In a conference that many coaches use as a stepping-stone to larger schools and larger contracts, there are still some well tenured and exceptional coaches in the Atlantic 10.
#1 Phil Martelli (St. Joesph’s)
When Martelli led his Hawks on a magical run during the 2003-2004 season, the entire college basketball world seemed to embrace Martelli and his ability to remain cool, calm and collected with all the national attention this small Jesuit school was receiving.
Martelli is a very passionate coach and fights for his players. During that seasons Selection Sunday, he angrily refuted analyst Billy Packer’s belief on air that St. Joe’s really wasn’t that good and despite only one loss, were not deserving of their No. 1 seed. Martelli asked Packer to suit up himself and see how tough he team was. His team responded by advancing one game short of the Final Four, proving to everyone that they were the real deal.
In 11 seasons at St. Joes, he has posted a 222-135 record, been voted as the Atlantic 10 Coach of the year four times (2005, 2004, 2001, 1997), and was National Coach of the Year for the 2003-2004 season.
#2 Bobby Lutz (Charlotte)
While Lutz is new to the A-10, he has posted impressive numbers since taking over the 49ers in 1998. His team has been a part of post season play in all but one season, including five appearances in the big dance.
Lutz has also won two Conference USA tournament championships and one regular season title in 2003-2004; and this is before the Big East ransacked the conference and made it fairly non-competitive.
His consistency as a coach has constantly put him on lists for coaching vacancies in larger conferences. Nonetheless Lutz has remained in Charlotte, where this year he has a fairly inexperienced team with the exception of NBA prospect De’Angelo Alexander. Regardless, if past years are any indication, he should be able to conjure up another winning season.
#3 Karl Hobbs (George Washington)
In 2001 when Hobbs took over George Washington, there was a dark cloud hanging over the program. His predecessor, Tom Penders, was unsuccessful and there was speculation of a scandal. Since then, GW fans have enjoyed his intensity on the sidelines that seems to extend to his players on the court.
Last season was George Washington’s best. They went undefeated in the conference and Hobbs was the unanimous choice for A-10 Coach of the Year. Nearly all of their opponents were frustrated by the frenetic pace the Colonials played at on both ends of the floor, a trademark of Hobbs. This year will be challenging though as George Washington loses 60% of their offense from a year ago; but knowing Hobbs he’s excited to prove the critics wrong.
#4 Travis Ford (UMASS)
Probably the most intriguing team in the conference this year is led by the most intriguing coach in the conference this year. The former University of Kentucky guard is only 37 years old and seems to have a bright coaching future. He landed the UMASS job after turning around an Eastern Kentucky program that went from 7-19 in his first year, to 22-9 and an Ohio Valley Confrence championship in 2005.
Arguably with the best recruiting class in the conference coming into this season, it will be interesting to see if Ford stays at UMASS for the long run and tries to get the Minutemen back to where they were in the 90’s. His name will constantly come up for higher profile jobs and we will see how dedicated he is to this program.
#5 Sean Miller (Xavier)
When Thad Matta somewhat unexpectedly left Xavier in 2004 and went 100 miles north to Columbus to coach Ohio State, many called the promotion of then assistant coach Sean Miller a seamless transition. The word was that Miller was the brains behind much of Xavier’s game plans and Matta simply orchestrated the team during those 40 minutes when the ball was in play.
After two seasons at Xavier, the verdict is still out…somewhat.
There is no doubt Miller is passionate and knowledgeable about basketball and deserves the job, and he may very well be like past Xavier coaches who are highly sought after and jump to greener pastures after a few seasons.
This year will be huge for Miller’s reputation. The Musketeers return four starters plus transfer guard Drew Lavender and are expected to win the A-10.
Live up or exceed expectations and Miller will instantly be loved (like any head coach in sports). But if he fails to produce, Xavier fans will once again question his decisions.
#6 Dereck Whittenburg (Fordham)
In what was probably the most famous air-ball in college basketball history, Dereck Whittenburg is best known for his shot with seconds left in the 1983 NCAA Championship game that was put back by Lorenzo Charles at the buzzer to lift underdog NC State over powerhouse Houston.
Fast forward to 2006 and Whittenburg is slowly turning around a basketball program that has virtually been expected to lose year in and year out. Fordham has increased their season win total in each of his three seasons at the helm and the trend figures to continue this year.
Whittenburg has all-conference forward Bryant Dunston who is very versatile and will carry this year's Rams. Whittenburg’s main task will be to find players who compliment Dunston best. Fordham may be a year away from truly contending, but they should be in the mix this year, and if Whittenburg sticks around, for years to come.
#7 Brian Gregory (Dayton)
In three years at Dayton, Gregory has posted a 56-37 record, second best of all UD coaches in their first three years of coaching. The program itself will continue to look to Gregory to be the man to keep Dayton as a perennial contender in the A10--- they recently extended his contract through the 2012-2013 season. This year UD features a solid combination in Monty Scott and Brian Roberts, and Gregory will look to them to help the Flyers win games.
#8 John Giannini (La Salle)
While I may be a bit biased here as Dr. Giannini once helped a young Nick Fasulo work on his jump shot at a clinic while he was a coach at Maine, the Explorers landed a great teacher of the game of basketball and a very well respected person.
Entering his third season at La Salle, the team will be young but athletic and aggressive. Expect Giannini to make up for the teams lack of height with lots of running and a full court press.
#9 Brad Soderberg (Saint Louis)
Soderberg may have something going in at Saint Louis. Last year he coached a Billikens squad that was predicted to finish near the bottom of the A-10, to a second place finish. Last seasons ROY Tommie Liddell and NBA prospect Ian Vouyoukas return to a squad that is now expected to finish in the top of the league. There’s also legitimate talk of making the Big Dance, which would be their first since 2000.
#10 Jim Baron (Rhode Island)
While wins and losses don’t necessarily make Jim Baron an outstanding coach, creating a well- rounded student athlete does. As the second most tenured coach in the conference, Baron stresses academics, proof being in that all four seniors are set to graduate this spring. This is something not many Division I schools can boast.
URI as a school defiantly believes in Baron and values his commitment to creating quality young men. Like UD’s Gregory, his contract extends through the 2012-2013 season.