Craig Neal: This alum merits consideration as Tech’s coach

Noodles Neal as a Jacket, driving against Ranzino Smith. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech)

Craig "Noodles" Neal as a Jacket, driving against Ranzino Smith. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech)

Ordinarily it makes little sense to hire as head coach someone who hasn’t been a head coach, but Craig Neal’s circumstances are special. He’s not just any assistant but one of the best in the nation. (He has a five-year contract; most assistants go year-to-year.) He has worked alongside Steve Alford for seven seasons, and together they’ve averaged 23 victories — first at Iowa, now at New Mexico.

Last March the Lobos, who hail from the Mountain West Conference, entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed. This was a lesser Lobo season, but they still went 21-12 in a league that yielded a No. 2 NCAA seed (San Diego State), a No. 3 (BYU) and a No. 8 (UNLV). And given New Mexico’s youth — only one senior on the roster — 21-12 and an NIT berth stands to be the worst this program does for a while.

Said Alford, speaking Sunday of Neal: “He’s been like an assistant head coach. He’s our recruiting coordinator; he’s our offensive coordinator.” (And Neal is not, you should know, the defensive coordinator who allowed BYU’s Jimmer Fredette to go for 52 points last weekend.) Then this from Alford: “I may be biased, but I think [Neal is] a slam dunk.”

He meant as head coach of Georgia Tech, which is in the market for one. And why, you might be interested to know, should an assistant working in Albuquerque be considered for a job in Atlanta?

Because Craig Neal went to Georgia Tech, played (very well) at Georgia Tech, loves Georgia Tech. He experienced Tech basketball at a time when it was the hottest ticket in town. Said Neal: “It used to be you couldn’t get in the place.”

That was in the middle ’80s, when Bobby Cremins was the coach and Mark Price was the point guard and Neal his backup. After Price exited in 1986, Neal would become the starter and make all-ACC. Some Tech backers have pointed to Price as the guy who should be the next Tech coach, but he has worked only sparingly in college basketball — he’s now the shooting coach for the Golden State Warriors — and would be a reach, resume-wise. Neal would not.

Alford: “What sets him apart is that he has had seven years in college ball after 1o years in the NBA [with the Toronto Raptors, first as a scout and then as Lenny Wilkens' assistant] When he walks into a recruit’s house, he hits every note — he has played and coached in the league, and he has played and coached at a high level in college.”

But what about the one gap, the part about never having been a head coach? Said Neal: “There are all kinds of cases at BCS schools of assistants succeeding. I’d have to know my limitations, and I’d hire my staff accordingly. I’d hire someone with head coaching experience.”

Craig Neal today. (Photo courtesy of New Mexico)

Craig Neal today. (Photo courtesy of New Mexico)

Something else of importance: Neal lived in Kennesaw when scouting for the Raptors — he advised drafting Tracy McGrady in 1997 and Vince Carter in 1998 — and he knows the South well. His dad coached for a decade at Pope High in Marietta, and the younger Neal is familiar with the history and hierarchy of the massively important AAU Atlanta Celtics. (Speaking of recruiting: Craig’s son Cullen figures to be a top recruit in 2013.)

Regarding Tech, Neal said: “I know the lay of the land. I know you must get student-athletes who understand the importance of academics. I know there’s a great community and great tradition. I know what it takes.”

Said Alford, who famously led Indiana to the 1987 NCAA title: “When you hire an alum as head coach, you get his heart. He’s not there because he can make more money or because it’s in the ACC, and when things go wrong he’s not looking for a way out. Next year Tech will have to play all road games [because of renovation to the former Alexander Memorial Coliseum], and that’s tough. But when you get an alum, his heart’s in the job.”

This isn’t to say Neal is the only man for Tech, or even the best man. This is to say that, because of who he is and where he has been, he deserves a chance to make his case to athletic director Dan Radakovich. He might be a career assistant, but he’s surely the only college assistant now working who can look at Georgia Tech and say, as he did Sunday, “That’s my dream job. That’s my school.”

And for an amended list of six (head) coaches who might be possibilities at Tech, click here.

By Mark Bradley

117 comments Add your comment

GTSteve

March 14th, 2011
10:44 am

He would be FIRST on my list

redeagle4

March 14th, 2011
10:44 am

Will you run him off in the press like you did Hewitt?

