Kim O'Reilly, CBS Sports

CBS Sports college basketball insiders Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent a month surveying 100-plus Division I men's basketball coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled across the sport's landscape: some of the biggest names in college basketball, but also small-school assistants in low-major leagues. Coaches agreed to share unfiltered opinions in exchange for anonymity. We asked them 10 questions, and will post the results over a three-week span.

We mostly mix our Candid Coaches questions up each year to ensure we touch on topics we know people within the sport are discussing -- like name, image and likeness rights and the transfer portal. But there are some questions that are constants every offseason.

This is one of those.

In an attempt to learn what actual college coaches think about how the coaching carousel unfolded this year, we asked roughly 100 college basketball coaches the following question:

Who was the best high-major coaching hire of 2023?

Rick Pitino (St. John's)36.9%
Ed Cooley (Georgetown)20.4%
Micah Shrewsberry (Notre Dame)12.6%
Chris Beard (Ole Miss)11.7%
Grant McCasland (Texas Tech)4.9%
Mike Rhoades (Penn State)3.9%
Rodney Terry (Texas)3.9%
Damon Stoudamire (Georgia Tech)2.9%
Kim English (Providence)1.9%
Red Autry (Syracuse)0.9%

Quotes that stood out

On Rick Pitino (St. John's)

  • "The Rick Pitino Effect is alive and well. Along with NIL backing from St. John's, the sky is the limit. We were fortunate to play Iona the last two years and Coach Pitino is still so sharp. His energy is through the roof, and he still has that competitive spirit. If he is able to do what he's been doing for the duration of his career, he will be the King of New York and have St. John's on the same level as the Knicks."
  • [The best hire] by far [is] Rick Pitino. I'm a New York guy -- and I think he is the only one who can fix St. John's. Everywhere he goes, man, he wins. ... I think there's no doubt that he's going to [win at St. John's]."
  • "[Pitino is a} proven, a winner everywhere he's gone. He's one of the best basketball minds in the country and a grinder on the recruiting trail. St. John's will be an NCAA Tournament team in Year 1."
  • "I think Rick Pitino is the greatest college coach of all time. He can recruit. He's a tactician.He's a great in-game coach. You check his body of work. He's a great late-game coach -- and all his teams compete at the highest level. In college, he's won everywhere he's shown up. When you think about coaching, what it requires, I think coaches make the difference out of timeouts, halftime, end-of-game, that's what we get paid for. And he's elite in those areas."

On Ed Cooley (Georgetown)

  • "I have watched him from a far. I think he fits the mold at Georgetown. I think he recruits well and comes across not only as a professional and hard worker, but one that is not a pushover either. He has shown that he can win at some traditionally tough jobs as well. I don't know him really at all besides a casual conversation but I have never heard anything bad said about the guy and he seems to have earned a lot people's respect when you say his name around the profession."
  • "Cooley because he is a proven HM winner who has a great reputation. I think he immediately gives credibility to the program and will get it back to winning with good kids who are proud to be at Georgetown."
  • "Gets the most out of his talent. His teams play hard. Great X-and-O in-game adjuster.  Was able to get Providence to be a contender year in and year out in the Big East. Able to figure out a new roster with transfers better than most."  

On Micah Shrewsberry (Notre Dame)

  • "[Put me down for] Shrewsberry based on the combination of taking over a program that's down but has great potential, his overall fit for all things Notre Dame, his ability to coach the game, and the probability of a long tenure. I could say the same things about Ed Cooley for sure." 
  • "I'll go with Micah Shrewsberry. He can coach his ass off and is a great culture fit for Notre Dame."

On Chris Beard (Ole Miss)

  • "[My answer] would be predicated on what you'd consider the criteria to be. The best coach with the ability to win games is Chris Beard. He took Texas Tech to the Final Four. That's not easy to do. I think he's tremendous. Obviously, you [have to look] past what transpired in Austin, [and if not for that] he wouldn't even be on that list [because he'd still be at Texas]. But I think he's a terrific, good coach." 

On Grant McCasland (Texas Tech)

  • "He has won at a high level everywhere he has been throughout his career. He is a tremendous communicator and builder of a winning culture. He seems to really invest time into the relationship he has with his guys, and they play extremely hard for him because of it. He also is a very good evaluator of talent. Rarely misses on a guy."

The takeaway

If you listened to our recent St. John's episode on the Eye On College Basketball podcast, you likely know that I agree with what the coaches told us here. I love Georgetown's hire of Ed Cooley. Micah Shrewsberry at Notre Dame seems perfect. I don't think there's any doubt Chris Beard will win at Ole Miss.

I actually like most of these high-major hires.

They're all sensible.

But this offseason's best hire has to be St. John's landing Rick Pitino, the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach who remains the only person to lead two different Division I men's basketball programs to national championships. He took Providence to the 1987 Final Four in his second year on the job, took Kentucky to the 1993 Final Four in his second year of eligibility (before winning the 1996 NCAA Tournament), and took Louisville to the Final Four in his fourth year on the job (before winning the 2013 NCAA Tournament). So not only has Pitino taken all three high-major programs he's coached to the final weekend of the season, he's done it remarkably quickly each time and should now rebuild St. John's even more quickly given how he'll be able to use name, image and likeness rights to lure first-time transfers with immediate eligibility.

For what it's worth, I have St. John's in my preseason Top 25 And 1.

I think the Red Storm will be good this season.

But even if they're not, I'm certain they'll eventually be great because even though Pitino will turn 71 years old later this month, he's still one of the sport's greatest coaches. He just spent the past three seasons going 64-22 at Iona with two Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season titles, two Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances. He was 34-6 in the MAAC the past two seasons. So, sure, it's highly unusual for a school to hire a new coach who will turn 71 before he coaches his first game. But St. John's doing it should prove brilliant because Pitino is not a typical man in his 70s. I don't know how else to say it, but when you talk to Pitino or text with him or just watch him work, he doesn't look or sound like a man in his 70s and/or in need of retirement. Like one coach told us above, Pitino remains very sharp and totally equipped to do the job St. John's hired him to do.

Barring a surprise, he'll do it well.

One interesting note is that Chris Beard is on this list for the second time in two years. In 2021, he received 61% of the vote when we asked roughly 100 coaches to name the best hire of that offseason. But he only received 11.7% of the vote this year, largely because some coaches seem conflicted with the question.

"How are you defining best?" multiple coaches asked.

Truth is, most coaches still believe Beard is just as great of a program-builder and coach as he was two years ago -- but some were hesitant to call him this offseason's "best hire" because some simply believe he should've never been hired by an SEC school just months after being charged with felony domestic violence stemming from an incident that got him fired at Texas. Yes, those charges were ultimately dropped, which cleared the way for Ole Miss to do what it did. But there are still people in the industry who are conflicted about an institution of higher learning hiring a person whose name appeared in a police report like the police report Beard's name appeared in last December, and that's the best explanation for why he finished fourth in voting this year after finishing first two years ago when the same question was asked.

Previous Candid Coaches questions: