Where Now? The Search Begins For A New Michigan Head Basketball Coach

A couple of weeks ago I jumped started the Michigan head coaching search by listing off a couple of high and low profile names Michigan should consider for its basketball head coaching position.

Among the names listed were Billy Gillispie of Texas A&M, Mark Fox of Nevada, Rick Majerus, Reggie Theus, and Todd Lickliter of Butler.

Since that time, Nevada lost to Creighton, Bulter's in the Sweet 16, A&M's been on a run, Theus showed he can flat out coach with mediocre talent, and Majerus is still fat. It's my opinion that Fox's teams play themselves out of games and his stock sunk rather than soared this tournament. Theus, while leading an otherwise no name New Mexico State to the NCAA's has issues in the form of JUCO only program building and seems like he needs a year or two more to prove he can recruit kids the old fashioned way. Lickliter's stock went up and Majerus remained fat.

The big name in the group, Gillispie, proved he's out of our league. After the show the Aggies have put on, the reality is Gillispie isn't leaving A&M for anything short of Kentucky, Kansas, Duke or UNC. A&M's practice facilities are some of the best in the Big XII and if you can turn College Station, TX into a basketball town, well, you're the f---ing man. This may however play into Michigan's advantage. Tubby Smith, whom I addressed an open letter to a short while ago, is being rumored all over the internets to be on the way out. Hell, even ESPN is recommending Tubby pack his bags for his own sanity. Even Kentucky fans are calling for his ouster or saying he's going to Michigan. The fact that such a high quality coach is sitting in College Station, TX with a resume made out of gold bullion and recruiting tongue made out of diamonds may convince either Kentucky or Tubby that after 10 years, its time to cut the cord.

In addition to Smith, a number of additional names have surfaced in the MSM over the last two days. It's a varitable who's who of hot coaches without any real backing for their selection. According to Gary Parish of CBS Sportsline (via Mgoblog):

The list of possible replacements is long, and some names circulating are Washington State's Tony Bennett, UNLV's Lon Kruger, Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery, Nevada's Mark Fox, Wichita State's Mark Turgeon, West Virginia's John Beilein, Memphis' John Calipari, former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery and former UCLA coach Steve Lavin. Another possibility is Xavier's Sean Miller.

To save you time, I've divided the coaching possibilities into two camps: 1) the currently coaching; and 2) the not-so-currently coaching. Below you'll find names, locations, background, who's supplying the rumor, my take on their abilities, the chances that coach ends up in Ann Arbor, and their potential impact on the program. Today, I'll concentrate on the coaching prospects currently at NCAA schools. Tomorrow I'll give you the names not currently coaching that are likely to be considered.

So, in particular order, behold the Maize n Candidates!

Tubby Smith, University of Kentucky - Rumor Mongerer: Yours truly, ESPN Radio - Smith is name number one on the Maize n Brew wish list. At Kentucky, basketball is what football is to Michigan. Much like Lloyd, Tubby enjoyed some early success but has never been able to re-climb that Everest.  Despite never winning fewer than 20 games, never missing the tournament, four Elite 8's, 6 conference championships, and a national championship, Smith appears to be on the hot seat after Kentucky was bounced early from the NCAA tournament. It's no secret that there's no love lost between Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart and Smith, and some Kentucky fans think Smith would be better suited for Ann Arbor than Lexington. Hell, some want him gone, period.Smith is as good an X's and O's coach as there is in college basketball, an outstanding recruiter who's never had a whiff of NCAA trouble, and a solid dude. He recruits very well from the Detroit area and isn't afraid to get to ask for what he wants. Any deal that would bring him here would likely involve a guarantee of new practice facilities and a very large ($2-$3 million/year) contract.
Potential Impact: H-U-G-E. Big name, big money coach. Instant change in the balance of Big Ten power. Smith's the type of Coach that would bring in truckloads of donor cash and recruits Michigan to date can only dream about. He's, in my opinion, the best case scenario.
Chances: 30%. While the rumor mill is cranking up steam, there's nothing to indicate Smith wants out. He's repeatedly stated he's staying and that Kentucky is his home. The only thing that will bring him to Ann Arbor is him either being fired or him saying "Screw it, I don't need this crap".

