Next Tide Basketball Coach Candidates

Alabama Athletics Director Bill Battle is searching for a new Crimson Tide basketball coach. Firing Anthony Grant probably wasn’t easy, but the job of hiring a successor is very, very difficult. And there are no guarantees.

Alabama followers and basketball journalists have thrown out about a half dozen names. Some make sense, some probably don’t. Battle elected to make a change in the basketball program for what he described as “the wins and losses,” and the direction of the program. The new coach, however, will be expected to continue some hallmarks of the Grant era – the coach and players representing the program well and academic success.

Is it just me, or does going down the list look more like an exercise in going after the candidate with the least negatives?

Here in alphabetical order are some who have been suggested:

Rick Barnes currently has a nice job at Texas, making over $2.5 million per year, and he has a buyout that will fall to $1.5 million on April 1. He has had a generally successful career, but right now Longhorns are asking if it isn’t time to make a change. There’s also the hangover of a recruiting battle years ago when Barnes, a former assistant at Alabama and then head coach at Providence, reportedly told a Tide prospect that he had been in Tuscaloosa and it was a racist place.

John Brannen has been Anthony Grant’s top assistant at Alabama and took over the team for the NIT, leading Bama to a romp over Illinois and a close loss at Miami. It has been a mixed bag promoting a Tide assistant coach to head coach – Wimp Sanderson did very well, David Hobbs not so well.

Rick Byrd has done very, very well everywhere he has been, including now at Belmont. The problem is that he has never been in the big time.

Tom Crean is in the big time, coaching the Indiana Hoosiers, one of the top programs in college basketball history. A vocal segment of the Indiana family feels that Indiana should be a national power more than just once in a few years, as has been the case under Crean. A rumor surfaced Monday that he was gone. Getting rid of him, though, would be expensive, $12 million the reported price to buy out his contract.

From time-to-time one needs to think former Tide football coach Bill Curry to Kentucky. Almost no one at Alabama was sorry to see Curry go, and if he couldn’t win to a Bama standard with Tide resources, what made anyone think he could be a football winner at Kentucky. This may apply both to Barnes and Crean.

Bryce Drew was assistant coach to his father, Homer, at Valparaiso. When dad retired in 2011, son was named head coach. Drew is probably best remembered as a Valpo player in the NCAA Tournament against Ole Miss, when he made a biuzzer-beating three-point shot for a 70-69 win. He is the ultimate Big Man in Valparaiso.

T.R. Dunn, now in his third season as an assistant coach of the NBA Houston Rockets, was one of the top players in Alabama basketball history, finishing in 1977. He went on to a 14-year playing career in the NBA and most of his career since then has been as an assistant coach in the NBA. Known as a defensive specialist, Dunn spent two years under Sacramento’s Rick Adelman, considered one of the top offensive coaches in basketball. His only college coaching experience was under Mark Gottfried, 2001-02, and his only head coaching job was in the WNBA in 2000.

Larry Eustachy of Colorado State, and formerly of Idaho, Utah State, Iowa State and Southern Miss, would seem like a very, very long shot to follow Grant. Regardless of his succcess, and even though it’s somewhat ancient history, Eustachy will always be remembered for his partying with coeds. He also has a bit of an NCAA stain.

Tim Floyd, who has coached at UTEP the past six years, was successful on the court at USC, but off-the-court problems, including NCAA allegations, make him a hard sell. He is a Southerner and has coached in New Orleans (college and pro) and also coached the Chicago Bulls after Phil Jackson. He’s on this list because he seems to be on every “looking for a coach” list.

Travis Ford was a successful player at Kentucky and since has been a solid college coach at Campbellsville, Eastern Kentucky, Massachusetts, and since 2008-09 at Oklahoma State. There has been some grumbling that OSU doesn’t do well in close games and in games against top competition, and there have been discipline issues. There is also the issue of his long term contract (through 2019) that pays him over $2 million per year and has a $3 million buyout for Ford.

Ben Howland has been out of coaching for a couple of years and doing television analysis, which, of course, makes him a can’t-miss candidate according to sportscasters. Well, maybe. He ranks sixth in winning percentage among the eight coaches who followed John Wooden at UCLA and was fired after winning the Pac-12 championship. His time at UCLA was marked with an unpopular slow-down play that resulted in transfers, poor recruiting, and declining attendance. He was also accused in a Sports Illustrated article of allowing a bully on his team. He was a head coach at Norhtern Arizona and Pitt before getting the UCLA job. It has been reported that he is interested in the Mississippi State job “if he doesn’t get a better offer.”

Bobby Hurley has quite a basketball background. He is the son of a coach and the brother of a coach. He was an All-America point guard at Duke where he helped the Blue Devils to back-to-back national championships. He played for Sacramento in the NBA before an auto accident ended his playing career. He was an assistant coach at Wagner and Rhode Island before he replaced Reggie Withersppon (who served on Anthony Grant’s Alabama staff this year) at Buffalo. This year’s team made the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The only minus would seem to be a short history in coaching.

Tom Izzo, who has shown at Michigan State that he ranks at the very top of the college basketball ladder, has this connection to Alabama: he became head coach of the Spartans the same year (1995) that Michigan State hired a new head football coach, one Nick Saban. Izzo has a national championship (2000), is among the leaders in NCAA Tournament victories, puts players into the NBA, and his players earn their degrees. He is one of the nation’s top-paid coaches at just under $4 million per year. He has shown absolutely no interest in leaving Michigan State.

