April 1, 2014
By Bruce Marshall
As the college hoops season ramps up to a bang-bang conclusion next weekend at Jerry Jones Stadium in Arlington, the wheels have been already turning at a variety of locales for several weeks. Indeed, as is often the case in the early spring, the coaching carousel has been spinning at a very high speed. The dominoes have already begun to fall and several more could be triggered pending the outcomes of some of the ongoing coaching searches, with more existing coaches apparently being targeted by some of the involved schools.
The situations at all of these locales are fluid and subject to change at a moment's notice, but as of Monday, March 31, here is an up-to-date rundown of this year's Division-I coaching carousel.
AUBURN...Tony Barbee walked the plank just hours after the Tigers were dumped out of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta, and Auburn moved quickly for a replacement, not even blinking before hiring the controversial Bruce Pearl, who, when last seen on the sidelines, was being run out of Tennessee after making the Vols a perennial contender in the SEC and frequent Big Dance participant. Pearl was also just beyond a three-year NCAA probationary "show-cause" period, so some of the potential red tape involved in his hire was avoided. Not many schools would be willing to risk a hire on Pearl, who carries a lot of baggage... but since when have those issues been a concern on the Plains?
BOSTON COLLEGE...After four years in charge following his stewardship of Cornell into the Big Dance, Steve Donahue was let go after the Eagles disappointed big-time this season, with only their late-season upset of then top-ranked and unbeaten Syracuse highlighting the campaign. Donahue's record the last three seasons was 33-63, making the decision of AD Brad Bates (who was hired after Donahue) a fairly easy one. No shortage of names for this opening that has been a fairly-prestigious one at times over the past few decades, with the most intriguing candidate being ex-UConn HC Jim Calhoun, reportedly very interested in a return to the coaching ranks (but perhaps not at BC). Harvard's Tommy Amaker was also reportedly contacted but has decided to stay across town with the Crimson.
While the Calhoun rumors persist, a few other names have surfaced, including alum Mark Schmidt, who has kept St. Bonaventure relevant in recent seasons, and who reportedly interviewed last week, as apparently did Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, long considered to be Jim Boeheim's heir apparent at the Carrier Dome but now apparently looking to move out on his own before perhaps returning to the 'Cuse in a few years with some head coaching experience. The fact that Boeheim apparently has no intention of stepping down anytime soon might have also prompted Hopkins to look around, and he was close to getting the Southern Cal job last year before Andy Enfield and his "Dunk City" swooped in from Florida Gulf Coast and was preferred instead by Trojan AD Pat Haden. Other targets could include UMass HC Derek Kellogg, Providence HC Ed Cooley, Towson HC Pat Skerry, and Boston U. HC Joe Jones. Another possible candidate, George Washington's Mike Lonergan, just signed a long-term extension with the Colonials, likely removing him from the mix.
BOWLING GREEN...The classy Louis Orr could not forge a turnaround in his seven years at Bowling Green, which has become more than a bit antsy for an NCAA Tourney bid after missing the Big Dance every year since 1968. The Falcons, a threat for national honors earlier in the '60s with future NBA star Nate Thurmond and another pro-to-be, Butch Komives, on the roster, did not waste time hiring a replacement, inking Wichita State assistant Chris Jans, a former successful juco coach who has been on Gregg Marshall's Shockers' staff for the past six seasons.
CAL...Golden Bear HC Mike Montgomery announced on Monday that he was hanging 'em up, giving Cal and AD Sandy Barbour a chance to canvass all of the coaches who convene at the Final Four this weekend. Early rumors for this high-profile opening in Berkeley have ex-UCLA (and Pitt and NAU) HC Ben Howland as likely to be in serious consideration; sources say much might depend upon how many in the UC system were rubbed the wrong way by Howland, who ended up alienating many at UCLA. Pac-12 insiders say Cal might also cast a wide net, and will probably make the obligatory call to Gonzaga's Mark Few, who will probably turn down Berkeley as he has all other offers in the past decade. Barbour will also likely inquire about Harvard's aforementioned Tommy Amaker, who could still consider Cal even after bypassing the BC opening, and Barbour could also call VCU's Shaka Smart. Another possibility could be Boise State's Leon Rice, who reportedly turned down interest from alma mater Washington State. Closer to home, the Bears might make a call to Saint Mary's HC Randy Bennett, who has rejected offers to leave Moraga in the past, or perhaps Arizona State aide Eric Musselman, with plenty of ties in the region (as well as to the NBA, where he was HC at nearby Golden State and Sacto). Sources also say to watch Syracuse aide Mike Hopkins, a California (though So Cal) native.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC...Whether Mike Jarvis was fired or resigned is open to much conjecture, but the bottom line is that the Owls are looking for a new coach. Names mentioned in Boca Raton include NC Central HC LeVelle Moton, whose Eagles recently romped in the MEAC and made their first Big Dance appearance, Ohio State assistant Dave Dickerson, Florida State assistant Stan Jones, Davidson assistant Jim Fox, NC State assistant Rob Moxley, and Florida assistant Matt McCall, a onetime FAU aide.
