Looking At Basketball Coach Search

Though we’ll probably never know the story, there is at least some plausibility that Alabama Athletics Director Bill Battle did not intend to fire Anthony Grant as Crimson Tide men’s basketball coach. And yet he did. Now he has to hire a successor. Here is the first of two parts on the search.

That was a short (most would say sweet) story. The new narrative will be the man selected as the next Alabama head basketball coach.

There is some interest in whether the Crimson Tide allowed the tail to wag the dog. When UAB won the Conference-USA championship and went to the NCAA Tournament and when Auburn won three games in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, there was some noise.

Most, though, would have recognized that Jarod Haase had the advantage of being in C-USA. The blowout of the Blazers at the hands of a mediocre UCLA team (that lost to Alabama). Auburn resurrected a disgraced Bruce Pearl from broadcast journalism, and to hear some tell it he has created a monster program in just one year. That overlooks the fact that he was next to last in the SEC. One might say, ‘thank God for Missouri,’ which was last, but the Missouri Tigrs defeated the Auburn Tigers.

The occasional blip notwithstanding, Alabama historically has been the top basketball program in the state and Grant had won against Auburn and against Pearl.

Are Haase and Pearl deceent coaches? Yes. Can Alabama do better? That is the question.

Those who believe that Battle decided late in the game to fire Grant almost always make the leap that he “did not have a list” of potential successors. There’s even a chorus of “Don’t fire a coach until you know the replacement.” In basketball, that is almost always impossible. Firings take place at the end of the season. Hundreds of coaches – from which the successor almost always comes -- are involved in post-season play, which is hardly the time to negotiate.

So the list is “possible successors,” and there’s no reason to think that it can’t change between the firing and the hiring. In any event, it doesn’t take long to come up with a list, even an unreasonable one provided by your average BasketballBobBlog, or whatever.

It also probably doesn’t matter. Is there any Alabama basketball fan who was not thrilled when the Tide hired Grant, considered the hottest possible coach? There are no guarantees in this process.

There are professional search teams available, although there have been credible reports that Battle does not intend to employ an outside entity to find a coach. He may use one to do background checks. Those aren’t always thorough enough, as Bama seemed to learn from its Mike Price football hire, but in most cases it can eliminate those with personal moral issues.

There are other issues in hiring a coach. The competition can be a factor. Mississippi State firing Rick Ray doesn’t have an effect on what Alabama is going to do. The Bulldogs are merely trying to get their work done before the so-called big dogs are prowling. Although some have suggested former UCLA Coach Ben Howland for Alabama, Mississippi State is more likely to be a program interested in Howland.

Texas, for instance, is another thing. There are deep pockets in Austin and the Longhorns, like Alabama, can’t see any reason they shouldn’t be good in every sport, men’s basketball certainly among them. There is a chance Rick Barnes (a former Alabama assistant, by the way) has run out of rope in Texas. Although theoretically Bama and UT wouldn’t necessarily be after the same candidates, if they were the bidding could get high.

It is not just a matter of dollars, though. To be sure, every man who finds himself in conversation for the Alabama job will know (or his agent will) that the Crimson Tide athletics department made over $30 million last year. By all accounts, Battle will not jeopardize the hiring process by penny-pinching.

But a coach wants to know other things. How are the facilities? Despite what some think, Coleman Coliseum (and particularly the part you don’t see, the players’ lounge and locker room and practice gym) are far above average. Is it possible to win? Alabama can point to its record of second most wins and second most championships in the SEC (and there will be no reason to hide the fact it is quite a distant second to Kentucky).

Much is made of hiring a coach with “familiarity with the recruiting territory.” Probably more important is a desire to recruit, meaning a willingness to get the know the men who coach the prospects in the recruiting area.

Will Alabama being known as a “football school” hurt the search? If that matters to a basketball coach, he won’t be interested in Bama. UAB, maybe.

Fan support? Being honest, it is very good when Alabama wins, very bad when the Crimson Tide falters.

Is there a time frame? Although a cliché, it’s true that it’s much more important to get the right person no matter how long it takes than it is to rush to the wrong conclusion. Still, it’s better for both sides if it can be worked out as soon as possible.

Tomorrow: Who are the candidates and what are their pluses and minuses?

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