Salt Lake City, Utah - HoosierNation.com's Weekly IU Coaching Stock Report looks at who's moving up and who's moving down in IU's search for a replacement for Mike Davis...
Steve Alford – Alford's Hawkeyes are arriving in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday to prepare for their Friday match-up with Northwestern State, but things just seem to be falling into place for the former IU All-American when it comes to possibly returning to Bloomington.
Alford's best season in Iowa City has happened to coincide with the season when the IU coaching position has come open. Fresh off a Big Ten Tournament championship and a runner-up finish in the league's regular season race, Alford has gone 25-8 thus far with a senior-laden squad that earned a No. 3 seed in the Atlanta region. For a guy whose biggest drawback in the eyes of many IU fans has been his questionable level of success at Iowa, this season's march has eased – but not erased - some of those concerns.
Alford won't say it publicly but the interest to return to IU is definitely there. His biggest obstacle, though, continues to be a preference to avoid going through any sort of public interview process. That wouldn't sit well with Iowa fans, who have generally given him a lukewarm reception ever since he arrived in Iowa City. Fortunately for him, IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan has a track record of keeping his coaching hires out of the public eye.
Ironically, Alford's team has now won the Big Ten Tournament title each time when the IU coaching position has been presumably open. In 2001, Iowa upset Indiana in the tournament championship game during Mike Davis' interim season, leading many to believe Alford would be invited back to coach the Hoosiers then. That didn't materialize, but indications are Alford will get very strong consideration this time around. While far from a foregone conclusion, a return to Bloomington for Alford appears to be a very real possibility.
Mark Few – Speaking of ironies, how about the fact Indiana was shipped to Salt Lake City, Utah, for NCAA play this season, and it could be headed toward a second-round match-up with third-seeded Gonzaga and Coach Mark Few. While much of the attention on possible IU replacements has centered on people with IU ties or at least Midwest connections, Few is a national name that has been mentioned as a possibility as well.
The seventh-year Zags' coach has compiled a 186-40 record and has the team ranked in the nation's top 10 this season. He has a national player of the year candidate in Adam Morrison, and he's built the West Coast Conference school to the point that it's no longer a Cinderella program – it's one of the elite programs in college basketball. Despite all of that success, the question he has to ask himself is whether or not it's possible to take the Gonzaga program any farther than its already gone. The school doesn't have the financial resources that major conference schools do, nor the clout when it comes to NCAA tourney seeding. Case in point is this season, when the 27-3 Zags could do no better than a No. 3 seed despite being ranked No. 5 nationally.
IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan will be in Salt Lake City as well, so he'll be able to get a first-hand look at Few and his Gonzaga team. Few, meanwhile, is a friend of former MSU Coach Jud Heathcote, who likely has told Few about the possibilities for success in Bloomington. Salt Lake City could provide a unique opportunity for both Greenspan and Few to gauge each other's interest, whether directly or indirectly.
Tom Crean – I'm keeping Crean on the "buy" list because I believe he'd be very interested in the job, he has strong Midwest ties from his current job at Marquette and from his assistant coaching days at Michigan State, and he's a young, vibrant coach that fits into the Greenspan mold.
That, more than anything, leads me to believe he's a frontrunner, assuming Greenspan does open up his search and gives a wide array of candidates serious consideration. When one considers Greenspan's track record of hires at Indiana and the qualities he's said he's looked for in making those hires, Crean seems to fit.
There has been no additional word about IU's interest in Crean or Crean's interest in IU, but it's a good bet Crean would be interested. He's done a great job at Marquette this season, leading a young team into the NCAA tourney with a No. 7 seed, but he is faced with the question of whether or not Marquette can be competitive in the long-term in the Big East against programs like UConn, Syraucse, Pitt, Cincinnati, etc. It would be a daunting task.
Thad Matta – I have little doubt Matta would be very interested in coming to Bloomington if the timing was right, but it couldn't be more wrong for the Buckeye coach.
He heads into the NCAA tourney as a No. 2 seed, fresh off OSU's first outright Big Ten regular season championship since 1992. He has the nation's No. 1 recruiting class coming in the fall, and he departed for IU he'd have to go up against those same players starting next year. OSU also has arguably the league's premiere basketball facility with the Schottenstein Center, and the department has deep pockets to keep Matta happy.
That stands in stark contrast to Alford's situation, where IU administrators haven't said anything to suggest they'd fight to keep him, and Alford's roster will take a big hit in 2006-07 with the loss of Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner, Erek Hansen and Doug Thomas from this year's squad.
It's a good bet Matta has been slightly stunned by the second-tier status OSU basketball gets to OSU football, and that's not going to change no matter how much success he has on the Buckeye sidelines. If Matta does ever leave OSU, that will likely be the biggest reason. But the timing seems to be all wrong for that to happen this off-season.
Bruce Pearl – Pearl's recent contract extension at Tennessee has him making $1.3 million for the next six years, and that's probably all but eliminated him from serious consideration for the IU job. Like Matta, Pearl is at a football school and could have been intrigued by jump to a basketball-first school like IU, but IU isn't likely to throw a $1.5 million contract in Pearl's direction to try to get him to leave.
Coaching Stock Report - March 15
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