CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be posting the results on nine questions they were asked.

When college coaches are presented with an opportunity to take a head gig at a program, there’s a number of things they evaluate. The first thing, as it’s the most obvious, is the money. Money often — but not always — wins. But since no two schools and situations are ever alike, coaches and the agents guiding them through the process can, and often do, consider a nearly dozen factors when looking at making a leap. 

They consider not just geography but the actual living location and school systems for them and their families. Then there is the local recruiting base/talent pool and how fertile it is or isn’t. Other factors include level of fan support, financial commitment from the athletic department, involvement from the school president, the quality of facilities, the amount of resources provided by the university to best enable a successful program. And plenty more. 

We already know that some of the best jobs in college hoops are North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Indiana, Arizona, Michigan State, UCLA and Louisville

But what about the ones that are even better than what they’re acknowledged as by the public or the college coaching community? That’s our next Candid Coaches question. 

Which school is the most underrated job in college basketball?


Graphic by Mike Meredith

Quotes that stood out

On Gonzaga

  • “It’s a big enough brand now that they can schedule like a high-major, get in exempt events and recruit better players than anybody else in their league. That’s what makes it a great job — the way they’re so much further along and invested than everybody else in their league. … Fewey (Mark Few) has never missed the NCAA Tournament. He might never miss the NCAA Tournament.”
  • “You’re favorite to win your league [almost] every year. That’s the kind of job you want.”

On Dayton

  • “They probably have the best fan support outside of the power conferences as they are routinely in the top 25 in attendance.  Their fans are as knowledgeable and passionate without being overly fanatical, at least from the outside looking in. There is tons of tradition and Ohio is very talent-rich, so there is a local recruiting base. Although they aren’t beating out Ohio State for kids, they can now have a chance to compete with Xavier and Cincinnati, as both of those programs go through their recent coaching transitions.”
  • “From an all-around standpoint, it’s an unbelievable basketball situation in that they’re in a great league right out of the [power conferences], sell out every night, charter everywhere, it’s a basketball-hot area of the country where it means something to people. I would say that’s one of the most underrated great jobs in the country. If you can get Dayton, I’d rather be at Dayton than a mid-level job in the ACC.” 
  • “I think it is Dayton. It is not a power-conference job, but has everything a power-conference job has in terms of facilities and infrastructure. They draw incredibly well, their fans travel well and they are in an area where they can recruit well.”

On Memphis

  • “Big-time facilities. Big-time support. Great players all over the city. There’s a reason Cal stayed there as long as he did.”
  • “Great location for recruiting, great facilities, unlimited resources, tremendous local support, committed to winning. Can be the Gonzaga of the southeast, where they dominate their league year in and year out. Houston is a close second for the same reasons.”

On Washington

  • “No professional basketball team in Seattle, vastly underrated talent pool in greater Seattle/Tacoma area (Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Thomas, Brandon Roy, Zach LaVine, Jamal Crawford, Dejounte Murray), elite academic reputation but with ability to get any fringe qualifier accepted, NBA draft tradition (Markelle Fultz, Marquese Chriss, Dejounte Murray, Terrence Ross, etc.) over recent years, large metropolitan city, campus is on a lake.”
  • “TONS of players in the city. Amazing city and campus. Seattle is the west coast version of Philadelphia. It is a basketball city!”

On Harvard

  • “Any Ivy League job [is the most underrated job]. Coach great kids and great players. It’s the 11th-ranked league and you really don’t deal with the problems that other programs deals with like transferring, leaving early, etc.”
  • “Make good money, can win the league every year, good location and as the best school in the country/world you can get involved recruiting with any good student in the country. Financial aid is a non-issue as well.”

On Houston

  • “They’re basically operating at a Big 12 level while still competing in the American. They are located in a major city with the resources, facilities and local recruiting base to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the country. Add in their ability to get high-level four-year JUCO transfers — even those with a little baggage — is a recipe for success. Especially with a guy like Coach Sampson at the helm. The sky is the limit for the Coogs.”
  • “Houston. One, they’ve got one of the best facilities in the country. Two, they’re in a major facility. When you talk about Houston, Texas, it’s one of the nicest cities in America. They’ve got geographic location and facilities. That’s hard to beat.” 

On Marquette

  • “The Marquette job, the resources are out of this world and they want to be really good. The facilities are getting even better and the brand new arena helps too. If you have even close to being good the support shows up too.”
  • “Loyal, passionate fan base. Great tradition. No football. Pro city and they invest big time in hoops.”
  • “Huge budget, passionate fans, NBA facility, history of pros, recruiting base but can recruit nationally.”

