Auburn's Search For Basketball Coaches

A look at Auburn's search for replacemements for fired men's coach Cliff Ellis and retiring women's coach Joe Ciampi.

If there is a leading candidate to become Auburn's next men's basketball coach, it's a closely held secret. Hal Baird, athletic assistant to the president and the man in charge of the search, has been straightforward and forthcoming, but he's mentioned no names.

Auburn has contacted no coaches, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been contact with coaches' representatives. That's the way it works these days. If William Walker had recognized that, he might still be president, athletic director David Housel might still be running the athletic department and a lot of people might have been spared a lot of pain.

Anyway, coaches talk among themselves, and there has been a lot of talk about the Auburn job. Some information has emerged from that chatter.

Despite what has been reported and rumored, Indiana's Mike Davis is not the leading candidate for the job. There is little question Davis would take it if it were offered, but at this point it doesn't seem likely that it will be offered. The response to Davis as Auburn coach would be mixed at best. It shouldn't matter, but there are an awful lot of Auburn folks out there who don't want a former Alabama player and coach in charge of the Auburn program. Is Davis a serious candidate at all? Maybe, maybe not.

UAB's Mike Anderson certainly is among the leading candidates. He's a hot name after taking UAB on a surprising run to the Sweet 16. Auburn can pay more than UAB can pay. He spent 17 seasons in the Southeastern Conference as an assistant to Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and is an Alabama native, adding to his attractiveness. Because of defections to the Big East, Conference USA is about to go from being a major player to a minor player in Division I basketball. Anderson might have a hankering to try himself as a head coach at the highest level of the game.

Tennessee-Chattanooga's Jeff Lebo and Virginia Commonwealth's Jeff Capel also could be in the mix. But the leading candidate might be a coach whose name has not been mentioned in speculation over the past week. The Auburn job has attracted the interest of some high-profile coaches that would surprise most people. Now, whether those coaches are really interested or they are trying to better their own situations is a matter of conjecture.

The uncertainty surrounding what action the NCAA will take against the Auburn program is making Baird's job more difficult. If Auburn doesn't receive postseason sanctions, it won't be much of a problem. If Auburn is hit with a postseason ban--which most believe is not likely--it would be a big problem. The biggest problem right now is the fact that nobody knows. Auburn officials were told at their Feb. 13 hearing that they would hear in five to seven weeks. Friday will be seven weeks, but the NCAA is notorious for missing that deadline. Amazingly, the Committee on Infractions makes its decision at the time of the hearing, but it takes weeks or months just to put the decision in the proper form and inform the school of its decision.

When will a decision be made? That's hard to say. Baird and others would like to fill the job quickly, but that might not be possible. In the strange world of college coaching searches, the last thing any school wants to do is be publicly turned down. Unless there is near certainty the job will be accepted, it's not likely an offer will be made before the much-anticipated letter from the NCAA arrives.


Barbara Camp, Auburn's senior women's administrator, will carry most of the load in the search to replace Joe Ciampi, who retired last Thursday after 25 years as women's basketball coach.

Ciampi has strongly recommended Joanie O'Brien, his No. 1 assistant. She will certainly get strong consideration, but it is by no means certain that she will get the job. Baird has made it very clear that, for both jobs, he will seek the top person available. And that's as it should be.

Will that be O'Brien? It might well be, but it's a safe bet that she will be one of several who are interviewed. Ciampi built one of the nation's top programs. Baird will seek to find the person who can take the program back to where Ciampi had it when the Tigers went to three straight national championship games in 1988-90.


I've said before and I'll say it again. Why in the world isn't Auburn swim coach David Marsh in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame?

Marsh won his seventh national championship Saturday night when Auburn's men overwhelmed the field with a record score. That's more national championships than any coach in any sport in the history of our state. Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson is in the Hall of Fame. She's won four national championships.

Want to hear something even more puzzling? Former Alabama swim coach Don Gambril is in the Hall of Fame. He won two SEC championships and was national runner-up once. He won no national championships.

This is not to say Patterson and Gambril aren't deserving, but Marsh should have been inducted before either one of them. It is way past time for those who vote on inductees into the Hall of Fame to rectify and obvious wrong.

Until next time…

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