Grading coaching hires of 2014

Buzz Williams, Kelvin Sampson, Cuonzo Martin ranked among the top hires for 2014. USA TODAY Sports

Each season I hand out coaching grades after the carousel winds down. Barring a college coach being lured to the NBA, all of the high-major jobs except for Oregon State are filled -- and that hire could be made soon, as well.

When grading, I obviously took into account the job that was being filled relative to the coach who wound up being hired and his résumé, whether as a proven head coach or as an assistant. For example, Virginia Tech pulling someone like Buzz Williams is even more significant because of the Hokies' lack of NCAA tournament success in the past. Many of these athletic directors weren't going to be able to get high-level, proven coaches -- so that has to be taken into account. Many grades also include the staff the head coach has already hired -- as that is an important and vastly underrated aspect of a program's success.

We start with the high-majors that earned top marks by hitting home runs with their hires and conclude with the mid-major programs that made additions that left something to be desired.

Virginia Tech

Hire: Buzz Williams -- This was the most shocking hire of the offseason, but it was clear that Williams wanted out of Marquette. He is a tremendous hire in Blacksburg, a place that has gone to the NCAA tourney only twice since 1986. Williams went to an Elite Eight and a pair of Sweet 16s and took Marquette to the NCAA tourney twice more in his six seasons at the helm. This was a fantastic get by new athletic director Whit Babcock -- the best pickup of the 2014 coaching carousel.
Grade: A


Hire: Bruce Pearl -- I'm not handing the former Tennessee coach a strong grade because I worked with him for a couple of years on SiriusXM and at ESPN. It's because of what he did in Knoxville for six seasons -- taking the Vols to the NCAA tournament every single spring. For a school like SEC bottom-feeder Auburn to get a basketball coach like Pearl is a grand slam -- and the only way it happened is because Pearl was itching to get back on the sideline after being hit with a three-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA. He'll have Auburn hoops relevant in time. My only concern with Pearl is his staff, which doesn't feature a top-notch recruiter like he had in Knoxville with Steve Forbes.
Grade: A-