With the hiring of Fred Hoiberg in Chicago by way of Iowa State, Billy Donovan to the Oklahoma City Thunder from Florida and Brad Stevens to Boston from Butler before them - is the end of the "college coaches can’t coach in the NBA" narrative upon us? It very well may be.
There was a time when college coaches were sure fire - well sure fires anyway. It was thought that the jump from college to the pros was never going to end well. Even the most successful college coaches were generally short tenured in the league.
Huge names in the college game stepped forward and entered the Association only to run back to the college ranks with tails between legs. John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Mike Montgomery even Jerry Tarkanian - considered college basketball royalty but also supremely unsuccessful at the professional basketball level. Is that narrative actually correct?
It seems that it’s all about timing, there have been successful transitions made from college to the pros including Larry Brown, Gregg Popovich, Bill Fitch and Chuck Daly. Aside from Popovich, who cut his teeth coaching overseas as well, there is quite the generation gap in the successes from college to pros.
Most of the unsuccessful coaches came into the league at a time when players generally ruled the roost. It’s not to say that the current climate of the NBA isn’t a “players league” but the recent success of Brad Stevens and the general youth movement of the league is allowing for younger coaches to gain acceptance with players and build a program-like atmosphere.
The average age of Brad Steven's Celtics is 25 years old, there are only two players over the age of 30. Stevens temperament and success at the college level translates with younger players who are more apt to accept coaching and more malleable to change and criticism. Stevens coached his young Celtics to the 7th spot in the 2015 NBA playoffs in his second season at the helm.
Hoiberg will be inheriting a Chicago Bulls team with a ton of baggage and an average age of 28 years old. It’s still unknown whether the Bulls will look to unload and rebuild or try to extend their current window of opportunity with the current roster. Hoiberg essentially doubles his salary (2.6 million to 5 million) by accepting the offer by the Bulls and leaves an Iowa State squad that promises to be a contender for a title this coming season.
Billy Donovan was hired previously by the Orlando Magic before backing out of the deal the day after his introductory press conference back in 2007 to return to the University of Florida. Donovan is back in the league and will have to work to convince stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to stick around. Donovan takes over a team that has underachieved and is coming off of a season where the face of the franchise, Kevin Durant, only played in 27 games due to injury. If Donovan can hold together the nucleus of the current Thunder team he may have landed in the best spot of all of the "college to pro" coaches thus far.
Rest assured that every NBA team with a coach on the hot seat is paying close attention to what happens in Boston, Chicago and Oklahoma as we all know this NBA is a league of trends.