Heath Looking For Old-School Help

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas basketball coach Stan Heath appears to be on the right track, and it should surprise absolutely no one that Razorbacks athletic director Frank Broyles intends to help guide him along the way.



How tightly Broyles pulls the reins remains to be seen.

Whether they can get there is the larger question.

The Hogs' oldest assistant, by far, on a really young staff accepted the head coaching job at Centenary College on Wednesday night.

Rob Flaska, 45, had been through all three Heath seasons in which the Hogs have posted a disappointing 39-47 mark.

Flaska's move was not a surprise for several reasons: Almost all assistants believe they are head coaches in waiting and Flaska's on-court duties had been stripped before this season, elevating 32-year-old assistant Darren Sorenson closer to Heath's side. Some of Flaska's major functions, performed the first two seasons by Sorenson, were arranging travel and budgets, things that didn't exactly make Flaska's juices flow. And this program had better produce next season ... or else.

Thus Arkansas lost its only assistant with college head-coaching experience and a guy who had a lot of success as Billy Tubbs' right-hand man at high-scoring TCU (1999-2002).

That leaves Ronny Thompson, 35, Oronde Taliaferro, 33, and Sorenson on the staff of Heath, 39.

Where does Heath go from here?

Certainly not to another young gun. Heath loads up with another one of those and the uniform colors should be changed to primarily green.

Not going to happen.

Heath and Broyles have both spoken of adding an experienced Division I coach, preferably a former head coach, which is the growing trend.

Half of the Southeastern Conference's 12 teams sport a former head coach as an assistant.

Two dandy recent examples, both of them really relevant to Arkansas, considering the ages of the head coaches involved: Alabama and Florida.

Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, 40, hired 59-year-old Tom Asbury, who had two head coaching stints (Pepperdine, 1988-94 and Kansas State, 1994-2000), two seasons ago.

In 2003-2004, Alabama made its first-ever run to the Elite Eight. This season, the Crimson Tide tied for the SEC West title.

After former head coach Larry Shyatt, 53, joined the staff of Billy Donovan, 39, Florida jumped into this year's NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed after knocking off Kentucky to win the SEC Tournament title.

Shyatt had been the head coach at Clemson (1998-2003) after being the head coach at Wyoming.

Gottfried and Asbury have known each other since the late-1980s, when Gottfried was a UCLA assistant and Asbury was building Pepperdine into a scary group.

Familiarity is important in such a selection, Gottfried said. But there are other crucial factors: Former head coaches considered for assistants on big-time D-I staffs must have been successful, they should share the philosophies of the head coach and they should not have aspirations of again becoming a head coach.

"So it's different than just adding a guy with gray hair," Gottfried said. "That's not always the answer.

"You know, sometimes you hear, ‘Well, you've got to get older guys.' Well, I can pull one of them out of the crowd – that doesn't mean they're going to help our team."

Donovan said he wanted an assistant to "challenge" him, not another "yes" man. He wanted "fresh" ideas as well as the "wisdom" of someone who has been around the game lots longer than him.

Heath has talked about getting someone he can delegate more things to.

That's a hard lesson Donovan also learned.

"I just felt like we needed something a little bit different," Donovan said. "I think as a head coach, I work very, very hard in all the facets. I think some head coaches say, ‘Listen, I'm going to do all the coaching, and I want other guys to go out there and recruit and I'm gonna get another couple of young guys to run around.'"

That doesn't cut it for long, Donovan said.

But the main reason for adding Shyatt goes deeper.

"(Shyatt) has a different perspective as an assistant that's been in that head coaching chair, and he can come with different ideas and suggestions," Donovan said.

That's what Arkansas wants and needs – a seasoned someone who has been there and done all that, shares Heath's basic ideas and isn't afraid to speak up while also having the patience to help Heath through a few more growing pains.

He also must respect his youngers.

Can Arkansas net such a guy?

The Flaska timing wasn't great, but it could've been a lot worse. Heath arrived in St. Louis for this weekend's Final Four on Thursday, and just about everyone associated with Division I basketball is there. Perfect opportunity for Heath to pick brains, strike up casual conversations and meet some of the possibilities.

Still, it won't be a real easy sell to those who meet the criteria. It's no secret – even outside of this Land of Opportunity – that Heath must make the NCAA Tournament next season, and maybe even make a bit of a run in it, to retain his job.

That might make currently employed folks blanche. Might not. Either way, there are the usual plethora of guys out there who have recently lost jobs and are eager to rebound.

Arkansas has some pretty good players in place, knockout facilities and a big-time tradition.

The sort of guy the Hogs are looking for could do a heck of a lot worse.

But will this be Heath's call?

Yeah, mostly. But if Heath floats another name of a contact up north (he's from Michigan, as is Taliaferro and Flaska; Thompson hails from Virginia and Sorenson is from Wisconsin) and Broyles believes he has a better idea from down here, well, we all know who is boss.

This is the most important decision of Heath's tenure.

And it's no surprise that Broyles will help him make it.

They both have a lot on the line here.




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