Once upon a time, long before the transfer portal and NIL deals, college basketball offseasons were fairly boring affairs. Most players stayed in school, the most talented went pro, and coaches built up programs in an attempt to create their own legacies. Those days, the ones your dad remembers fondly, are over.
If players jumping from one school to the next was too much for the casual fan to handle, just wait until they see what the coaches are doing. In a sport that has historically prioritized patience and perseverance, fans now look to the suits to turn around a team. While it doesn't always lead to immediate wins, coaching hires can create a 'buzz' around campus that is hard to match. With talented transfers and five-star recruits spending months looking for a new home, a big name on the sidelines can attract major talent in a matter of days. Here are three head coaching hires that could reshape the landscape of college basketball.
Thad Matta - Butler Bulldogs
There's nothing quite as nice as coming home. That's exactly what Thad Matta did when he decided to come out of retirement to coach his alma matter, Butler. It's not often that a coach with two Final Four appearances and five conference Coach of the Year awards takes a five-year hiatus from the game. Matta had suffered from a medical condition known as drop foot, but has gotten himself "back into fighting shape." Matta returns to Butler as a head coach, having taken the school to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2001 in his one season as head coach.
Almost overnight, Matta has revamped the Bulldogs, bringing in a slew of experienced transfers to Indianapolis. Among the several players brought in, sharpshooter Eric Hunter Jr. and shot-blocking big man Manny Bates stand out as day-one difference makers. While they finished second-to-last in their conference last season, the gap between the best of the Big East and the rest has always been slim. With Jay Wright gone from Villanova, it's anyones guess as to who the conference favorites should be. They might not be there yet, but Matta's Bulldogs have the pieces to snap the team's five-year absence from the NCAA Tournament.
Kenny Payne - Louisville Cardinals
It seems as though Louisville's program has been in shambles ever since the NCAA stripped the team of its 2013 National Championship. Investigations, poor play, and behind-the-scenes dysfunction carried over past the Rick Pitino era, essentially dooming his replacement Chris Mack. Now, Cardinals faithful hopes one of the worst stretches in men's basketball history is just that: history. The climb back to respectability is what faces new head coach Kenny Payne, who will look to transform Louisville's culture in addition to its roster.
Payne, a former assistant at Oregon, Kentucky, and the New York Knicks, brings instant credibility to the Cardinals' bench. He's already managed to convince six players to return, an impressive feat in year one of a 'rebuild.' Payne also brings aboard two four-star prospects, Devin Rees and Kamari Lands, as well as former five-star Brandon Huntley-Hadfield, a sophomore transfer from Tennessee. It's an intriguing mix of talent that could lead to a tournament appearance, or a middling finish in the always-tough ACC. Regardless, this struggling program appears to be back on track, although the on-court results will tell us the most about Payne's future in Louisville.
Frank Martin - Massachusetts (UMass) Minutemen
While a rapid turnaround is possible next season for Butler and Louisville, it's hard to say the same of UMass. Since former head coach John Calipari left in 1996, the once-powerful Minutemen have made the NCAA Tournament just three times. Before they had even hired a head coach this offseason to replace Matt McCall, it was safe to say that UMass wouldn't be an easy fix. That's why it was nice to see the program go after one of the biggest names on the open market, Frank Martin.
Martin, who took both Kansas State and South Carolina to the Elite Eight (SC to the Final Four in 2017), is a proven winner with a power conference pedigree. While his hiring was made with a long-term focus, Martin has already had a significant impact on the makeup of the 2022 roster. Do-it-all guard Rashool Diggins transferred from UConn, Matt Cross comes over from Louisville, and Martin was also able to persuade forward Gianni Thompson into leaving rival Boston College. That's quite the haul for a program that has often struggled to attract premium talent. While the Atlantic 10 conference has some tough competition, Martin is the kind of coach that can bring a program back from the dead. Is it time for Amherst to party like it's 1996? Only time will tell.