We know that someone other than Rick Barnes will grace the sidelines at Texas next season. We also know — or at least strongly believe — that the Texas job ranks within the nation’s 10 best, not only in our minds but in the minds of college coaches as well.
Texas administrators therefore must navigate the coaching search differently from most programs currently in the market. Most schools attempt to attract promising coaches, while Texas first must cull them. And now, just a few days after Barnes exited the Lone Star State, two names have begun to dominate the conversation: Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart.
Marshall is a highly respected, long-established head coach who has won at both Winthrop and Wichita State. He recently led the Shockers to a stirring NCAA Tournament victory over rival — and Big 12 superpower — Kansas.
Smart, meanwhile, has notched significant achievements as a young coach at Virginia Commonwealth. He led the Rams to the 2011 Final Four and has taken his squad to the NCAA Tournament each of the past five seasons.
But while both coaches carry enormous clout, they operate with distinct styles. We asked our national recruiting team to assess the strengths of each coach as well as their potential fit at one of the country’s most prestigious coaching jobs.
The Gregg Marshall File
Evan Daniels (Director of Basketball Recruiting): Gregg Marshall has had no shortage of success, especially lately. The team he built in 2014 was a special one and if they had gotten past Kentucky, there’s no telling how far they could have advanced. It’s clear he can develop talent, as he developed Cleanthony Early into an NBA player and Ron Baker into a future NBA player.
Neither of those guys were expected to be that good coming out of high school. He’s consistently recruited three-star high school players and developed them into impact college players. So you have to give him credit for not only eying the right guys, but also improving them. With his location, Marshall and his staff have navigated the Midlands area with recruits and currently feature two players from Texas.
Josh Gershon (Scouthoops.com Analyst): All Marshall has done as a coach is win and he's consistently done it for a long time. Clearly, at 52 years old, he's more of a veteran coach, yet he has improved with age and has some really impressive recent accomplishments.
You won't win at a high level at Wichita State without being a terrific evaluator, recruiter, developer of talent, and coach. He's transformed Wichita State into one of the best programs in college basketball and there's every reason to think he would have further high-level success at Texas.
Rob Harrington (Scouthoops.com Analyst ): Marshall is a coach’s coach. He prepares gameplans that challenge his colleagues and has earned widespread respect as an Xs & Os guy for that reason. But he hasn’t created all this success without talent. Recruiting is the name of the game, and Marshall has proved to have a keen eye evaluating players for mid-major programs at two schools in entirely different regions, making his recruiting all the more impressive.
Questions always emerge about the transition from mid-major to high-major schools, and clearly to win big at Texas he would need to deal with the larger egos and more complex recruitments frequently associated with All-American level prospects. On the other hand, if he can beat Kansas — which has dominated the conference for many years — with a mid-major team, why couldn’t he topple them at a far more powerful institution?
From the perspective of aesthetics, some fans may not like the fact that Marshall’s teams typically play at a very slow pace. Wichita State featured the nation’s No. 16 offense this season but was only No. 278 in tempo. Of course, efficiency can be beautiful when you win, and as the recruiting patterns changed, so might the playing style.
The bottom line is that, of all the nation’s potentially available hires, Marshall arguably is the best and most accomplished head coach.
Brian Snow (Scouthoops.com Analyst): Gregg Marshall to me is one heck of a basketball coach. He plays a system and a style that translates to every single level in every way, and also is a proven very solid recruiter and evaluator of talent. Beyond that, he has proven that he can develop players within his system.
With Marshall, what stands out to me is consistency. I know most get caught up in NCAA Tournament runs, and with good reason because that’s what you play for, but as a coach being a consistent winner is huge, and that means winning your regular season conference title. In Marshall’s 17 years as a head coach, he has won his conference regular season title nine times. That is absolutely incredible.
His teams also have been very solid in the NCAA Tournament, and that shows he can win the big games.
The Shaka Smart File
Evan Daniels: Shaka Smart is smart, diligent, and an extremely hard worker. On the recruiting front, he and his staff always have done a great job targeting players that fit their system and vibe with how they play. On top of that, he’s reeled in a top-100 prospect three of the past four years.
From a developmental standpoint, there are multiple guys he has improved and gotten better, and guys like Briante Weber and Treveon Graham are prime examples. Like any coach who is from outside an area, Smart would need to hire a Texas guy to his staff, but I don’t have any concerns about him being able to recruit the state, which in my opinion is a critical part to winning there.
Josh Gershon: I think what Smart has done as a coach, especially in the postseason, is spectacular. At 37 years old, he's an incredible leader and is about the right things as a person and a coach. He's consistently had his team playing its best basketball in March, and that's the mark of a great coach.
He recruits with a purpose and is appealing to high character kids and parents due to the person he is and his fun style of play. He'll do things the right way, recruit at a high level and almost certainly run a very successful program at Texas.
Rob Harrington: It takes gravitas to run a major program, particularly at a school that’s known predominantly for football like Texas, and Smart clearly possesses the ability to manage the non-coaching aspects of a program: fundraising, publicity and personnel management. He’s a serious guy with more expansive perspectives than one typically sees in a coach, and he would establish a presence in Austin that would extend far beyond basketball.
He’s also an excellent coach. None of the above would count for much if he couldn’t recruit and teach, but Smart has thrived in both areas since arriving at VCU. I like the fact that he worked as an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida, where he recruited very successfully to a power program in a talent-rich state, to a school better known for football. To me, his recruiting prowess would translate fully to Texas.
The Rams historically play their best in the postseason, and this year VCU recovered from the devastating, midseason loss of star Briante Weber to recover and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Smart deserves immense credit for steadying the ship following a rough patch in the aftermath of Weber’s injury.
Smart loves for his teams to run and pressure, and chances are he’d bring that aggressive, defense-oriented style to Texas. He lacks Marshall’s experience and hasn’t won a regular season league title during his time at VCU — the last remaining hurdle for him to clear in terms of perception — but he clearly has raised the program’s profile and would be a dynamite hire for the Longhorns.
Brian Snow: Shaka Smart is one of the absolute best you will ever see at building buzz and creating a brand. I have no idea what HAVOC means, but people love it and the community at VCU has absolutely rallied around him. He is able to create absolute, top-down support for what he does.
Shaka also has proven himself to be a very good recruiter. His class coming in has two four-star prospects that he beat out multiple high-major programs for, and in the past he has reeled in very good recruits as well.
He has yet to win a regular season conference title so that is a concern for me, but he has an overall pretty solid winning percentage and is someone who would create a lot of buzz at Texas.
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