Hal Baird, the special assistant to Richardson who is in charge of the search for a new coach, said that he believes he has made progress, but doesn't have a timetable set for bringing a new coach to AU.
Baird did say on Wednesday that has identified five to eight candidates, who are all current college head coaches, that he would like to talk to about the job. "We believe this job is attractive enough for us to attract a head coach who has already had some level of success as a head coach," Baird said.
One of the coaches that Auburn is interested in is UAB's Mike Anderson, who led the Blazers to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 this season. However, Baird wouldn't confirm that on Wednesday.
"I am not going to confirm or deny any schools or any candidates in regard to where we are in the search," Baird said. "I will say that we are in a position that is further along than we were last week and specifically there is a list of candidates that has risen and emerged to the point where we do want to have contact with them. I have contacted athletic directors for permission to speak with a number of candidates and I look very much forward to advancing with as much haste as we can do it."
Commenting on the time frame of the search, Baird said, "I think it would be more likely to be well into next week. We have not had any discussions specifically with any of the candidates at this point. I am assuming to accomplish that it is going to take some time."
Baird is headed to San Antonio, Tex., for the Final Four, which is also the site of a variety of coaching meetings. Baird noted that he isn't sure how much he will be able to get accomplished in the search from talking with coaches in San Antonio. "It's hard to say," Baird said. "I have never been to one (Final Four) before, but we are just going to have to see how that evolves. It is really hard to answer that. A lot of the coaches who are there are there for conference meetings and other official capacities."
Baird said he expects all of the candidates who are interviewed for the job to come to the AU campus and personally meet with Richardson, who will have the final say on who the coach will be.
Baird avoided discussing specifics of what type of contract that AU would be willing to offer for the candidate, but did say that Auburn could be "imaginative and creative on the contract." He added, "We are going to be competitive with the SEC and with an eye on what is best for Auburn University. I don't intend to be in any kind of bidding process with anyone. We are going to put together what we believe is a fair and lucrative package that probably emphasizes security and a long-range commitment to the basketball program."
To help encourage a candidate to come to AU, Baird said that building a new practice facility for basketball would be priority. The same would be true of making "enhancements" to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum that the new coach would recommend.
Baird said he wants to bring the new coach on board as soon as possible, but added that the key issue to get the right person for the job.
"The process of paring the list down came through extensive numbers of calls to basketball coaches, athletic directors, players who have played at different institutions, families of players who have played at different institutions, officials of various universities where candidates currently work or worked before," he said. "This has really been an exhausting process and one that I hope has been thorough. The background part is something that I felt we were behind on from the early stages and I have spent all week on trying to catch up now so we think we have a clearer picture of the candidates and their ability to fit in here."
Auburn has still not received word on what sanctions it will receive from the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, a situation that has complicated the search process. Baird said he doesn't know when the word will come to AU, but noted that it could be any day.
"We are looking for someone to lead the program and not just on the short-term on getting over this little hump," he said. "We want a long-range plan from an energetic leader that will get us to the point where we think we can compete in basketball on a regular basis, not just once in a while. That is a block by block process."
Baird, who is also Auburn's senior associate athletic director for men's sports, added, "We don't want somebody to rent the program, we want somebody to buy it. And, we want the long-term building process...It is going to be a marriage. It is going to be someone that Auburn University likes and someone who likes Auburn University. We are beginning a courtship with a number of people. We are not sure they will really like us. We are not sure we will really like them.
"I have never been a person that thought there is only one person who can get a job done," Baird added. "When you coach for a while sometimes you think you are indispensable, but you are not. My feeling is that there are a lot of people who could come in here and do a great job. It is not just one person. We very well may have someone tell us no. We will just have to wait to see how that evolves."
Baird, who is also in charge of the search for a replacement for retiring women's coach Joe Ciampi, said that senior women's associate AD Barbara Camp is still working on compiling a list of candidates. "That search could be a little smoother and little easier than the men's search just because the NCAA complication doesn't exist there," Baird said. "This is a solid, stable traditionally successful program and I think it will be one that attracts a lot of good candidates."
Ciampi, head coach of the Tigers for 25 years, has recommended that his top assistant, Joanie O'Brien, be his replacement.