Billy Gillispie, Texas A& M - Rumor Mongerer: Yours truly - A&M was a 0-16 in conference when he started and is now in the Sweet 16 three years later. Prior to taking the reigns at A&M, Gillispie turned around UTEP leading them to 24 wins and an NCAA appearance in 2004. Total bad ass.
Potential Impact: High, close to Smith, but without the same name recognition.
Chances: 0%. No chance in hell. This guy's next step is Kansas, Duke, UNC, Kentucky. A&M's practice facilities are some of the best in the country and any new job that doesn't come from a basketball first Uberpower isn't in his future.

Tom Crean, Marquette - Rumor Mongerer: MSM, Detroit News - Crean's spent the last 8 seasons at Marquette leading the revival of the Warriors/Golden Eagles/Gold/Golden Eagles. In his first seven seasons, Marquette has averaged 20 wins a year, won a conference championship and made six postseason appearances, including the 2003 Final Four. Crean's solid coach with MSU bloodlines to Tom Izzo. In seven seasons he's 141-76 (.650). Playing in the Big East Crean does have a lot of competition, but I'm not in love with his candidacy. I believe the majority of his reputation is built on the back of Dwayne Wade, and it was probably the weight of propping up Crean's reputation that threw out Wade's shoulder. There are as many NIT appearances on Crean's resume as NCAA appearances. Another thing to consider is this is Crean's first coaching gig, and his recruits with the exception of Wade have been similar to Amaker's (with the notable exception of Wade). The Izzo bloodlines, despite my tremendous respect for Izzo, are a non-starter. Anyone from Duke or MSU shouldn't be considered. That's my own personal bias, for which I offer no explanation.
Potential Impact: Moderate. Rising star in the MSM and head coaching circles. Wade gives him credibility in the recruiting area, as do his ties to the area. Direct competition with Izzo is a major strike against. Could re-energize Michigan or simply be Amaker with glasses.
Chances: 20%. Reported to want a big money contract and will likely demand some serious scratch for facilities. Not a big enough name to make an alumni splash worthy of his salary demands.

Bruce Pearl, Tennessee - Rumor Mongerer: MSM, Detroit News - Showed you don't have to wear a bra to play basketball at Tennessee. Pearl's been to three straight NCAA tournaments with two different teams. He cut his teeth in DII, winning a DII national championship and NEVER, missing the DII NCAAs. He jumped to UW-Milwaukee and led a previously morbid program to a 16-13 (11-5) record. After that, NCAA's, NIT, NCAA (sweet 16), NCAA, and this year the Vols are in the Sweet 16 again. Excellent X's & O's coach. Looks like The Hulk. Pearl's a high energy guy that can obviously revitalize a program. His recruiting abilities in the Midwest are confirmed by his work at Milwaukee. Would be an excellent catch.
Potential Impact: High. After Pearl showed up at a Lady Vols game dosed in orange paint he sent a clear message to both his employer and potential suitors "I care about where I am and I'll do anything to show it." After the hands off, never say a word Amaker, a guy like Pearl would be a welcome and critical change. New facilities will require a figure head and Pearl isn't the type to shy away from that job. Alumni would love him, the students would go crazy for him, and the Athletic department would be able to show they mean business.
Chances: 20%. Pearl has never indicated he's even looking. He honestly seems to be enjoying his time in Tennessee so I'm not sure he'd even consider Michigan. Similar to Gillispie, his next step may be a bigger name school. He's rebuilt two smaller programs (Milwaukee and Tennessee) so Michigan may not be enough to entice him. However, he'd be an awesome fit.

Todd Lickliter, Butler University - Rumor Mongerer: Yours truly, MSM, Detroit News - Butler is going to its second Sweet 16 under Lickliter. Lickliter's guided Butler to over 100 wins and has shown an ability to recruit talent superior to the ACC's upper-tier teams in head to head play (Maryland). Don't let the plain-ole-white-guy look fool you, this guy is a serious coach. Of the Xs and Os guys, he's probably the best of the Bunch. Unlike Amaker, Licklighter's scheduled some tough competition for the Bulldogs to build a resume on. This year alone they thumped five tournament bound teams before beating ODU and Maryland in the NCAAs. Licklighter's a solid candidate but at first glance doesn't appear to be the biggest rah-rah guy. Not sure how he'd fill in as a money raiser for renovations. Another negative are his ties to Thad Mata of OSU, Lickliter's former boss.
Potential Impact: Medium. Very solid resume for a small school in the middle of nowhere. Two sweet 16 appearances and the what looks to be some capability on the recruiting trail. He's missed the postseason NCAAs the previous three years, with the NIT being Butler's calling last year. Good but not great candidate, will definitely get an interview.
Chances: 30%. Nose clean kind of guy that would be a "well we gotta have someone coach the damn team" pick. If negotiations fall through with bigger names, I have a feeling he may get a serious look from Martin.

