NCAA Coaching Carousel Is Spinning Again

FAYETTEVILLE – One of the most interesting aspects of March Madness are the sessions of musical benches playing in the background.

This year has been no exception, and when the piano stops, a few close-to-home coaches could well be in different spots.

Ah, the name games.

Let's start with Arkansas assistant Oronde Taliaferro, who has been here through Stan Heath's three-seasons tenure.

Taliaferro is one of five candidates for the Eastern Michigan University job that opened after Jim Boone was canned for going 48-96 (and apparently nowhere) after six seasons.

At 33, this would seem to be an awful quick jump for Taliaferro, and his involvement in Arkansas' three-year stumbles toward no postseason play doesn't exactly seem impressive.

But Taliaferro's roots go back to Michigan, where he played for former EMU coach Jim Boyce at Detroit's Mumford High, then for Heath at Albion College and Wayne State.

His first coaching job was at Detroit's Central High (one year of leading the JV and five as the varsity coach), where he posted a 101-25 varsity record. Twice he was named the Detroit Public School League Coach of the Year.

In 2002, he joined Heath at Kent State, where they paired up in their only season there to take the Golden Flashes on a shocking Elite Eight run.

That, and the firing of then-coach Nolan Richardson, opened the doors to Bud Walton Arena for the pair.

An intelligent guy (he has a B.A. in psychology from Wayne State), Taliaferro's age often is an asset in recruiting and relating to big-time prepsters.

Also in the mix, according to the Ann Arbor News, are Michigan assistant Charles Ramsey (an assistant an EMU from 1990-93), Michigan State assistant Mark Montgomery (who played point guard for the Spartans for four seasons and has helped lead them into this year's Elite Eight), San Diego State assistant Brian Dutcher (son of Jim Dutcher, who was 127-49 in six EMU seasons) and Notre Dame assistant Lewis Preston.

Taliaferro has not been available for comment, but interviews on the EMU campus have been conducted by athletic director Dave Diles. They are expected to continue early next week with a head coach named before the weekend.

Razorbacks assistant Rob Flaska, a slam-dunk recruiter who has led that area for Heath from Day 1, is apparently in the mix at Eastern Illinois University, which, on March 3 announced it had failed to renew Rick Samuels' contract after 25 seasons (in which he was 1,159-1,042; 18-37 the last two).

Flaska, 45, has head coaching experience (Florida Community College, 1996-98) and worked with Billy Tubbs at TCU from 1996-2002, turning the Horned Frogs into a high-scoring national danger (they combined for four of the top-10 winning seasons in TCU history).

Information on Flaska's competition has been tough to find, but the EIU committee began reviewing candidates last week and hopes to name Samuels' successor in "mid-April."

Any departure – by Taliaferro or Flaska, or both – would lead to an awful interesting assistant search by Heath, who likely will be closely scrutinized by Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles.

Taliaferro and Flaska are both sharp, cool and friendly guys. We wish them the best, be that here or there.

The other Arkansas connection dates back to the mostly awesome Richardson years. Former Richardson right-hand man Mike Anderson, now the coach at Alabama-Birmingham, is a finalist for the Tennessee job, according to The Tennessean.

Anderson, who has carried on Richardson's entertaining "40 Minutes of Hell" trapping, pressing, constant movement style, has won 21 games in all three of his UAB seasons. Last season, his team stunned overall No. 1 seed Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament to move on to the Sweet 16. This season, UAB smacked around SEC West co-champ LSU to move to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where the Blazers lost to red-hot Arizona.

Anderson, 45, has stiff competition for the Tennessee job, available since the firing of Buzz Peterson, who went 61-59 and to know NCAA tourneys in four seasons.

The others in the mix are Charlotte's Bobby Lutz, Creighton's Dana Altman and Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Bruce Earl (who took his team to this year's Sweet 16 and has been endorsed by former Volunteers All-American Ernie Grunsfeld, now the president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards).

After last season's run, the Blazers boosted Anderson's annual salary to $600,000 with incentives of up to $175,000 more. The contract, through 2009, includes a one-time $300,000 buyout.

Money seems to be of little consequence at UT, though. Although Peterson made "just" $800,000, Vols athletic director Mike Hamilton has said he'll pay up to $1.5 million for the "right" guy.

Not sure if Tennessee, which is looking for its sixth coach in just 16 years, is the right fit for Anderson. Those folks have a giant arena, but the women outdraw the Vols. Football still is very much the talk of the town.

But this probably is the right time for Anderson to make a move. He's smack-dab in the middle of everyone's radar and he loses much of his firepower for next season.

Imagine Anderson, who gracefully took over to coach the Hogs' last two games on an interim basis after his mentor was fired, bringing "40 Minutes of Hell" back not only into the SEC, but into Bud Walton Arena.

Guarantee you the Arkansas powers that be have thought about it. Sweet Dreams probably have not followed.

Since he should've been named Richardson's replacement pretty much immediately, but was given only a cursory interview before being waved away, we wouldn't exactly expect much of a letup from Anderson when facing the Hogs.

UAB was contacted for permission to speak with Anderson on Wednesday. According to The Tennessean, all the candidates except Earl already have interviewed with the selection committee off-campus. Earl likely will interview on Monday or Tuesday, if he has not already.

Expect a call by mid-week.

For now, the music's still playing.

Stay tuned.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories