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Saturday, March 26, 2005

College Hoops' Musical Chairs

And we're not talking about how tix to the Final Four events end up in the hands of ticket brokers, either (that's another story for another day).

Yoni of the College Basketball Blog has kept an evergreen post as to who might be moving to what openings in the world of college basketball. Click here to check it out (he updates it frequently). Good stuff.

I'd estimate that about 10% of the DI jobs open every year. So, if there are 326 DI schools in college hoops, then about 33 jobs open up every where. It starts with dismissals and retirements, and then gets followed up with vacancies that happen when a coach moves to another job. For example, UMass canned Steve Lappas, and Eastern Kentucky's Travis Ford got the job, which creates an opening at, yes, Eastern Kentucky. Sometimes a top assistant gets his break when a successful coach moves on, and all DI coaches had to get their start somewhere.

Having read Yoni's blog and the Blue Ribbon Guide (the latter over the years), here are a few coaches I'd consider for "bigger time" jobs:

1. John Bellein, West Virginia. The reason: West Virginia is in the Elite 8, and Bellein did very good work at Canisius and Richmond before going to Morgantown.

2. Fran Dunphy, Penn. He's the dean of Ivy coaches and has won a lot of league titles. That his teams haven't fared well in the NCAA Tournament is perhaps more of a reflection of the Ivies as a whole than Dunphy's Penn squad. This man can coach.

3. Glenn Miller, Brown. He's turned Brown into a school few want to mess with, inside or outside the Ivies. Before Miller, Brown was a doormat. Since Miller, they've contended almost every year. He was in the running for the LaSalle job before John Giannini got it, and he'd be a solid hire at a bigger-time program.

4. Bruce Pearl, UW-Milwaukee. Solid body of work in four years in Milwaukee, and a Sweet 16 appearance this year makes him very hot.

5. Chris Mooney, Air Force. Joe Scott's top assistant during the years leading up to last year's miracle, and he more than held his own in Colorado Springs this year. Imagine what he could do without the eligibility restrictions placed upon the service academies.

6. Pat Flannery, Bucknell. Okay, so I'm honoring "hot" coaches in this post, but they beat then-#10 Pitt at Pitt in the regular season, upset Kansas in the NCAA Tourney and came up about 7 minutes short of doing the same thing to a tough Wisconsin team in the second round. They used to say this about former Princeton coach Pete Carril -- imagine what he could have done if they gave scholarships at Princeton (as opposed to packages that included grants, loans and student jobs). Well, they used to say that about the Patriot League, but now all schools there save Lafayette do offer athletic scholarships. Flannery stepped up Bucknell's program (even though several kids were still paying their own way), and he could be a fine addition in to a higher-level DI program.

7. Fran O'Hanlon, Lafayette. Yes, the Leopards are down, but O'Hanlon, an offensive genius if there ever was one, could do wonders at a scholarship school. He's a real keeper.

8. Randy Bennett, St. Mary's. Most teams, regardless of whether they're on the West Coast, don't want to play the Gaels. Bennett has made them the second-most formidable team in the WCAC after Gonzaga. And they're formidable.

Of course, there are top assistants at the Top 50 program who will get a look-see too, but ADs with vacancies should be creative. After all, the Coach of Elite 8 participant Wisconsin, Bo Ryan, toiled in obscurity in Division III for about 15 years, where he led his Wisconsin-Platteville team to many national titles. Many ADs wouldn't have given him a look, but Wisconsin has to be thrilled that they did. Some ADs get too worried about the stage and wonder whether a candidate can handle the perceived pressures of, say, coaching in the Big Ten, Big East or ACC. That's not an unfair question, but it shouldn't be the preeminent one. The harder investigation is to guess whether the guy you interview and think is great actually shows up and reveals that greatness in a few years.

Which means, if I'm UVA AD Craig Littlepage, for whom I have a ton of respect, I'd look seriously at Fran Dunphy and Pat Flannery. Both are outstanding coaches, both value academics very much, and both have posted solid bodies of work. Yes, the ACC is a tough conference, but these guys are ready for the challenge.

The Top 10 programs (among them Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Syracuse, Duke) always seem to get their coach, and the risks they take in so doing aren't great. But you'll recall that Duke took a chance in the early 80's after Bill Foster left, and Stanford took a chance when it hired Mike Montgomery. Duke hired Army's coach on the recommendation of Bob Knight, and Stanford, not the historic power that Duke has been, hired Montana's coach. Craig Littlepage at UVA and the folks at Tennessee have a unique opportunity to think outside the box and bring in a potentially great coach, but they'll have to have the courage and imagination to do so.

Thanks, Yoni, for keeping us current on this year's game of musical chairs.


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