Last Thursday, Richardson fired Ellis following his 10th season as head coach of the Tigers and put Baird in charge of compiling a list of candidates for the president to consider for the post. Baird is being assisted by former Tiger basketball star and NBA player John Mengelt, who has an executive search firm.
Baird estimates around 50 current head and assistant college basketball coaches have expressed interest in the post or have been recommended by others. "We are still compiling names and trying to get background material on the names that are surfacing through the basketball networks," Baird says. "That is where we are. There is a lot of interest and I believe new candidates are emerging, but it is a little early to identify any. I am pleased with the number and quality of candidates."
Auburn doesn't have to look far to find perhaps the hottest Division I coaching prospect, UAB head man Mike Anderson, who has taken the Blazers into the Sweet 16 in just his second year in charge of the Birmingham college. Other names that have been recommended to AU officials include promising young coaches such as Jeff Capel of VCU and Jeff Lebo of UT-Chattanooga.
"My role is helping to take to Dr. Richardson a list of candidates that should be prioritized," Baird says. "After that, Dr. Richardson will make the final decision." Richardson said Tuesday night at the Auburn-UConn NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament game in Bridgeport, Conn., that Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Indiana's Mike Davis are coaches that the Tigers are interested in talking to about the job. Former Tiger star Charles Barkley has publically endorsed Davis, a former University of Alabama player, for the job. Davis has been under fired from IU fans after a losing season at Indiana.
Cliff Ellis is shown at his final press conference at AU last week after learning that he was fired by Richardson following a 14-14 season.
Shannon Weaver, the associate head coach under Ellis, is in charge of the day to day operations of the basketball program until a new head coach is named. Weaver and the rest of the coaching staff, minus Ellis, have been in their offices at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum working this week.
"We will probably take most of the rest of this week to absolutely make sure that every single person who has expressed interest has been looked into at some point," Baird says. "We would like to think that at some point, in a week, the list would be pared down to a number that is workable. I think that involves a little bit more intensive background checks from a compliance standpoint, graduation rates and all of those type of things. Hopefully, then we will be able to start officially interviewing and get down to the serious part of it where you scrutinize and identify the best ones and interview them and bring them in.
"I would like to think in a real great scenario that process wouldn't take more than two to two and a half weeks.," Baird adds.
Baird says he is pleased that there has been so much interest in the job. "I think that speaks volumes about Auburn and Auburn's reputation," he says. "I do have some concerns though. There are some things that have to be considered and I know that coaching candidates who are marketable and serious are going to consider these things. First and foremost is going to be NCAA sanctions.
"We are going to approach this thing with forthrightness, honesty and full disclosure," Baird adds. "We are going to try to sell the fact that we are genuinely interested in being a basketball school and have somebody come in and build this program brick by brick. We know there are going to be stumbles in the road. We know that it is not going to be that easy initially, but I believe with all of the positive things we have to offer that we can attract a top-notch candidate. However, it (the NCAA case) is going to be a factor in the process. It will be an issue to any candidate."
AU officials don't know when they will get a report on their sanctions from the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Baird says the sooner that happens the better it will be for helping speed up the coaching search to get the uncertainty behind.
Baird says that from talking with Richardson the two have concluded that hiring a new basketball coach is the number one priority for the athletic department at this time. "I am extremely pleased with where we are right now (in the search), but we are a ways away from hiring a coach," Baird says.