Avery Johnson has made the move from television analyst to coach in the past and now he’s back as an ESPN analyst. The New Orleans native and graduate of Southern University went on to a long NBA career. As an NBA coach he was very successful at Dallas before being fired in 2008. He then went to TV and in 2010 got the New Jersey Nets job. He was fired 28 games into the 2013 season and returned to TV.

Andy Kennedy, who has done a fine job at Ole Miss, is a highly unlikely candidate to move across state lines. He begins his 10th year with the Rebels next season.

Gregg Marshall is the Anthony Grant of 2015 for Alabama fans, meaning everyone wants him. He has been exceptional at Wichita State and has his team in the Sweet 16 after wins over Indiana and Kansas. There is no question he is one of the top coaches in the nation, the guy who would be at the top of just about any major college team looking for a basketball coach. Although it is said that everyone has a price, Marshall has insisted that he is happy as the BMOC at Wichita State. Job One will be to get him to submit to an interview, and that won’t happen until after the Shockers have completed their run in this year’s NCAA Tournament – his 10th NCAA appearance in 17 years as a head coach (nine at Winthrop, eight at Wichita State). One has to remember the Missouri Valley Conference is not the same as the SEC. Good news-bad news: Marshall is an SAE, and the mother chapter is at Alabama, but there was also a chapter in the news lately at Oklahoma.

Archie Miller is the brother of Arizona Coach Sean Miller, but Archie is making a name for himself. The former North Carolina State player was named head coach at Dayton (alma mater of Anthony Grant) in 2011. He has done an excellent job with th Flyers and almost everyone expects him to take a step up in the coaching ranks at the end of this season, his second consecutive in four years to make the NCAA Tournament.

Philip Pearson, a native of Montgomery and player at Jeff Davis High, was a so-so player at Alabama under Wimp Sanderson and David Hobbs, but was an outstanding student, including winner of the Paul Bryant Award as the Tide’s top student-athlete and a President’s List scholar. He began his coaching career as an assistant under Sanderson at Arkansas-Little Rock and then joined Mark Gottfried at Murray State, first as director of basketball operations while earning his master’s degree, then as an assistant. He accmpanied Gottfried to Alabama in 1998 and served as the top assistant. When Gottfried was fired in 2009, Pearson finished the season as interim coach. He then went to Georgia where he has been a top assistant and outstanding recruiter for the Bulldogs.

Richard Pitino probably would be the choice of those who would have wanted Jim Wooden or Herky Rupp in an earlier time. The son of Rick is now coach at Minnesota At Providence he was team manager. He was an administrative assistant at College of Charleston in 2005, followed by jobs as an assistant coach at Northeatern, Duquesne, Louisville, Florida, and as associate head coach under Dad at Lousville in 2012. He was head coach at FIU in 2012, forging an 18-14 record, then was hired at Minnesota. His first team in 2014 won the NIT championship with a 25-13 record. This year’s team was 10th in the Big 10. As an aside, some have suggested that Rick Pitino might be tired of being in Kentucky’s shadow at Louisville and might be interested in a move. While this is almost certainly hogwash, who would want a coach that was trying to avoid a challenge?

Steve Prohm has been one of the national feel-good stories at Murray State, and there’s a particular affinity for Prohm among Alabama partisans. First of all, he’s gotten the job done on th court with a 104-28 record in four years as head coach of the Racers. He was a player at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta when he decided to transfer to Alabama in 1992. He served as a student manager and student coach under Wimp Sanderson and David Hobbs for five years while earning his degree. He then joined Billy Kennedy (now head coach at Texas A&M) for six years at Centennary and Southeastern Louisiana, spent a year as an assistant at Tulane, and then rejoined Kennedy at Murray State in 2006. When Kennedy left for the Aggies, Prohm was elevated to head coach and has been excellent. He’s headed for a bigger job and at 40 it may be soon.

Shaka Smart is probably in everyone’s top few because of the outstanding job he has done as Anthony Grant’s successor at VCU. He was a magna cum laude graduate of Kenyon College in Ohio. He was director of basketball operations at Dayton, then an assistant at Akron for three years, Clemson for two, and Florida for one before being named Grant’s successor in 2009. His teams have made the NCAA Tournament the last five years, including reaching the Final Four in 2011, and his coaching record is 163-56. More than any other candidate, “mid-major” might hurt him with Alabama.

Rick Stansbury is best known as the long-time and successful coach at Mississippi State. He’s now an assistant at Texas A&M and trying very hard to get a head job…particularly, it seems, the head job at Alabama. Most would dismiss the notion out of hand because Stansbury was long suspected of recruiting outside the rules, but he was never convicted by the NCAA. He is excellent in the public relations arena (where Grant was abysmal) and as a recruiter. Still…

Brad Stevens is coach of the Boston Celtics, where not much is going on, but he earned his reputation at Butler. By all accounts, Stevens has zero interest in leaving the Celtics and the Celtics have the same interest in losing Stevens. In other words, forget about it.

Brad Underwood took awhile to get his first college head coaching job with a long career in junior colleges and as a college assistant. He has been at Stephen F. Austin for just two years and been two times regular season champion, two times Southland Conference Tournament Champion, and two times coach of the year. He has 61-8 record. He was an assistant under Frank Martin at Kansas State from 2006-12 and at South Carolina in 2013 before getting the Stephen F. Austin job.

Michael White, the son of Duke Athletics Director Kevin White, is the head coach at Louisiana Tech. He played at Ole Miss. His first coaching job was an assistant at Jacksonville State (2000-04) followed by a stint at Mississippi (2004-11). In 2011 he was named head coach at Louisiana Tech and has forged a 101-39 record and three NIT appearances in his four years.

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