly three decades, but that’s where the list of accomplishments ends for K-State in recent years. There’s still a chance for Weber to turn things around with the Wildcats, but time is running out.
8. Tubby Smith – Texas Tech
27-37 (.422) in two years at Texas Tech, 538-263 (.672) in 24 years overall
By a resume check, it makes no sense to rank Smith this low on the list. His 538 wins and 30 NCAA tournament victories both rank second among Big 12 coaches after only Bill Self. He won the 1998 NCAA championship, making him one of just two coaches in the Big 12 to win a national title.
What puts Tubby Smith so low on this list is what he’s done recently. He will turn 64 in June, so he could be in his last few years of coaching. He’s also trending downwards in his recent records. Smith’s teams have lost double-digit games in 10 consecutive seasons after only posting that mark six times in his first 14 years. Historically, his career has been a tremendous success, as he ranks in the top 50 on the all-time NCAA Division I coaches wins list. Recently though, he has struggled to turn around the Texas Tech program.
He was fired from Kentucky after a successful 10-year tenure (263-83, .760) after the 2007 season, spent six seasons at Minnesota, and was hired at Texas Tech in early 2013. The Red Raiders averaged more than 20 losses in the three years before Smith was hired, finishing no better than second-to-last in the Big 12 each season. The talent that Smith has had to work with in Lubbock has been far from extraordinary, and with a bit more time to recruit his own guys, he’s very capable of bringing the Red Raiders back to relevance.
In Smith’s two years as the coach of Texas Tech, the Red Raiders have had some big wins. They managed to knock off #9 Iowa State in January 2015, marking the program’s first win over a top-10 team since 2009. They came within one point of upsetting Kansas in 2014, and they’ll return essentially their entire team next season. It’s not unrealistic to think Texas Tech could climb the standings to the middle range in the Big 12 next year, and if they do, it’ll be in large part to Tubby Smith’s coaching.