Not So Fast

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' search for a new basketball coach seemed so simple earlier this week.

It was Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie or bust. And those close to the program seemed confident about Gillispie's chances to become the Razorbacks' next coach.

But the search became muddled Wednesday after reports came out of Texas that Gillispie and Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne had come to a verbal agreement on a contract extension.

Earlier in the day Wednesday, it appeared as if Gillispie had come to a final decision because of these reports. Several sources close to the basketball program even said that Gillispie had turned down an offer from Arkansas.

But as of late Wednesday, the situation seemed undecided. A source close to the search said that Arkansas still planned to continue its pursuit of its candidates. Those widely reported candidates include Gillispie.

The source also said that Arkansas had been given no indication that would merit a change of course.

A different source, who has been involved in previous informal talks with Gillespie's representatives, said the situation was far from resolved.

"I don't know the logistics of things, but I still expect (Gillispie) to meet with Coach (Broyles) at some time," the source said.

The Bryan-College Station Eagle talked to Texas A&M Interim President Eddie Davis on Wednesday, and he seemed convinced that Gillispie would remain in College Station.

"I talked to Coach Gillispie this morning and he told me that as far as he's concerned, he's the coach at Texas A&M," Davis told The Eagle. "That's the end of the story for me."

To be sure, because of these reports, Arkansas officials are keeping a close eye on other candidates. Those close to the program name Kansas' Bill Self and Southern California's Tim Floyd as the next-best options. Both of those coaches are in ideal situations, though, so another group of candidates could emerge quickly. Rick Majerus, formerly of Marquette, Ball State and Utah, is likely among those potential targets now.

A source inside the Arkansas athletic department said Majerus called Wednesday to inquire about the open position.

The story about luring Gillispie began nearly a month ago, in the days after Arkansas' loss to Tennessee on Feb. 24. That defeat dropped the Razorbacks to 16-12 overall and 5-9 in the Southeastern Conference.

The 11-point setback in Bud Walton Arena also resulted in a series of events that ended with an ultimatum to Arkansas coach Stan Heath. A source close to the basketball program told The Morning News on Feb. 26 that Heath would be fired if Arkansas didn't make the NCAA Tournament.

Around that same time, the source said, at least two people close to Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles reached out to a friend of Gillispie. The friend continually indicated that Gillispie's interest in a potential opening at Arkansas was high, the source said.

But when it finally came around to making a decision, Gillispie has balked.

He didn't return calls from Broyles on Monday or Tuesday and refused to make any public statement on the situation. He was also silent last year with similar situations involving job openings at North Carolina State and Indiana.

As crazy as Wednesday was, Tuesday may have been crazier.

Back in Arkansas, Broyles attempted to call Byrne to request permission to speak with Gillispie, the source close to the basketball program said. Byrne didn't return his calls until the end of the day, possibly perturbed by the fact that Broyles already had contacted Gillispie through intermediaries, the source said.

Broyles has repeatedly refused to comment to The Morning News on any matters pertaining to the coaching search. And repeated messages left at his office have gone unreturned.

In Texas, students rallied around Gillispie at an impromptu rally to show support for him. The ploy, attended by almost 200 students and yell leaders, apparently helped, if the reports coming out of Texas are true.

The agenda of today's meeting of the Texas A&M Board of Regents contains the item of business that could've given Gillispie reason to assure Byrne.

The board is expected to increase Gillispie's salary from its current level of $1.2 million up to around the $2 million mark. The board also will trigger the start of construction on previously-approved basketball-related projects in excess of $20 million.

The overall timing of the Arkansas opening has put Gillispie in a difficult spot.

According to the source close to the basketball program, Broyles wanted an answer from Gillispie immediately, no later than Wednesday. He didn't want to wait until Gillispie got back from his trip to Atlanta with Aggies senior Acie Law IV for several college basketball awards banquets.

He didn't want to delay until the A&M Board of Regents met and until Kentucky had a chance to possibly get turned down by Florida's Billy Donovan. Gillispie has been perceived as a candidate to succeed Tubby Smith.

But Gillispie wasn't willing to wait. Now, it appears as if Broyles is backing off of his deadline ultimatum.

As far as Arkansas' other top candidates, Self told The Kansas City Star, for the third time in the last week, that he wasn't interested in the Arkansas job on Wednesday. Floyd took USC to the Sweet 16 this past season, returns most of his roster and will welcome the nation's top recruit, O.J. Mayo, to campus next year.

From there, Broyles' prerogative is unknown. And remember, this search is being conducted by only Broyles. When Arkansas hired Stan Heath in 2002, Arkansas chancellor John White led a 10-person search committee.

This time around, however, it's all on Broyles to make the decision that could define his legacy.

He could call around the country from his office in Fayetteville. Or he could head down to Atlanta for the Final Four weekend and interview candidates there.

Other possible candidates mentioned by those close to the program include Marquette's Tom Crean, UNLV's Lon Kruger and Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery.

For now, though, Arkansas officials were holding out hope that it was still Gillispie or bust.

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