Breaking down the bracket and thoughts on the coaching carousel (cont.)
Finally, some thoughts on the coaching carousel
We already have four openings at prominent programs: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Virginia. What do all of those schools have in common? They're all big state schools. We all know these schools are facing budget crunches, but aside from Arizona, their administrations made the decisions to create these openings. I don't think they would do that unless they were ready to throw out some big money to find replacements.
Taking Arizona out of the mix for the moment, the two biggest names that will be mentioned are Oklahoma's Jeff Capel and Missouri's Mike Anderson. Should Anderson be inclined to leave Missouri, Alabama would seem to be an obvious choice since he's from the state, but Georgia has a dynamic young athletic director in Damon Evans, and many in the business believe that is the better job because there are more players in that state. I think it is highly unlikely that Capel would leave Oklahoma for Alabama or Georgia. Yes, he's about to lose Blake Griffin to the NBA, but freshman guard Willie Warren is probably coming back, and he'll be joined next season by two McDonald's All-Americans. Plus, Capel works for arguably the best AD in the country in Joe Castiglione. I'm sure he is prepared to do whatever he can to keep Capel at OU.
Virginia, however, is another story. Capel grew up in Virginia, his wife is from Raleigh, and of course he played in the ACC for Duke. Virginia is a first-rate university, it has a brand new arena and an excellent recruiting base. Plus, if you finish third in the ACC, they build you a statue. It will be awfully difficult for Capel to give up the success and job security he has in Oklahoma, but if he does, this would be the kind of situation that could be worth it. So stay tuned.
If Virginia doesn't hire Capel, I think they'll go after Tubby Smith. Tubby, in fact, is still on Arizona's radar screen. I think Smith would be interested in both those jobs, but I do not see him at Georgia or Alabama. A lot of people are speculating that VCU's Anthony Grant is going to be in the mix at Georgia, but from what I'm hearing, Grant is a longshot for that job at best. I've also heard that USC's Tim Floyd might be a candidate at Alabama, but I find it hard to believe he will go there. Not only did Floyd just get a commitment from Renardo Sidney, one of the best high school players in America, but he's a low-key guy who likes nothing more than being able to walk into a restaurant and have nobody recognize him. He certainly won't have that in Tuscaloosa.
Otherwise, I still believe the Arizona vacancy is Mark Few's to turn down. While the decision won't necessarily come down to money, Arizona is going to have to demonstrate a commitment to Few that goes beyond his own salary. Right now, Gonzaga flies a charter to many of its road games, and Few has the use of a private plane for his recruiting trips. For a man who is so devoted to his wife and three young children, that is no small issue. If Arizona can't lock down Few, then I'm hearing the school is likely to go after Tubby Smith or Reggie Theus. The sleeper? UNLV coach Lon Kruger, who is familiar with that area of the country, won't cost too much money and, most important, is a great coach who spent time in the NBA. You cannot overstate how big of an asset a pro background is with prospective recruits.
I usually try to avoid speculating on jobs that are not vacant, but unfortunately that is part of the job. That said, I can tell you that all eyes in the college basketball world are on Lexington, Ky. While it may be hard to believe that the school would get rid of Billy Gillispie after two years, I am getting indications that athletic director Mitch Barnhart could very well be moving in that direction. There is a concern that if Gillispie comes back, many of his players will either turn pro or transfer. One well-placed source told me last week that the decision to remove Gillispie was already "done." I believe that was overstated, but Barnhart's relative silence on this matter has been deafening. I left a message for Barnhart over the weekend and my call was returned not by him, but by an athletic spokesman, who naturally told me Barnhart had no comment on the matter. If Barnhart thinks he can wait another few weeks until Kentucky is done playing to resolve this matter, he is sorely mistaken.
Elsewhere, the three situations that bear watching are Oregon, St. John's and DePaul. Ernie Kent is an Oregon alum who has taken the Ducks to the Elite Eight twice this decade. But nobody is safe after a 2-16 season in the Pac-10. The key question at Oregon is how the change at athletic director will affect Kent's status. Mike Bellotti, the former football coach, will replace current AD Pat Kilkenny on July 1. Does Kilkenny get rid of Kent himself so Bellotti doesn't have to? Or does he let Bellotti make the choice since he has to live with the results? There's a lot of pressure on this decision because the school is opening an expensive new arena next fall. And as Dave Leitao can tell you, when a school spends a lot of money to build an arena, they tend to like to see people inside it.
Few, who is an Oregon native and alum, is thought to be the natural replacement here as well, but again, Few is not going to take this job out of affection for Old State U. Oregon is going to have to convince him that it is a better job than Gonzaga, and that will take some doing.
As for DePaul, I know that the school's administration has already said Jerry Wainwright will be back next year, and I certainly hope that is true. He is a great coach and a great guy who is doing his best in a very difficult situation. But again, the team went 0-18 in the Big East, and there is a tantalizing potential candidate out there: Craig Robinson, who is from Chicago, did a fabulous job this season at Oregon State, and of course has a very well-known brother-in-law living in the White House.
Finally, from everything I'm hearing, I think Norm Roberts is going to survive at St. John's. Like Wainwright, Roberts was handed a difficult situation in a challenging environment, and he has built up an enormous amount of goodwill for the way he has treated people and run his program. Roberts has had trouble landing a breakthrough recruit, but the guys he does have play their tails off for him. This situation is also affected more than most by the economy, since many of the big money people at St. John's work on Wall Street. Still, until we get the official word that Roberts is back, we should never assume anything. This is, after all, one crazy business.
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