Road Scholar

March 14th, 2011
10:48 am

Good article, but with your and Schutz’s track record, why would anyone at Tech listen to you? Continueing to bash Tech will help your fan appeal?

Frontman

March 14th, 2011
10:48 am

redeagle4,
I think it’s safe to say at this point that Coach Hewitt ran himself off.

Bluestreak

March 14th, 2011
10:50 am

Agreed. GT needs someone to rekindle those heyday years of the 80s. Neal would be a seemingly perfect choice. Not sure an outside voice is what is needed. The outside voice was just asked to leave.

juvenal

March 14th, 2011
10:51 am

good choice…..

Buzz

March 14th, 2011
10:56 am

We didn’t run CPH off fast enough!!!!! GROUND HOG DAY IS OVER!!!!!!! I would love to see Brad Stevens from Butler!! Neal would be my second choice.

Saint Simons

March 14th, 2011
10:56 am

(((((73-72))))) hahahahahaha

Wesley Chandler

March 14th, 2011
10:57 am

Neal and Price together?? I want Price in there somehow

Ray

March 14th, 2011
10:59 am

A perfect fit to me would be one of the two Duke assistants (Wojo or Collins). They know how to recruit characters guys to an elite academic school that can play hoops too.

UGA=YAWN

March 14th, 2011
11:01 am

Hewitt deserved to be run off. He deserved to be fired 3 years ago if not more. His records prove that. Also, he recruited track athletes – not basketball players. None of them understood the first fundamental of basketball – shooting the ball through the hoop!! 19 points in a half vs VT! Lol. 30% shooting percentages – awful. I watched how many mid-major tourney games this year and they all had great 3-pt shooters. We had none. I’d take a team of short white guys that can dribble, pass and shoot over 5 black guys that can run, dunk and press.

Neal and Price

March 14th, 2011
11:02 am

here we go again, a shooting coach for the NBA Warriors and that makes All American Mark Price not qualified. bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

gee, do you think GT doesn’t need someone to teach fundamentals and how to shoot the ball? It just makes me laugh that you are so adamant against Mark Price, it makes me favor him even more.

I like Craig Neal too. He and Mark use to be roommates at GT. Hire both of them.

It just kiils me that you just think you know it all and you don’t.

okiemon

March 14th, 2011
11:02 am

I think he’s a great choice. NOT because he’s a Tech man – how did Pepper Rodgers and Bill Curry work out? – but because he’s a young, energetic, and apparently accomplished assistant coach. As D Rad says, GT needs someone to energize the fan base and make Tech basketball significant once again. Neal can do that.

JacketFanMarcus

March 14th, 2011
11:04 am

As at 92 Tech alum that went to all the games during the Cremins era, I have fond memories of Neal and the rest of the players.

But this is a business, not emotional and hopefully dreaming…

We saw what happened when UNC Tar Heels brought in an unproven, former player as coach, Matt Doherty in 2001. They got rid of him quick! And got a proven coach after that…

CoachJRB

March 14th, 2011
11:05 am

I’m in, sounds like he would be a GREAT hire. Grab Mark Price as an assistant and then a few seasoned vets and you have a really solid staff.

RamblinRed

March 14th, 2011
11:06 am

No thanks on Neal. You don’t hand an ACC HC job to an asst. Hasn’t been a successful one of those in the last 30 yrs.

people are way to enamoured of alums, that is not a reason to hire a HC.

And please no K assts, no former Duke player under K has been sucessful as a HC, his tree doesn’t work well. Amaker – colossal fail at Michigan. Quin Snyder- fail, Johnny Dawkins – hasn’t done anything at Stanford yet.

The rumored current top 3 I like. All current HC playing in the post-season. 2 from mid-major’s, 1 from a BCS school.

Connie Lingous

March 14th, 2011
11:09 am

Nice post Bradley – it is in much better taste and more professional than your previous one listing candidates – I hope your colleague Jeff Schultz will approve.

Josh Powell

March 14th, 2011
11:10 am

YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO, COP! I AM EDUCATED!

I AM AN NBA PLAYER, AND I GOT ME A GAME TO GO TO!

