CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick’s hire of Los Angeles Lakers assistant Dan D’Antoni as the Thundering Herd’s new basketball coach has been described in many words, good and bad. There’s no doubt that “unique” must be among them.
It’s not the first time an NBA coach has moved from the professional to the college ranks. Heck, both former and current versions of Conference USA have experienced that. Larry Brown criss-crossed the country working several NBA jobs, winning an NBA title in Detroit, before spending a season in C-USA as Southern Methodist’s head coach.
The current incarnation of C-USA has two other NBA-to-college transplants. University of Texas at El Paso coach Tim Floyd’s last stop before the Lone Star State was with Southern Cal, but he had stints as the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets’ coach before that. New Florida Atlantic head coach Michael Curry went straight from the NBA to his new home. His entire seven-year coaching career, including one season as the Detroit Pistons head coach, was spent in pro basketball.
Yet D’Antoni’s hire remains unique. While Floyd has that NBA experience, he has head coaching stints at USC and Iowa State as well. And while Curry has never coached a college game, he does have one regular season’s background of running a pro hoops team.
D’Antoni has three decades of head coaching experience on the high school level, then jumped to the NBA as an assistant for younger brother Mike D’Antoni. To make the transition from NBA assistant to college head coach with no prior NBA or college head coaching experience is rare.
Yet it didn’t hurt Fred Hoiberg a bit.
When Hoiberg became Iowa State’s head coach, he wasn’t just devoid of head coaching experience. He was devoid of all coaching experience. When his NBA playing days ended, he spent time as an assistant general manager and vice president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since he took over the Cyclones, they’ve made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances with three straight seasons of at least 23 wins. They won 28 games this past season and reached the 2014 Sweet 16.
Will D’Antoni’s tenure as Marshall’s head coach follow Hoiberg’s path to success, or will the first-time college head coach stumble at a level he hasn’t coached since 1971?
The honest answer?
At this point, no one does. These are uncharted waters for everyone, but it at least looks like D’Antoni is building a solid staff.
No official announcements have been made, but it looks like two members of that staff will be veteran assistant Mark Cline and first-time coach Chris Duhon. On one side, there’s Cline, who recruited and signed Blake Griffin to Oklahoma and has sat on the benches at Oklahoma, Virginia Commonwealth and Virginia Tech, among others. He’s also been a Thundering Herd assistant since 2010, which gives the current roster a familiar face on the bench.
On the other side, there’s Duhon. He doesn’t have a coaching resume. He has a nine-year NBA resume that closed just this past season, so his name would be fresh for the recruits who pay attention to the league. And on top of his pro credentials, he also can walk into a prospect’s home with the 2001 NCAA championship ring he won at Duke as a guard for Mike Krzyzewski.
There’s another thing that links D’Antoni and Hoiberg, outside of their previous lack of experience in college coaching — their experience in playing for their alma maters. Just as Hoiberg starred for the Cyclones, D’Antoni starred for the Herd. That fact makes D’Antoni’s new job that much more meaningful. The emotion he showed in remembering former team physician Dr. Ray Hagley, who was among the 75 killed in the 1970 plane crash, was genuine. He doesn’t want to damage Marshall’s basketball history.
As for its future, that remains unknown. As a college coach, D’Antoni is 0-0, but the past has shown that’s no deterrent to success.