I believe Georgia Tech will be in the market for a basketball coach within the month. I do not know this for a fact, but I work today on that assumption. But before I offer a half-dozen (or so) candidates I’d consider to replace Paul Hewitt, I should explain why some major names aren’t on the list.
• Brad Stevens isn’t on it because I’ll believe he’ll leave Butler only when I see it, and maybe not then. The same goes for Mark Few of Gonzaga.
• Tubby Smith isn’t on the list because the Tubby’s-coming-back-to-Georgia-to-coach-somebody rumor has become such an annual occurrence as to be discounted. (Didn’t take the Hawks job back in 2004, did he? Didn’t return to UGA in 2009, did he?) And Tubby Smith — who is, I should stipulate, among my all-time favorites as both a man and a coach — will turn 60 in June. I’m not sure you start over with a 60-year-old.
• Mark Price isn’t on the list because he hasn’t been a collegiate head coach and isn’t currently working in college basketball. (He’s the shooting coach for the Golden State Warriors.)
• Lon Kruger of UNLV isn’t on the list because he’s 58. Fran Dunphy of Temple isn’t because he’s 62. Blaine Taylor of Old Dominion isn’t because he’s 53. (Which is younger than I am, for the record.)
• Bobby Cremins isn’t on the list because you can’t go home again.
• Bobby Knight isn’t on the list because the great lure of Georgia Tech basketball — it plays in a prestigious conference and is based in the capital of a state that produces a slew of big-time basketball players (Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Derrick Favors, Trey Thompkins) — would be rendered null and void. Because no big-timer would play for Bobby Knight.
• Randy Bennett of Saint Mary’s isn’t on the list because he has never worked east of the Mississippi. (Though he did spent two years as Lorenzo Romar’s assistant at St. Louis, which is pretty darn close to the Mississippi.)
• Jamie Dixon of Pitt and Jay Wright of Villanova aren’t on the list. I’d love it if they were, but they have better jobs. And the Big East is a hotter conference than the ACC.
Which leads me to this: Three ACC programs hired new coaches last spring, and none elicited a “Wow!” Clemson hired Brad Brownell of Wright State. Boston College hired Steve Donahue of Cornell. Wake Forest hired Jeff Bzdelik of Colorado. This isn’t to say any were bad hires — Brownell and Donahue have done well — but none had the sizzle of Bob Huggins heading to West Virginia or John Calipari going to Kentucky. (FYI, Calipari was interested in the Tech job back in 2000.)
There’s the preface. Here’s my list:
Mike Anderson, Missouri: He’s close to Dixon/Wright status in that he presides over a Top 25 program in a major conference. (And Missouri can throw money at him to stay.) But he grew up in Birmingham and coached at UAB and worked under Nolan Richardson at Arkansas, and he might have a hankering to return to the South. And I for one would love to see his full-tilt style shake up the rather staid ACC.
Scott Drew, Baylor: He coached under his famous dad Homer at Valparaiso and has worked since 2003 in Waco, where he inherited a program leveled by a scandal involving the murder of a by a former player. He’s 84-43 over the past three-plus seasons. Last spring he took the Bears to the Elite Eight, after which he signed a 10-year extension. Not sure he’d leave for Tech, but how much longer is a coach this young (40) and skilled apt to stay in Waco?
Brian Gregory, Dayton: He doesn’t fit the definition of a Hot Young Guy. He’s 44, which isn’t that young, and his Flyers are 5-6 in the Atlantic 10, which isn’t hot. But he’s 167-89 in seven-plus seasons at a mid-major that takes the sport seriously, and he apprenticed under Tom Izzo at Michigan State.
Cuonzo Martin, Missouri State: Here’s your Hot Young Guy. Martin was Glenn Robinson’s wingman at Purdue when the Big Dog was the best player in college basketball. Martin played in Europe and survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and has become a coach of growing portfolio. He won 24 games last season at Missouri State, which as Southwest Missouri State perpetrated a memorable NCAA tournament upset of Clemson at the old Omni. Martin’s latest Bears are 20-6, tied with Wichita State atop the Missouri Valley Conference. Another reason to like Martin: He worked under Gene Keady at Purdue, and Keady assistants do well. Think Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt, Bruce Weber at Illinois and now Matt Painter with the Boilermakers.
Chris Mooney, Richmond: Good young coach — he’s 38 — at another pedigreed mid-major. He played under the legendary Pete Carril at Princeton, which means, surprisingly enough, that he runs the Princeton Offense. Mooney led the Spiders to the NCAA tournament last season, but they were upset (Richmond was actually the better seed) by Bennett and Saint Mary’s. Richmond is 20-6, tied with Temple for second in the Atlantic 10 . Possible disqualifier: Richmond played Tech in December and lost. If you go by RPI, that’s the Spiders’ worst loss of the season.
Mark Turgeon, Texas A&M: Played under Larry Brown at Kansas, coached under both Brown and Roy Williams there. Turgeon also signed a contract extension after last season, in which he took the Aggies to the NCAA tournament for the third time in three tries. This appears to be his best A&M team — it’s 19-5 and ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press poll. Not sure he’d leave for Tech, either, unless he just wants out of College Station and into the ACC. (A&M is rumored to be bound for the SEC, which might or might not be a consideration.)
OK, there are six candidates, three of whom would surely see Tech as a step up. And you’ll notice I included only current head coaches. This kept me from including assistants Mark Montgomery of Michigan State, Steve Masiello of Louisville and Joe Dooley of Kansas, all of whom should be head coaches soon. But there’s one assistant coach who bears special consideration, and he is …
Craig Neal, New Mexico: Known as Noodles when he played at Tech, where he first served as Price’s backup before becoming an outstanding point after Price departed. He has been Steve Alford’s chief assistant in Albuquerque since 2007, and last season the Lobos were 30-5 and entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed. This year they’re 17-8. I cannot imagine a circumstance in which Neal would not crawl to Atlanta for a chance to coach his alma mater.
Oh, and one more name, this one a long shot but nonetheless intriguing:
Herb Sendek, Arizona State: He’s the dullest guy in the world, and he’s not a great recruiter. He left N.C. State in a snit because Wolfpack fans weren’t satisfied with five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. But things haven’t gone great for him in Tempe — he’s 85-70 in four-plus seasons and has reached the Big Dance only once — and his Sun Devils are 9-15 and hold last place in the Pac-10. There’s a chance Sendek could get fired this season. It’s not often a big-time program hires a coach who has just been canned at another school, but Sendek does have a history of winning in the ACC. He was 46-34 in league play his final five seasons at State.
And that’s it — a long post regarding a short list. And if you’re asking which of these names fascinates me the most, I’d think really hard and say:
By Mark Bradley