What do Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, and Andy Enfield have in common? Well, it's a pretty obvious common thread. The three have taken their respective college basketball programs to unexpected heights in the NCAA Tournament over the last three years.
In essence, they coached Cinderellas. At schools like VCU, Butler, and Florida Gulf Coast, it takes ingenuity and creative coaching to get a Cinderella team to great lengths in the craziness that is March Madness. Smaller teams are going up against powerhouse programs with seemingly unlimited resources and recruiting power at their hands, and yet the coaches of these smaller teams devise schemes that are able to find loopholes and the potential for success.
Smart, Stevens, and Enfield have all been able to do just that. They've taken small schools without recent Tournament longevity and coached them to national recognition, capturing the adoration of the American media and people along their journeys.
However, there is one thing that separates two from the other.
Smart, who coached his VCU Rams to a Final Four berth in 2011 and led them back to the Tournament in the two years since, signed a contract extension that has him at VCU until 2023.
Stevens, after his first national championship run with Butler in 2010's March Madness, signed a 12-year extension that keeps him a Bulldog through 2022.
But Enfield, the most recent sensational Cinderella coaching story, decided yesterday to ditch his FGCU Eagles and head diagonally across the country for the head coaching job at USC.
It was a curious move to be certain, and not one that we wanted to see happen. But when you move past the obvious, shocking lack of loyalty, what stands out is how little sense this move makes for Enfield logically.
Enfield is heading to a USC program that finished 14-18 overall and went 9-9 in a Pac-12 that wasn't exactly on top of its game. The Trojans are losing their top scorer Eric Wise, and two of their top four scorers. In total, the team is losing 25.5 points per game from their top seven contributors due to graduation. Not exactly a recipe for immediate success.
By staying at FGCU, Enfield would have been stepping back into a fan base who worshipped the ground he walked on (they're pretty crazy, you know -- they shouted this) and started to build something special down there. In his two years as head coach, he took an Eagles team that went 10-20 the year before, added five wins, and reached the finals of the Atlantic Sun Conference championship. This year, Enfield found a way to tack on 11 new wins and win the Conference championship, propelling the team to the NCAA Tournament. We all know what happened from there.
He would be losing Sherwood Brown, a rough loss as Brown was essentially FGCU's mascot during the tournament run. But after Brown, no other player averaging 6.0 points per game or better is graduating. Turnover would have become turnover, and the school could have started to work towards building an Atlantic Sun juggernaut.
Instead, Andy Enfield and the Trojans are the match made in commercial heaven. He brought the world Dunk City, and USC is in California, the most commercial area in America. But what kind of success can Enfield actually have with the Trojans if he's stepping into such a precarious situation? After all, his new employer's sports programs are better known for their failed draft picks and their scandals than anything resembling basketball success.
First, I ask if Enfield can recruit well in California? It depends on what you consider recruiting "well." He'll be fighting off Steve Alford and the mythic allure of playing for UCLA, an uphill battle, and only has a Sweet 16 run to his name. Sure, he'll get a few players who loved Dunk City like the rest of us. But players who are serious about playing college basketball in California know that UCLA is the place to be, whether they have Wooden, Howland, Alford, or George Washington at the helm.
And then I ask if Enfield will have the chance to build anything at USC? Next season doesn't seem promising with the departures and no jump on this year's recruiting class. If next season isn't successful, what will entice recruits to come to USC? The fact that their head coach had a burst of success in 2013 and then failed the next year? Not exactly a big ticket item for serious players with big dreams.
Maybe I'm wrong about the USC job. Maybe Enfield's heralded relentless recruiting prowess will create a whirlwind of success for the program.
But I know that I'm not wrong when I say that, had he consulted the likes of Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens instead of the likes of Hollywood, he would have stayed with his Dunk City purveyors. And, like them, he could have created something special for a school that already found its place in the hearts of armchair analysts around America.