Lon Kruger, UNLV - Rumor Mongerer: Yours truly, MSM - Stock went through the roof when he out-coached Bo Ryan to get UNLV into the Sweet 16. Kruger's been friggin everywhere, and in the process taken everywhere to the Dance. Kruger's been to the postseason on 12 different occasions, with nine appearances in the NCAA Tournament and three in the NIT. He has compiled seven 20-plus victory seasons, was a two-time SEC Coach of the Year (1992 and 1994) and led his 1993-94 Florida squad to the NCAA Final Four. Blood lines to Illinois in the late 90's are annoying but you can't question his success. K-State, Florida (which absolutely sucked before he got there), Illinois, and UNLV have all made deep NCAA runs under his guidance. Kruger is an older candidate, but 20+ years of coaching experience makes him a difficult coach to over look. It's also important to note when Kruger left Illinois for the Atlanta Hawks in the Association, the next year the Illini went to the elite 8 and the sweet 16 the year after with his players. Kruger can coach, recruit, and sell people on his programs. I do have reservations about Kruger solely based on my own recollection that there were some fishy goings on at Illinois, but I can't support those thoughts with anything concrete or linkable. So put them down as baseless, gut reaction. Based on what he's done at UNLV Michigan would be stupid not to talk to him. That is after he's done with the NCAA tournament.
Potential Impact: High. Kruger could sell the theory of evolution to the Mississippi Board of Education if given the opportunity. He's got the name recognition and the past success to show Michigan is serious about returning to power. Further, showing he can, in fact, you know, COACH against one of the Big Ten's better coaches is a major selling point.
Chances: 40%. Kruger has to be high on Martin's list at this point. However, a deeper run into the NCAA's could make it harder for Martin to land him. Based on a strong mid-west recruiting record, success everywhere he's been, and a gung-ho attitude, Kruger will be talking to Martin as soon as it's legal.

Tony Bennett, Washington State University - Rumor Mongerer: Internets, MSM - Wonderkinder who brought the Cougars back to the NCAAs. Bennett played in the Association for three years before a blown foot booted him to the international leagues. Bennett was a bit of a Reg Dunlop for Aukland, New Zealand, acting as player coach in their pro-leagues in the late 90's. After returning from Kiwi country in 1999, Bennett went to work for Wisconsin as their chief recruiter. He built a solid reputation at Wisconsin before leaving for Pullman in 2003. This year was Bennett's first at the helm of a DI school and he's proven he can hack it in the Pac-10 with players he in fact recruited prior to his father stepping down as HC last year. Bennett was named the Sporting News' and Pac-10's Coach of the Year in leading the Cougars to their first NCAA appearance in 13 years. To put it mildly, a star on the rise. Further strengthening his resume is the fact Bennett has very strong mid-west recruiting ties and (takes/gets) credit for recruiting some of Wisconsin's biggest basketball names (e.g., Alondo Tucker).
Potential Impact: Big. Bennett is widely thought of as one of the best young coaches in America. At 37, Bennett is young enough to take the next program he goes to and mold it in his own image. He's an energetic coach who deep pocketed alumni will love, and has enough common sense to dance the football first dance just like he did in Pullman.
Chances: 45%. Probably the second or third name on Martin's list, but probably the most likely name discussed so far. Pullman is in the middle of nowhere. If he can get people to play there he should do wonders for Michigan. The only real downside is his "lack" of coaching experience. However, when you realize he's to son of Dick Bennett, who coached him through college and taught him the coaching ropes, the "experience" tag goes out the window. High ceiling, high floor coach.