HOUSTON...James Dickey has resigned after four years in charge at UH, considered one of the better openings this offseason for a variety of reasons, including proximity to a recruiting hotbed as well as some colorful history to the program that dates to the mid '60s and the memorable Elvin Hayes teams coached by HOFer Guy Lewis, as well as the Phil Slamma Jamma teams of the early '80s. There is also returning talent aplenty on the Cougar roster. The hot name to surface at UH is current hometown NBA Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson, formerly successful at Washington State, Oklahoma, and Indiana, and now beyond his five-year NCAA "show-cause" probationary period after the debacle with the Hoosiers, which among things involved improper numbers of contracts with potential recruits, which helped trigger his ouster at Bloomington. Another hot name to watch and current "flavor" is Stephen F. Austin HC Brad Underwood, who just led the Lumberjacks into the third round of the Big Dance after previously working as an assistant to Frank Martin at South Carolina. Another possibility is former Indiana and UAB and current Texas Southern HC Mike Davis, whose Tigers recently qualified for a Big Dance play-in game. Coaches with Texas connections might find this an especially attractive opening.
LOYOLA-MARYMOUNT...The Lions moved out wild man HC Max Good after his past season's disappointing 13-19 finish (Good is likely to resurface as an assistant on Dave Rice's UNLV staff) and replaced him with Mike Dunlap, a So Cal native and well-regarded tactician who was unfortunately at the helm of the woeful 2012-13 Charlotte Bobcats before getting dismissed. Dunlap's career as an assistant includes stops at Arizona, Oregon, and St. John's (where he filled in as interim HC when Steve Lavin underwent cancer treatments a few years ago) and the NBA Denver Nuggets.
MARQUETTE...A participant in the domino chain, Marquette's job became open when Buzz Williams was lured away by a big-bucks offer from Virginia Tech. There is much prestige in this opening, although the Golden Eagles could be in line for a rebuild after losing three seniors from this season's somewhat disappointing squad.
This position was filled by Steve Wojciechowski on Tuesday (4/1) morning.
Another interesting name to surface has been that of longtime Duke assistant (and former Blue Devil player) Steve Wojciechowski, considered a possible heir apparent to Coach K in Durham but now apparently ready to get some head coaching experience before that day arrives at Cameron Indoor Stadium. "Wojo" could suffer from some of the same buyer-beware syndrome as Syracuse's Hopkins, but with Coach K newly on record as saying he believes he'll spend five more years on the job, now is the time for Wojo to cut his teeth elsewhere, with any possible move back to Duke appearing several years down the road. There were also reports that Marquette was going to contact Wichita State HC Gregg Marshall, but sources say Marshall is very unlikely to leave the Shockers anytime soon.
MARSHALL...The Thundering Herd have moved out high-strung Tom Herrion and have made headlines by reportedly inquiring about the availability of alum and current NBA LA Lakers HC Mike D'Antoni, who apparently has not dismissed the interest from his alma mater. Of course, D'Antoni's future with the Lakers beyond this season is anything but assured. More realistic candidates might include Duke assistant Jeff Capel, a former VCU and Oklahoma HC and Coach K disciple, as well Eastern Kentucky HC Jeff Neubauer, Oklahoma assistant Steve Henson (familiar to AD Mike Hamrick from his days at UNLV, where Henson was also on Lon Kruger's Runnin' Rebels staff), former South Alabama and Arkansas HC John Pelphrey (and a Marshall aide under Billy Donovan several years ago), and Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals.
NC-WILMINGTON...A lot of CAA observers were expecting the Seahawks to take flight under former UNC Tar Heel player and Tennessee HC Buzz Peterson, who coaching highlight remains the 2001 NIT title he won during his lone season at Tulsa, before taking the Vols job. Buzz was dismissed, however, after a 42-80 record in four seasons at Wilmington. Moving quickly to name a replacement, the Seahawks tabbed Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts, a top lieutenant for Rick Pitino in recent seasons and responsible for the recruitment of several Card stars, including Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones, Anton Gill, and the "re-recruit" of George Mason transfer Luke Hancock. Keatts had previously coached at Hargrave Military Academy (Va.), where he constantly had the school among the top prep programs in the country.
