IU Coaching Stock Report - March 27

BLOOMINGTON - It's been nearly a week since IU's attention turned from an NCAA tourney march to its search for a new basketball coach. HoosierNation.com looks at three that could be emerging as the front-runners, and at two big names that appear to be slipping...

Tony Bennett, Washington State - Keep a very close eye on the Washington State coach as this search process picks up steam and moves toward a fairly quick conclusion. I'm hearing he is a emerging as a very strong possibility – and perhaps the favorite - to land in Bloomington. He's young, he has Midwest roots, and he has some ties to IU thanks to his sister, Kathi, having coached in Bloomington. He's also affordable, bringing in only $800,000 in his second year at the Pac-10 school. While he won't be headed to Bloomington for a similar dollar amount, an annual salary in the $1.3-$1.5 million range would most likely be plenty to get him to town. That's not too bad considering he was the National Coach of the Year in his debut season with the Cougars and he's led them to two NCAA wins and a spot in the Sweet 16 in his second year (something Washington State hadn't done since 1941). I've talked with some who know Bennett, and they think the timing is right for Bennett to think about making the jump. After all, the Pullman, Wash., school isn't the easiest place to win, and he's facing the loss of senior guards Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver once the season comes to a close. Bennett is currently in Charlotte, N.C., where his team is set to take on top-seeded North Carolina in the East Regional semifinal Friday night. Don't expect him to have anything to say about the IU vacancy while he's still in the tourney, but expect IU's decision makers to be talking about him. If I'm picking a favorite right now, Bennett is my man.

Brad Brownell, Wright State - The Wright State coach and Evansville native has some strong ties to the state of Indiana as well as some indirect links to IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan, and he's getting some strong consideration as well. Remember, Brownell worked under former Evansville Coach Jim Crews, the former IU assistant coach who Greenspan hired at Army. Crews figures to be in Brownell's corner, which is a huge endorsement considering his background with the IU program as well as his bond with Greenspan. He'll also get support from former IU assistant and Indiana State Coach Royce Waltman (who Greenspan knows from their days in the Missouri Valley Conference) as well as former IU great and Evansville Harrison H.S. teammate Calbert Cheaney. The only negative on Brownell's ledger is he's never coached at the major conference level. While Bennett has only two years of head coaching experience compared to five for Brownell, Bennett's time has been spent in the Big Ten (four years as an assistant at Wisconsin) and in the Pac-10 (three years as an assistant at Washington State before taking over as head coach). Brownell's coaching stops have been at Evansville, Indianapolis, UNC-Wilmington and Wright State. That's not a deal breaker for Brownell, but it's something the decision makers will consider.

Tom Izzo, Michigan State - - PLEASE don't ask me to make sense of why Tom Izzo would be interested in switching schools within the same conference, but the Michigan State coach appears to be the "home run" candidate that's intriguing some of those on the selection committee. His resume is impeccable – he has won an NCAA title and is two wins away from leading the Spartans to their fifth Final Four trip in 10 years. He's also graduated more than 80 percent of his players who have exhausted their eligibility and he's never run afoul of the NCAA for rules infractions. About the only controversial thing he's done is speak out against the Big Ten Network this year, a move that might not have gone over well with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany but was probably applauded by just about every basketball fan in the Big Ten. I still think there are too many obstacles to make this a very realistic possibility, but those in the know insist both parties are interested in talking.

Bruce Pearl, Tennessee - The Tennessean reported Wednesday that Pearl has told associates he expects to be on Indiana's short list, which only makes sense considering the success he's had at Southern Indiana, UW-Milwaukee and now Tennessee. But I don't expect the second-year Volunteer coach to wind up being the Hoosiers' coach. First and foremost, Tennessee figures to work quickly to up Pearl's $1.3 million salary after this season comes to a close. They're not about to let him go simply over dollar and cents. While Tennessee isn't about to let Pearl go without a fight, Indiana isn't about to get into a bidding war for its news coach. After rumors circulated about some candidates turning IU down two years ago, Greenspan and the committee want to avoid that scenario playing out again. As badly as some would like to see Pearl on the IU sidelines, I don't see it happening.

John Calipari, Memphis - The latest rumor to be floated around is that former Hoosier basketball player Brian Evans met with Rick Greenspan Wednesday to talk about Calipari possibly coming to Bloomington. While it's within the realm of possibility that such a meeting happened – Evans has seemingly been around the program and Assembly Hall much more this year than in recent memory – I see absolutely no way Indiana goes this route. First of all, Calipari is going to cost $2.5 million or more per season. That's a reasonable amount if Calipari came without baggage, but that isn't the case. While his success in terms of wins and losses is undeniable, his Memphis players have been in trouble with the law on numerous occasions, UMass got in trouble with the NCAA for things that happened when he was the coach, and some of his recruiting tactics have been called into question. Considering everything IU has just been through with Kelvin Sampson, I can't believe Indiana would give Calipari serious consideration.

Other Coaching Thoughts:
- The one prominent name that I haven't mentioned in any of the stock reports is Xavier Coach Sean Miller, and that's because there really hasn't been a great deal of rumblings about the Musketeers coach. BUT, if you're a Sean Miller fan, perhaps you should take that as a good sign. Rick Greenspan keeps things close to the vest, and managed to pull Sampson seemingly out of no where two years ago. Perhaps the same thing could happen with Miller as well.

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