Chris Lowery, Southern Illinois University - Rumor Mongerer: Internets, MSM - The second year Salukis coach is saying the right things for his current employer, but like his predecessor, will likely bolt as soon as the right offer falls in his lap. Lowery comes from excellent Xs and Os coaching bloodlines after several years under Bruce Weber of Illinois. It's important to note that when Illinois was enjoying recruiting success, it was when Lowery was spearheading the Illini's recruiting efforts. Anyone who watched the Salukis' crushing win over Virginia Tech had to come away impressed. Lowery's team did what his mentor's couldn't hold a 10 point lead and play real defense. Lowery's only 34, but has had success as a head coach at the DII level leading Missouri Southern State College for three years, helping the Lions to a 30-3 record and an NCAA Division II Final Four appearance in 2000. Lowery is rumored to be a fairly intense coach, somewhat along the Bobby Knight lines. How that would play in Ann Arbor is subject to debate, but there's no doubting his coaching or recruiting chops.
Potential Impact: Big. Like Bennett, Lowery is one of the most sought after young coaches in the country. His mid-west recruiting chops are perhaps the best of any of the candidates, save Tubby Smith. He's a light up the room recruiter and schmoozer whom the alumni will fawn over. Has the potential to be a long term, heavy hitter basketball coach. The only concerns are his youth and lack of experience.
Chances: 45-50%. He's looking. Everyone knows he's looking. Michigan is the best job out there. SIU is in the Sweet 16 and he knows they're playing for his next paycheck. The Michigan press love him and he'd fit the Michigan image to a tee. Probably in the top three of Martin's search list.

John Beilein, West Virginia - Rumor Mongerer: Internets, MSM - Michael Rosenberg lays out the reasons better than I can:

Beilein has had winning seasons in 26 of his 29 seasons -- and two of the losing seasons came in his first year in a new job. He has won at six schools and earned the universal admiration of his peers. He has a brilliant offensive mind and used his back-cutting, three-point shooting offense and 1-3-1 zone to beat more talented teams for years.

Two years ago, when West Virginia stunned the college basketball world by nearly making the Final Four, Beilein earned the highest praise from the highest basketball authority.

"They are an extremely well-taught team," Bob Knight told reporters then, after Beilein's team beat Knight and Texas Tech. "They cover well on defense for one another and pressure individually. On offense, they have good movement and they read very well."
Say what you want about Knight, but nobody knows basketball better than he does, and he doesn't toss around compliments lightly. And most coaches echo his words.

Beilein doesn't have Michigan ties, but he fits the school in every other way. He has a squeaky-clean reputation. He doesn't fill his program with junior-college players or thugs. He has shied away from at least one major opening in recent years because he feared that the only way to win there was to break NCAA rules, and Beilein refuses to cheat.

In five years at WVU, Beilein's got two NITs, a NCAA sweet 16 and a NCAA Elite 8 to show for his work. Running against him is the abysmal scheduling WVU has possessed the last few years. Had the Mountaineers played tougher competition this year I'd put him in my top three, but I'm worried about the cupcakes. However, he does have a solid coaching background. Prior to WVU he spent 5 years at the University of Richmond where he compiled a 100-53 record. He coached the Richmond team to a winning year each year and made the NCAAs once and the NIT twice. Prior to Richmond, Beilein was head coach at Canisius College from 1992 to 1997 where he took them to two NITs and one NCAA appearance.
Potential Impact: Medium. While well respected, Beilein's got a good but not great resume. He's a known entity with solid coaching chops but no ties to the area and nothing that really blows you away. I believe he should be considered before guys like Lickliter, but he's probably candidate four on the list.
Chances: 35%. I think he's a shoe-in for an early interview. After coaching the Mountaineers, Michigan is a MAJOR step up even if we fans don't think so. As Rosenberg points out, he's got all the qualities Michigan looks for in a coach which is why I think he's one of the early favorites. He's not my first choice but we could do a lot worse.

Ernie Kent, University of Oregon - Rumor Mongerer: Himself, MSM - Put his hat in the ring today, while his team is still in the NCAA tournament by saying "if ... Michigan wants to talk, Oregon owes me the opportunity to listen." Um. Okay. That's a little too, John L for me, but dude's a solid coach. Kent has shown he's capable of recruiting by stealing several Detroit area prospects that have helped lead the Ducks to the NCAAs. Kent has led the Ducks for 10 years and has 4 NCAA appearances to show for it including an Elite 8 appearance in 2002. There are Amaker like problems though. From his wikipedia page: "[a] steady decline in the success of his teams, the perceived lack of development of highly-regarded recruits as well as rumors of personal issues..." had people in Eugene were wondering aloud whether he'd be back. However, with the Ducks in the Sweet 16 Kent has success to hang his hat and candidacy on. He's regarded as one of the better recruiters in the game, but his Xs and Os skills are lacking.
Potential Impact: Low-Medium. I can't see the alumni lining up to greet him. Until he threw his own hat in the ring, I wasn't even considering him for the job.
Chances: 10%. Despite his bravado, the lack of results at Nike U is troubling, as are the "lack of player development" charges. While Kent's a good coach and a great recruiter, I can't see him in Ann Arbor.

More tomorrow.

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