YOU BETTER NOT DISRESPECT ME!

okiemon

March 14th, 2011
11:11 am

RamblinRed, I completely agree that someone’s status as an alum is no reason to hire him as HC. I think that’s why some folks are so enamored of Mark Price. But being an alum is also no reason to be declared ineligible; a candidate should be judged on his experience, ability, and track record as a coach. I think MB’s article is saying that.

Dink

March 14th, 2011
11:11 am

Rollie Massimino or Lou Carnesecca

RAMBLE ON!!!

March 14th, 2011
11:12 am

The most important thing has been done, and that’s ending GROUND HOG DAY!!!

OH HAPPY DAY!!!

I can see us making f/t’s and successfully en-bounding the basketball. Probably have a time out or two at the end of the game when we need them.

JSS

March 14th, 2011
11:13 am

Well he (Neal) and Rice will have something in common, an exaggerated opinion of their game…

DawginLex

March 14th, 2011
11:13 am

Sounds like he would be someone to take a chance on. He might need to go to a mid major first but considering his background and experience, he might can skip that step on the ladder.

Wrong

March 14th, 2011
11:14 am

Who are these fools saying Hewitt got rum off? That’s idiotic at best. He was a highpaid coach at a top basketball school with high expectations. Hewitt had 10 years of which 1 was great, 2 were decent, and 7 were pitiful. He hung himself at GT through lack of performance and leadership with no real plan for improvement.

icallbs

March 14th, 2011
11:14 am

You TECH guys have a potential gem here. He sure seems like someone you’d have to take a hard look at.

rduck

March 14th, 2011
11:16 am

I would have no problem with Neal being hired. We need someone who has sweat and bled for this program. He would fit the bill nicely IMO. Good coach, good recruiter, and a former alum. What else could you ask for?

Rich T

March 14th, 2011
11:16 am

redeagle4 to Mark Bradley: “Will you run him off in the press like you did Hewitt?”

Mark did his job, which is more than one can say for Hewitt.

fuzzybee

March 14th, 2011
11:16 am

I like Neal….but why hasn’t he had a head coach job yet? I’m not in the mood to find out if he can cut it as the head man. Let’s hire a proven head coach.

T-Bone

March 14th, 2011
11:17 am

I read the article in the ajc this morning that Kenny Anderson wants to come in some capacity. Now that would be an interesting duo–Noodles and one of the Lethal Weapon 3.

juvenal

March 14th, 2011
11:22 am

is this a FIRST for no kudoes(sic)?

Tech Man

March 14th, 2011
11:22 am

If we can’t get an established head coach then I would agree that Noodles would be a good choice. This is no time to get sentimental. Our program needs to rebound fast because of all the negative money going out to Chan Gailey and Paul Hewitt ( who will be on our payroll for the next five years-thanks to Dave Braine). I’m sure DRad will make a wise decision and get the right guy.

Always a Jacket

March 14th, 2011
11:24 am

Being an Alum makes no difference. Curry bolted to Alabama first chance he got.

Let’s get someone with HC experience and good track record.

ManUp...

March 14th, 2011
11:24 am

I’d take Neal, but if the “Price” is right…

GT hulk

March 14th, 2011
11:26 am

Neal or Amaker—we need a Duke assistant, someone for academics, 4 year players and know what winning is about. I go for one of these two.

T3

March 14th, 2011
11:27 am

GT is spending $52 Million to make a MAJOR change in the B-Ball program.

I have 100% confidence that D-Rad will make the right hiring decision.

I just dont think it’s going to be Craig Neal.

I think it will be someone with a PROVEN D-1 track record.

Buck Commander

March 14th, 2011
11:27 am

Kudos today for you Mark Bradley. I noticed you made the sports vent a few times today so you must feel like a V.I.P. Congrats.

Jermaine

March 14th, 2011
11:31 am

Ga tech needs to hire another African-American coach to get the inner city recruits around Atlanta.

JSS

March 14th, 2011
11:33 am

@ GT Hulk…
Do you have any idea what happened with Amaker at Michigan? There are two people that you better have a cop for AD with, that’s Quin Snyder and Tommy Amaker. He needs to thank Harvard for the 2nd chance and make like Dave Gavitt!