RICE...No surprise that the Owls hit the eject button on former Eastern Michigan and Cal HC Ben Braun, who compiled a 63-128 record in six seasons in Houston, with just one winning mark. Rice moved quickly for a replacement, nabbing Shaka Smart's VCU assistant, Mike Rhoades, who had previously been a HC for ten seasons at D-III Randolph-Macon.
SOUTH FLORIDA...The Bulls opening has quickly turned into the soap opera of the coaching carousel offseason. After dismissing HC Stan Heath after six seasons and a 98-127 mark, USF seemed to hit a homerun when ready to hire in-demand Manhattan HC Steve Masiello, a Rick Pitino disciple who had become the rage when leading the Jaspers into the Dance and nearly "out-Pitino-ing" Pitino in the sub-regional round. Subsequently, however, Masiello did not pass muster in a background check that revealed he really hadn't received a college degree at Kentucky, scuttling his candidacy and putting Masiello in hot water at Manhattan, too. Shades of George O'Leary's ill-fated football hire at Notre Dame after the 2004 season! (O'Leary, however, has more than redeemed himself since at UCF...as we suspect Masiello will eventually do as well.)
Rumors then surfaced that UNLV's Dave Rice was being targeted, coincidentally at the same time he was in the process of a negotiated extension with the Runnin' Rebels. The Rice story flamed out in quick order, and focus then shifted to New Mexico's Craig Neal, a longtime Steve Alford sidekick who has roots in the South as a Georgia Tech alum and is perhaps looking for a way out in Albuquerque after one year on the job and prospects looking a bit dimmer in the immediate future with key cogs Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams graduating from this season's Mountain West Tourney champs and Big Dance qualifier. Neal, on a five-year deal at UNM, did not have his contract "roll over" after the just-completed 27-win season, and a reported $750K per year in Lobo-land could be easily exceeded in Tampa (Ed. Note: Neal was finally given a two-year rollove rlate Monday night.) Late Monday, however, USF came to terms with John Calipari's Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, a former Pitt player in the early '90s who also played seven seasons with the Harlem Globetrotters.
VIRGINIA TECH...So much for that grand plan to "step up" under James Johnson, a former Hokie aide who had taken a similar job at Clemson only to be brought back a couple of weeks later when hired to replace former boss Seth Greenberg two years ago. A pair of losing seasons and a 22-41 record later, VPI had seen enough and decided to go in a different direction, as mentioned earlier, throwing a lot of money at Marquette HC Buzz Williams, whose hire was a real coup for new AD Whit Babcock. Although the Buzz move to Blacksburg caught some insiders by surprise who instead expected Williams to eventually move back to native Texas, where many have long believed he would be a target in Austin if the Longhorns move away from Rick Barnes (who likely saved his job with a Big Dance berth this season).
WAKE FOREST...One of the higher-profile openings the Deac program declined in recent years under former Air Force and Colorado HC Jeff Bzdelik, who resigned after a 34-60 mark in three seasons. But given its history, facilities, and recruiting base, this should be one of the more-attractive jobs on the market. The aforementioned Ben Howland has thrown his hat in the ring for the Wake job, and the Deacs have made the customary call to VCU's Shaka Smart, who has turned down all inquiries in recent years and apparently has done the same with the Deacs (as he reportedly did with Marquette). The new hot names in Winston-Salem are those of Xavier HC Chris Mack, who has a fine 111-57 record and two Sweet 16 appearances in five seasons with the Musketeers and is a former Wake assistant under Skip Prosser, and Tulsa HC Danny Manning, a the former Kansas legend who just steered the Golden Hurricane to their first Big Dance since 2003 in only his second year on the job .
WASHINGTON STATE...Considered one of the toughest jobs among major conference schools, Wazzu surprised no one by moving out Ken Bone, who was 80-86 in five seasons, but just 23-40 the past two campaigns, as the momentum from the Tony Bennett seasons has all but disappeared. Regional sources indicated a lot of interest in Pullman regarding alum and Boise State HC Leon Rice, a longtime Mark Few aide at Gonzaga who has put the Bronco program on solid footing, although Rice is apparently staying put at Boise (which many believe to be a better job at the moment than WSU).
