Coaching Search Providing Challenges

Comments from Hal Baird are featured concerning Auburn's search for a new men's basketball coach.

Auburn, Ala.--Even with more than 40 names on Hal Baird's early list of candidates for the vacant men's basketball coaching position at Auburn, Baird says the looming cloud of NCAA probation is already raising concerns among those candidates.

"Absolutely huge," Baird says about how much of an issue it is to potential candidates. "It would be disingenuous to try to minimize that. That's going to be the first thing on every prospect's mind as well it should be. At a school like Auburn the positives will always outweigh the negatives, but there are some factors involved with this particular timing that will affect some peoples decision making and that is number one on the list."

As for what he is telling candidates, Baird says there is not a lot to say. "Well, the only thing you can say is that there is a time-line that the NCAA gave us when we went before the committee and that we are within that window of time to expect the letter," he explains.

However, Baird does say that he would really like for all of the pieces of the puzzle to come together at about the same time. "I hope it will achieve critical mass at a time when we can have full disclosure and go about the business of offering the job to someone," he says. "We are trying to time it that way."

Still, Baird, who has been named athletic assistant to the President, knows that things don't always work out like you want them to, especially when the NCAA is involved. "There has to be a scenario where we have a plan to do that because we simply don't know when the letter is coming," Baird says about the possibility of hiring a new coach without knowing the extent of the NCAA sanctions. "My understanding is even though they give you a window of time by which you expect, if you go beyond that there is really no way of knowing when you will get it. So, we can't put this thing on hold.

"I have thought of some possibilities and some ways that we could continue to move forward even without the letter," Baird notes. "But, we would have to be imaginative and for the good candidates that is such a critical issue we would have to be very imaginative, I would suspect."

Another possible concern for potential candidates could be the less than impressive basketball facilities at Auburn and Baird says that is something he would like to address.

"Clearly the arenas at Arkansas, South Carolina and Rupp Arena (Kentucky), with all it has, are at a level above us," he explains. "I am not quite as sure that we don't compare favorably with most of the rest of the league. I am not saying that every bell and whistle we have match line by line, but most of the rest of the coliseums were built about the same time ours was and most of them have had upgrades and done some things within the arena and I think that is where can do some things."

Baird also says that an upgrade in facilities is something that he would like the see whoever is selected as the new coach. "I think we can hire a new coach and have him take a look at how we can consider making it a better home court advantage. Maybe do some things with the lower level that wouldn't break the bank and I think that might be the prudent short-term answer.

"Improving a practice facility would be also part of the short-term thing we could do," Baird adds. "Our dressing rooms in my view are very nice and that is a big thing. We probably need to dress it up some, but I am not sure that a player chooses most of the other schools in the SEC based on that fact. There may be one or two that way, but I don't think most of them would not come here because they don't like our gym."

One thing Baird says he has not heard from potential candidates is concern over the fact that Auburn is and always will be a football school first and foremost. "I haven't heard a concern, not one," he explains.

Along with the concerns he has heard from potential candidates about the program, Baird says he has heard criticism of the speed at which the search is taking place.

"I have read and I have heard about how important it is to have a coach on board because of the recruiting and the signing date and, you know, we have got one scholarship to give," he explains. "That is what we have got. So, I am not so sure that that is a real big deal for us at the particular point we are at right now and that is prior to hearing from the NCAA."

In looking for candidates, Baird says he has searched high and low and also says that he could do more looking at the Final Four, which is a hotbed within the collegiate coaching network.

"We're talking through that," Baird notes. "I'd kind of like to see the games, to tell you the truth, and the basketball network that exists is like it is in football and like it is in baseball. It is no more or less extensive and I think it is important for me to be in the process of trying to expand my presence in that network. So, I'm planning on it right now, but I'm not necessarily sure that is parallel to our search."

Baird also explained that with so many possible candidates at the event he might even be able to do some interviewing out in San Antonio. "Oh, I think that is entirely possible without question," he says. "But, it is also not beyond reality that we could even do it before. It depends. It depends on whether we have our letter or not. Most of the candidates, and I don't think this is any secret, most of the candidates aren't still coaching. I mean there are only 16 teams left, some of those guys are probably on our list. So, there are people who have completed their coaching seasons who are available now and we are continuing, as I said earlier, to compile the main list and once we feel like we have done a pretty good job of background then I'd like to go forward ASAP."

Along with Baird, John Mengelt, who owns an executive placement and search business that operates out of Chicago, has been a part of the initial search process and Baird says his work has been appreciated.

"John Mengelt has been retained by the university in the early stages of this process to help identify names and access interest in candidates," Baird says. "John is an Auburn graduate who has an extensive basketball background, far more than I have, and I kind of think I can conduct a search, but I can tell you this, there have been areas of the search that he has been very invaluable. We have talked almost on a daily basis and what is really interesting is that I don't really know his whole list and he doesn't know my whole list. We are getting ready to get them together quickly and see if there is some common ground among the candidates.

"The one particular area that John has been very valuable has been with regard to those candidates that are not from the southeastern part of the country," Baird adds. "Just about the sum total of my experience and my references and resources are in the southeast in either the ACC or the SEC and John with his basketball playing background and so forth knows many other people in the other major conferences. So, that has been a major aid to us."

Another key element that Baird says he will be looking for in the right candidates will be consistency and he says the lack of that key ingredient is one of the major problems with the image of the Tigers' basketball program.

"The only question that exists in my mind is that the level that we have achieved at a high water mark has not been done on consistent level," Baird explains. "Until something is done on a consistent level you will always have a question."

Despite all of the questions and possible hang-ups for potential coaching candidates, Baird says that he sees the current situation as an opportunity to grab a hold on the future of the Auburn basketball program. "But, because we have had successful teams that have advanced through the NCAA Tournament and we have had championship teams here, that to me indicates that the ingredients and resources are here to do that on a more consistent basis," he says. "I think this an opportunity for Auburn to somewhat change the culture of basketball at the institution, as has happened at other schools, and I hope we'll take full advantage of the opportunity and this hire will be the first step along that way."

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