Sonny Clusters

March 14th, 2011
11:34 am

We was surprised to get a call about the Tech job but we was quick to tell ‘em we don’t do basketball. Clusters can play about every sport but we don’t jump well in basketball. Not sure why it’s that way when you consider we starred at track and field and that required some jumping. It may be the short pants and the hardwood floor that make basketball jumping so hard.

BuckheadBill

March 14th, 2011
11:35 am

Did I see that his name is “NOODLES”? Can’t wait.

Worm

March 14th, 2011
11:37 am

Refresh my memory on Neal..Wasn’t he the one who had test answers “handed” to him before the test.

Hewitt Fan

March 14th, 2011
11:37 am

@ Mark Bradley
He would be a good hire and he does have connections with Coach Mccray and the whole CELTIC program…but are you going to overate the talent every year and then start making the GT fan base stop going to games and bash him every other day like you did Hewitt? Last year you said GT had 3 1st round picks and should have been a final four team despite the fact we were starting 3 freshman and a soph..You know these GT fans worship you and think you are the Coach K of writing! you control the minds of GT fans…So please be fair to the next coach.. GT fans, here are a couple of facts about Mark Bradley…
1. He is not from Georgia, I think he is from Kentucky, so he is not a GT fan ..He is a AJC writer(average at best)
2.He really is not a basketball insider..I remember he wrote an article a long time ago saying we were entering the Christian Leattner era..lol…that guy was a bust
3.He ran off Hewitt due to personal reasons nothing more, nothing less..So GT fans just remember he is not really a GT man!

bigeasy830

March 14th, 2011
11:39 am

Instead of making a run at the assistant, make a run at Alford.

Mark Bradley

March 14th, 2011
11:43 am

Kudos to GTSteve Belated kudos. I had to take my wife to work.

fuzzybee

March 14th, 2011
11:44 am

Hewitt Fan …. what are you smoking? Hewitt’s a good guy who could not win with any amount of talent.

JSS

March 14th, 2011
11:44 am

Oh let me say it before some silly blogger posts. Amaker is not dirty like Snyder, but his teams fold like a tent. He needs a “cop like AD” to deflect crazy alumni. And Michigan has some crazy alumni :-)

greenjacket

March 14th, 2011
11:45 am

Neal would be an excellent choice. I hope Dan takes a good look at him.

GT in CT

March 14th, 2011
11:45 am

Good info provided here. Thanks, Mark. It could make financial sense, too.

Ramblin' Wreck

March 14th, 2011
11:46 am

A lot of fellow Tech fans are clamoring for Mark Price to have the job. My question: Is Mark Price clamoring for the job? I get the sense he’s happy where he is and wouldn’t want to take on the work load of head coach (and I don’t blame him!).

With Neal, you get someone who is dedicated to the coaching life and has mentored under some great coaches. He doesn’t have direct head coaching experience? So what? Guess who did? Paul Hewitt! How did that work out?

Would he be a risk? Sure. But guess what…SO IS EVERYONE ELSE! Don’t assume you can just go grab a mid-major coach and they’ll be instantly successful. I’d take a flyer on Neal – it’s worth a shot. And seriously, how much farther could he sink the team at this point (4-12 ACC, main player probably gone, a whopping one recruit committed next year)?

(Oh, and for the Price fans out there, you think Mark wouldn’t be willing to help an old teammate at his alma mater? Maybe then our guys could hit some free throws!)

Tech Fan Since 1950

March 14th, 2011
11:50 am

If Noodles is named the head coach he needs to be free to bring in the assistant coaches he thinks would do the jobs best. However, the record will show that most colleges and universities do not hire top administrators from within existing staff or the home base (alumni). That goes for presidents, deans, basketball coaches, etc. It doesn’t mean it will not happen. Just means the odds are not great based on the percentages. Sounds like Coach Neal is very deserving for consideration. He has paid his dues and has a variety of experiences, including the Tech background. I hope he and Mark Price get interviews or at least are consulted. Tech needs to find a coach that can recruit, manage, counsel and teach. No more one and dones, period…I don’t care how good the player. Tech and Duke are alike and not alike in a lot of ways, but Tech can be a consistent winner again, like Duke is now, if it can keep its talented players in school at least three years and at least in range for a potential Tech degree.