On Murray State

  • “They’re just set up to win. Just think about some of the coaches we’ve been there and won: Mark Gottfried, Mick Cronin, Billy Kennedy, Steve Prohm and now Matt McMahon.” 

On Oregon

  • “Oregon. Not considered a blue blood, but Nike sells and they got it all.”
  • “(Dana) Altman has done an amazing job there and their results are excellent. I just don’t think people nationally put them up on the tier that they belong.”

On Vanderbilt

  • “You have an advantage recruiting smart kids and get to live in the best city in the SEC.”

On Wichita State

  • “I’ve been there twice for postseason NIT Games (once as a player and once as a coach). The atmosphere is insane. Standing room only and every single fan is into the game including the old people. Best environment I’ve ever been apart of — and I played in the ACC. Plus, Gregg Marshall has one of the best contracts in the country, so they are committed.”
  • “Koch brothers say ‘yes’ to anything the program needs: private planes, budget items/needs, coaching salaries, etc. Midwest recruiting base, access to Canada, can dip into Texas, and national brand created can help them steal high-level players. Facilities, game day atmosphere, community support all high-level.”

The takeaway

No question in the eight-year history of Candid Coaches brought in a wider variety of responses than this one. We had an astonishing number: 47 schools received at least one vote. The schools came from 15 leagues: the American, America East, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Colonial, the Ivy League, Mountain West, Ohio Valley, Pac-12, SEC, WAC and the WCC.

If you’re curious on what WAC school could’ve made the cut, it was Grand Canyon. Wondering who from the America East could possibly get a nod? One coach cited the University of Vermont‘s location, neo-conference dominance and campus as reason why it’s a small-school dream gig. As for the Colonial, College of Charleston got multiple votes. If you’ve ever been to Charleston, South Carolina, you can understand why.

Now, if you were to go by Ken Pomeroy’s recently compiled list of every program in America, based on the past 23 seasons worth of data (and other less obvious but important criteria), then the truly most underrated program in the country — among the schools who got the most votes here — is Harvard (160th). 

The most overrated underrated program? Well, Gonzaga (12th). 

For me, Gonzaga winning was a surprise. When a school goes to every NCAA Tournament for two straight decades, it’s hard for it to be labeled as underrated. But we’re talking job, not program, and there is a difference. Clearly the coaches who lobbed a vote for Gonzaga did so because they see how Mark Few and his staff have been able to tap into the international recruiting market and essentially lead the way there. Plus, it’s probably collectively taken for granted how difficult it is to reach the Big Dance every single year.

But another reason why Gonzaga got the most votes? The campus, community and attitude in Spokane, Washington, is viewed as a near-perfect blend of expectations and pragmatism. Few might have the best work/life balance of any head coach in the sport. Few’s built something special and envious up in the Pacific Northwest.

On to Dayton: The votes it got from coaches were enthusiastic ones. Great region, great fan support, connotation to the NCAA Tournament every year, big boy in its league. Easy to see why UD got a lot of votes, and in fact a few coaches who wound up picking other schools noted Dayton as a finalist in their thinking. The Flyers came close to winning this question. (Big year ahead for UD, by the way.)

Memphis and Washington tied for third, which is interesting because the programs aren’t similar at all. The one thing they have in common is being based in a good-to-great region for high school talent. Washington has long been regarded as the sleeping giant of the Pac-12. With one-and-done types continuing to enroll at UW, perhaps Mike Hopkins is about to unlock that box. Memphis receiving its votes was interesting given that Penny Hardaway is seemingly well on his way to making sure nothing about the Tigers can be labeled as “underrated” in short order.

I loved the variety of the other top vote-getters. Marquette and Harvard? Murray State and Oregon? All eye-of-the-beholder stuff, and the fact these jobs are spread all over the country in different types of cities and towns was fun to see materialize as the answers rolled in. Some coaches voted with the view that for a job to be truly underrated was to be in a one-bid league. Others looked at it, like with Marquette and Oregon, and saw the resources available and positioning within their leagues and deemed their current status as a notch below where they should be placed. Again: as jobs and their ceilings, not as programs and how they’ve historically performed.

The fact so many schools received at least one vote is proof that a lot of places offer a lot of reason for optimism and potential to win. That’s a very good thing. It’s why, although college basketball has its blue bloods play as reliably (almost) as much as college football, there’s still more change year to year in terms of teams jumping up and entering the national conversation. That’s a big positive for the sport. 

So if you’re a fan of, say, Providence, Iowa State, Northwestern, UCF, BYU, Arkansas, Creighton or Xavier, you should be optimistic as well. Your school got votes for this as well. Multiple, in fact.


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