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And The Plot Thickens: Michigan Reportedly Down To Three Candidates

As usual, the Ann Arbor News is all over the coaching search. If you weren't a reader of Fenno or Carty's work beforehand, after the past few weeks where they have routinely been the first reporters to break the big news, you should be now.

Fenno is reporting from numerous inside sources that Michigan has narrowed its coaching search to three Candidates: John Beilein, Kevin Stallings, and Chris Lowery. Not the biggest names in the game, but three excellent coaches with solid reputations. When the news broke of Tommy's outser, I put together a list of potential coaches including Beilein and Lowery, Stallings however didn't make that cut.

Of the three, Beilein is obviously considered the front runner. He's guided West Virginia to unheard of heights in the Big East, but also carries a heavy price tag. Here's a brief synopsis of Beilein's resume:

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% (now 60%. Ed). 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.

Chris Lowery is the up and coming 34 year-old coach of Southern Illinois. He guided an undermanned Salukis team to the Sweet 16 and plays a nasty, clamp down defense that makes his teams miserable to play against. The one thing that isn't in this blurb is the fact that his offenses are miserable to watch as well. SIU turns the ball over with almost as much regularity as Amaker's teams did. However, that's where the parallel ends. Lowery's never missed the NCAAs. A major negative appears to be a somewhat abrasive personality and a playing style that rivals molasses in January. I can't see big name recruits wanting to play "mug your opponent to win" for four years. However, if he's a good coach he can change his style.  Here's his quick recap:

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: Mid-big. Like Bennett, Lowery is one of the most sought after young coaches in the country. His mid-west recruiting connections are some of the best the candidates. 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 concerns are his youth, playing style, and lack of experience.

Chances: 40-45%. 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. (Ha ha! I was right!)

The last name on the list is one that's received a lot of play in the media recently, Kevin Stallings.

Kevin Stallings, Head Coach Vanderbilt Univeristy - Rumor Mongerer: Himself, Internets, MSM - Stallings has 14 years of coaching experience under his belt including the last 8 at Vanderbilt. Competing in the SEC is no small feat, especially with Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee, MSU, etc. to contend with. Over the last eight years Stallings has six postseason appearances, two NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in 2004/2007 and three of 20-win seasons. Since coming to Vanderbilt in 1999 Stallings is 122-96 record. Stallings has guided the Commodores to the NIT in 2000, 2002, 2005, and 2006. He got the Commodores to the NCAA sweet 16 in 2004 and 2007.

Prior to taking over at Vandy, Stallings was an assistant at both Purdue and Kansas and his previous head position was at Illinois State. In five years at Illinois State, Stallings made the NCAAs twice and averaged 21 wins a season, compiling a 123-63 record. The coaching bloodlines are good too. He's coached with Roy Williams at Kansas and Gene Keady at Purdue (where he played college ball).

Potential Impact: Medium-Big. Stallings has won at one of the toughest jobs in college basketball. Seriously, who the hell wants to play at Vanderbilt? He's got mid-west ties and he's aggressive. In his favor are years working with a rigorous academic institution and making the NCAAs. Running against him is the fact he spends the majority of his post-season play in the NIT. I haven't seen a lot of Vandy this year, but what I saw in the NCAAs was okay but not heart stopping.

However, his offensive sets are light-years ahead of Lowery's. Stallings would likely be extremely aggressive with alumni, which is a plus. He's outgoing and unafraid to go after what he wants (e.g. the Michigan job). I'd expect if he doesn't land in Ann Arbor, Iowa will come knocking next. Solid coach, successful in a very difficult job, but all those NITs are a problem to me.

Chances: 25-35%. Probably could be first or last on the list. Unless talks with Beilein fall through I can't see him getting the job. However, I think he should probably be option two on this list.