The Cougs' search reportedly included New Mexico State HC Marvin Menzies, whose ability to attract an international roster to Las Cruces through "shoe" connections has made the Ags a perennial Big Dance qualifier out of the WAC, and perhaps Georgia HC Mark Fox, who was on shaky ground in Athens before authoring a surprise third-place SEC finish this season. Fox, however, has denied interest in leaving Georgia. Focus then shifted to North Dakota State HC Saul Phillips, whose Bison recently beat Oklahoma in Big Dance sub-regional action, and former Oregon HC Ernie Kent, working lately with the Pac-12 Networks but very familiar with Coug AD Bill Moos from the latter's days with the Ducks, where he served as Kent's boss. Late Monday afternoon, it was Kent who got the call from Moos, and Ernie returns to the Pac-12 after a four-season absence.
COPPIN STATE...Ron "Fang" Mitchell's 28-year run was terminated after a ninth losing season in ten years for the Eagles. Mitchell had much success in the first half of his tenure that included a memorable Big Dance upset of second-seeded South Carolina in 1997. No word yet from MEAC sources on successor candidates.
DELAWARE STATE...Longtime HC Greg Jackson, who took the Hornets to the Big Dance in 2005, was dismissed in mid-January and replaced on an interim basis by assistant Keith Walker, but DSU now looks elsewhere for a full-time appointment, with Savannah State assistant Clifford Reed and Delaware assistant Chris Cheeks likely targets.
IUPUI...The Jaguars have dismissed HC Todd Howard and replaced him with Memphis aide Jason Gardner.
KENNESAW STATE...The Owls, with their large campus in the Atlanta suburbs, could be a sleeper job with close access to a recruiting hotbed, and might make a surge in the Atlantic Sun with the right hire after a difficult transition to the upper level under Lewis Preston, who took a leave of absence midway through this past season and has not been retained after a 12-80 mark in three years. Interim HC Jimmy Lallathin, once a member of Charlie Coles' Miami-Ohio staffs and with the Owls since 2011, has been named the successor on a full-time basis.
LAMAR...Pat Knight's career as HC ended quietly in Beaumont as he was dismissed in February after compiling a 6-50 record since the Cards made a surprise Big Dance appearance a couple of years ago. In his place steps Tic Price, who had been an assistant at Lamar for three seasons before moving to athletics coordinator. He was previously a head coach at New Orleans, Memphis and McNeese State.
MANHATTAN...The Steve Masiello drama continues, with the Rick Pitino disciple on administrative leave as the school decides what to do about his incorrect background info. If Masiello doesn't return, expect assistant Matt Grady (who was set to follow Masiello to South Florida), Robert Morris HC Andy Toole, Cincinnati aide Darren Savino, and Minnesota assistant Dan McHale to get looks.
UMES (Maryland-Eastern Shore)...Art Shell's alma mater did not renew the contract of Frankie Allen after a poor six-year mark of 42-139. The Fighting Hawks are apparently looking far and wide for a successor, with Robert Jones (Norfolk State), Bobby Collins (Winston-Salem State), Cliff Warren (formerly of Jacksonville), the aforementioned Greg Jackson (formerly of Delaware State) and Savannah State assistant Clifford Reed all reported candidates.
MONTANA STATE...Brad Huse is out in Bozeman after four straight losing seasons, resigning under pressure shortly after the just-completed campaign. D-I assistants Larry Davis (Cincinnati) and Brian Fish (Oregon) have been mentioned as possible Bobcat targets.
SOUTH DAKOTA...The Coyote job had been in limbo since HC Dave Boots abruptly resigned prior to the start of the regular season, forcing assistant Joey James into an interim role. But after a 12-18 season, South Dakota has gone in a new direction and hired longtime Tim Miles sidekick Craig Smith from the Nebraska Cornhusker staff. Smith takes over at the Dakota Dome with some head coaching experience, too, gained at lower-division Maryville State between 2004-07.
SE LOUISIANA...Jim Yarbrough was bought out after a nine-year stint and 12-18 record this past season. Jay Ladner of Jones County Junior College has been mentioned in connection to the Lions job.
TENNESSEE STATE...Travis Williams is out after just two seasons following John Cooper's move to Miami-Ohio. Williams' Tigers sunk to 5-25 this past season. Top candidates reportedly include Mike Davis (former Indiana and UAB and now Texas Southern HC), Dana Ford (Illinois State assistant), Rob Moxley (NC State assistant) and Earl Grant (Clemson assistant).
UT-MARTIN..Former Wyoming and Portland State HC Heath Schroyer has been hired by new Skyhawks AD Julio Freire, who plucked Schroyer from Dave Rice's UNLV staff after Jason James was dismissed following a 37-117 record over five seasons. Freire was a former UNLV assistant AD under Jim Livengood but was unceremoniously removed by new AD Tina Kunzer-Murphy before taking the Martin job.
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