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Monday, March 20, 2006

Put This Guy at the Top of Your Short Lists

No, it's not Mick Cronin, the former assistant to Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins, who has gotten his Murray State team into the Big Dance two years' running. He'll make some lists, though, that's for sure.

No, it's not Bradley's Jim Les, who has done a great job too (you may remember him as the "other" guard to Hersey Hawkins, when Bradley was last nationally prominent; Hawkins went on to become a first-round draft choice (76ers) and Olympian). Les is coaching his alma mater, but he could be on short lists too.

It's Mark Turgeon, the Wichita State coach.

Now, for the average college hoops fan, that's a big "duh", because Wichita State of the Mighty Missouri Valley Conference (take that, Jim Nantz and Billy Packer!) is a Sweet 16 team, and writers and bloggers (such as College Basketball's Yoni Cohen) have anointed him this year's Bruce Pearl. (For the casual fan, Pearl led Wisconsin-Milwaukee to the Sweet 16 last year, got the Tennessee job and revived a moribund program there, although the Vols did disappoint relative to their #2 seed this year by falling in the second round of the tournament this past weekend).

Why Turgeon?

Well, he's achieved wherever he's been -- played at Kansas, did a good job in his first head-coaching job at Jacksonville State, and has excelled at Wichita State. Even with that, he has one other fact going for him -- he's a Larry Brown disciple. Played for him, coached under him.

Now, there's something to be said for legendary coaches and their disciples. If you look at the hoops world, there is a split as to the success of legacies. Of the John Wooden line, Denny Crum won national titles at Louisville and Gene Bartow achieved success at other schools, but the rest of the former assistants didn't fare so well. Of the Dean Smith disciples, Roy Williams (finally) won his national title, and Bill Guthridge took the Heels to two final fours, but the other legacies (former assistants and players), well, the jury is still out on Buzz Peterson and Jeff Lebo (Eddie Fogler didn't quite get there, and Phil Ford never got the chance to be a head coach). Of the Bob Knight line, Mike Krzyzewski is one of the best ever, but Bob Donewald, Don Devoe, Jim Crews, Tom Miller, Dave Bliss and Bob Weltlich didn't become household names. Of the Coach K disciples, Quin Snyder had a very rough time at Missouri, and Tommy Amaker fared above average at Seton Hall and has struggled at Michigan. Mike Brey has been a good coach at Delaware and Notre Dame, while David Henderson recently was fired at Delaware.

In short, playing or coaching for a legend guarantees you better access to interviews and jobs, but it doesn't mean that you'll automatically build a dynasty. Still, guys like Turgeon are more than just legacies, they have proven track records, and that's what makes them so appealing.

This guy has paid his dues at remote places, and he has the Larry Brown thing going for him to boot. That combination should make him irresistable to an AD looking to rekindle magic at his program and do it with class.

Somehow, I think that the formula we just described yields one one-time national power as an obvious port of call for Mr. Turgeon.



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