COACHING SEARCH: Who's Risen to the Top?

With a decision on IU's next coach imminent, which of the rumored possibilities have separed themselves as the most likely to wind up in Bloomington? HoosierNation.com ranks the top four most likely candidates to replace Mike Davis.

1. Tom Crean – No coach has been on my "buy" list every week…except for Marquette's Tom Crean. Suspiciously absent from the headlines this week in regards to the IU coaching vacancy, the 37-year-old former Michigan State assistant appears to still be very much in the Hoosiers' radar.

Why? Because there's probably no coach out there that fits the Rick Greenspan coaching mold better than Crean.

First of all, the seventh-year Marquette coach has Midwestern roots. He's a native of Mt. Pleasant, Mich., who has spent virtually his entire coaching career in the Midwest. That includes assistant coaching stops at Western Kentucky (1991-94) and Michigan State (1996-99). He's also considered a relentless recruiter who has built his teams with Midwestern recruits from areas such as Milwaukee, Chicago and Indiana. A year ago, he lured recently-named Big East Freshman of the Year and Richmond, Ind., native Dominic James to Marquette, beating out the likes of Iowa and Purdue for his services.

Add in the fact he's a young, proactive coach who won't shy away from bouncing around the state to try to drum up support amongst fans and donors, and he fits right along with Greenspan's previous IU hires – Terry Hoeppner (football), Tracy Smith (baseball) and Sharon Versyp (women's basketball).

If there's a drawback it might be whether or not he's "flashy" enough in the eyes of some IU fans. While Marquette did earn a trip to the Final Four in 2003, it missed out on the NCAA tourney in each of the past two seasons and bowed out in the first round this year. His teams have been solid but not spectacular since Dwyane Wade departed for the NBA, although he has a very good young nucleus for the future.

That said, he stands at the top of HoosierNation.com's list of candidates.

2. Mark Few – ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported IU representatives have approached the Gonzaga coach's attorney to discuss dollar figures, and Katz says the numbers are in the $1.4 - $1.6 million range. If that is truly the case, don't be surprised if Few listens a bit more closely now that Gonzaga has been eliminated from the tournament.

Few is a lifelong West Coast guy who appears to be very happy at Gonzaga. His seven-year record of 188-41 is among the best in the nation, and he has a ten-year contract with the West Coast Conference school. He's built the program to the point that it should be able to recruit the caliber of player that will allow it to usually march through its WCC slate with relative ease and into the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis.

But…Gonzaga can't match that type of money, and Indiana likely offers a greater chance for Few to compete for national championship on an annual basis. The fact he's close to former Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote also leads me to believe that he has someone who's telling him about the possibilities for success in Bloomington.

The biggest strike against him is he's not a Midwest guy, but he's a national name that would likely make a big splash nationally. For some IU fans who might be disgruntled by Greenspan not pursuing an "Indiana guy," Few might be a big enough name to keep them happy.

3. Randy Wittman – At this point, it appears that the current Orlando Magic assistant coach is the most likely "family" guy to wind up as the Hoosiers' next head coach. While he's spent his entire coaching career at the NBA level, he's expressed interest in the job and most tend to believe that he's had at least informal talks with Greenspan about the vacancy.

Wittman has generated a great deal of support amongst former IU players, and Greenspan appears to be talking to those former players to at least get their input on the coaching vacancy. That's important, because Greenspan wants to not only re-unite the IU fan base, but also bring the basketball alums back as well. Many have remained a bit distant since the Bob Knight firing, and Wittman would be able reconnect with them.

The biggest question, though, is whether or not Greenspan is willing to stake his reputation and possibly his IU future on a bit of a flyer. While Wittman is considered an extremely knowledgeable and personable coach, he's never coached at the collegiate level. That's a huge gamble for Greenspan to take, and if things didn't work out a lot of fingers would be pointed in the A.D.'s direction. It's one thing to go out and hire a coach with a proven track record and then, for whatever reason, things don't work out. It's something completely different to bring in someone with no college coaching experience to run a top-10 collegiate program when there are plenty of other more proven candidates.

4. Steve Alford Life is getting mighty precarious on the tightrope that Alford has been navigating in recent weeks. According to various reports Alford wants the Indiana job but hasn't been contacted about it. That led to speculation that he was a candidate for the Missouri coaching vacancy, and it's since been widely reported that Missouri A.D. Mike Alden has received permission to talk to Alford about the opening.

Alford has since issued a statement that he's scheduled no interviews, but he didn't say definitively that he'd be back at Iowa next fall. Unlike in the cases of Crean and Few, though, Iowa fans don't really seem to care whether he's back on the Carver-Hawkeye sidelines next season or not. Despite two Big Ten Tournament titles in the last six years, Iowa fans are far from enamored with Alford's track record in Iowa City, especially since the Hawkeyes have a losing conference record and have won just one NCAA tourney game during his seven seasons.

On the surface, it appears that Alford desperately wants the IU job, and if he doesn't get it he'd rather be coaching somewhere other than the Big Ten. His chances for the IU job, though, appear to be long at this point. Indiana hasn't contacted Iowa to ask for permission to talk with him, suggesting that he's not the first or second choice. If Alford's going to wind up at IU, it's likely going to require a coach or two turning down the position and Greenspan getting wary about hiring a coach (Wittman) who hasn't coached at the collegiate level.

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