BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – You'd never know it in Bloomington, but there actually are other coaching vacancies in college basketball these days.
In all, there are 29 programs that are currently slated to have new coaches in charge when the 2006-07 season tips off, and that number will likely grow as the coaching carousel goes into motion. But with all due respect to Missouri, Seton Hall and Arizona State, there's little doubt that IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan is dangling this spring's coaching dream job.
It's the one that presents the sort of possibilities that a coach who's led his team to seven straight NCAA tournaments and averaged 26.9 wins might consider relocating from the Pacific Northwest to Bloomington.
It's the one that is enticing enough that a Big East coach with a Final Four trip on his resume and a youthful roster at his disposal would likely catch the next flight out of Milwaukee to accept a Greenspan contract offer.
It's the one that likely has a former IU alumnus and two-time Big Ten tourney champion working whatever behind the scenes means he has to try to get his foot in Greenspan's – and ultimately Assembly Hall's – door.
So who will Greenspan ultimately choose to replace Mike Davis on the Assembly Hall sidelines? The currently "A" list appears to be Memphis Coach John Calipari (per a Monday story in the Bloomington Herald Times), Gonzaga Coach Mark Few, Marquette Coach Tom Crean and possibly Wichita State Coach Mark Turgeon. Former IU player and current NBA assistant Randy Wittman, current Iowa coach Steve Alford, West Virginia Coach John Beilein and even former Utah Coach Rick Majerus are also still hoping to emerge as possibilities, although their shots appear to be resembling a half-court heave at the buzzer.
With all legitimate possibilities seemingly now eliminated from the NCAA Tournament and free to talk with Greenspan, don't be surprised to see a decision as soon as the middle of this week.
Once Greenspan makes his decision, the hottest topic to hit IU basketball since the firing of Bob Knight will die down. But for the new coach, he'll have a handful of items on his "to do" list as soon as he moves into his Assembly Hall office.
Among those are:
1. Talk with Robert Vaden - Most around the IU program believe that if Robert Vaden had to decide today whether to stay or go, he'd be gone. Probably no player on the IU roster developed a closer relationship with Mike Davis, and no player has been more steadfast in his assertion that he'll likely leave at season's end.
Vaden's mind might be made up, but so long as the new coach arrives before the second semester ends, he'll at least have an opportunity to talk with the 6-5, 224-pound sophomore about how he'd envision using him in his system. It might be a fruitless endeavor, but IU's best chance of keeping Vaden is if the new coach can lay out a vision that strikes a chord with the Indianapolis product. With the return of Rod Wilmont, A.J. Ratliff and Joey Shaw Indiana will have a solid group of wings next season regardless, but Vaden's versatility and leadership will be difficult to replace.
2. Talk with D.J. White – White might have been standing right behind Vaden at the exit sign, but his season on the sidelines will make it very difficult for him to transfer. For a player with NBA aspirations and ability, sitting out two years would be very tough to take.
That said, it's far from a foregone conclusion that White will stay. Probably every program in the country would welcome White into their mix, and it will be up to the new coach to convince White that it's in his best interest to stay in Bloomington and play for him and the Hoosiers.
Losing White would be a monstrous blow to the Hoosiers' prospects for next season – more so than losing Vaden. Not only is White expected to be potentially the Big Ten's best big man offensively, but he provides a defensive presence that was desperately lacking this past season.
3. Find a big man – Even if D.J. White opts to stay in Bloomington, the new Hoosier coach is going to need to sign at least one big man during the April signing period. Barring an unforeseen change of heart from Dallas, Texas, big man Darrell Arthur, that player will likely come from the junior college ranks.
Indiana will have 6-10, 245-pound Ben Allen back next season, and it hopes to have the 6-9, 242-pound White back as well. Other than that, though, there are no guarantees up front. Rumors continue to swirl about whether or not 6-10, 245-pound Cem Dinc will depart at season's end, and 6-7, 215-pound James Hardy appears to be close to turning his entire focus to football. Redshirt freshman Joey Shaw is 6-6 and a good rebounder, but his 184-pound frame makes him incapable of matching up defensively with players in the paint at this point. Xavier Keeling is a 6-6 freshman-to-be who is a physical presence, but he's an unknown commodity as well.
Indiana doesn't need to discover a double-digit scoring forward, but the new coach does need to identify a big man who can rebound, play defense and provide some depth up front.
4. Alumni relations – If Greenspan opts to go with someone other than Alford and Wittman – which is appearing more and more likely – it will still be important for the new coach to re-connect with former players and ultimately welcome them back into the program.
After Bob Knight's firing in 2000, many of Knight's former players distanced themselves from their alma mater out of loyalty to their former coach. That wasn't going to change so long as Mike Davis was in charge in Bloomington. Knight never hid the fact he didn't like the fact his former assistant stayed on to coach the team, and that icy relationship hasn't thawed in the least.
The next coach, though, won't have those same sort of issues to deal with when it comes to the program's alums.
5. Make contact with Eric Gordon – Illinois Coach Bruce Weber isn't leaving Champaign anytime soon, but he likely has an eye on what's unfolding in Bloomington. That's because he has a verbal commitment from the state's top player in the '07 class – North Central's Eric Gordon.
Whoever takes over in Bloomington will likely want to see just how solid that verbal commitment is. One of the top priorities of IU's new head coach will be to once again attract the state's top players to Bloomington, and nothing would make a bigger statement than getting Gordon to re-open his recruitment and re-consider coming to Bloomington.
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