The inevitable finally came to fruition on Friday when LSU athletic director Joe Alleva pulled the plug on Johnny Jones’ 5-year tenure as the Tigers’ basketball coach.
Now the focus shifts to the search for LSU’s third coach since John Brady was fired late in the 2007-08 season – and a man who can lead the Tigers to a level of consistency that has eluded the program since the early 1990s.
LSU is in a crowded pool for candidates. Missouri and N.C. State are already hunting, and high-profile programs like Indiana, Kansas State and Illinois could soon join the fray.
Young coach or tested veteran? Big name or up-and-comer? The criteria seems wide open at this point, but it is abundantly clear that LSU needs a coach who will again reinvigorate a fan base that is characterized by a large portion that tends to disengage as soon as the program hits a lull.
There doesn’t figure to be a shortage of interest in the job and here are some potential candidates, with some familiar names and two out-of-the-box thoughts on different ends of the coaching experience spectrum: Former Florida coach Billy Donovan and longtime North Carolina assistant coach C.B. McGrath.
Jeff Capel, Duke assistant
EXPERIENCE: Duke assistant/associate head coach 2011-present, Oklahoma head coach 2006-11, VCU head coach 2002-06, Old Dominion assistant 2000-01, VCU assistant 2001-02
RECORD: 175-110 in 9 seasons; 3 NCAA Tournament appearances, 1 NIT appearance
PROS: A strong connection to Alleva and Blue Devils’ coaching legend Krzyewski can’t be sold short, nor can Capel’s success at two very different programs in VCU and Oklahoma. The program that the Rams have become can be tied back to the life that Capel breathed into them from 2002-06, and he followed that by transitioning well to the powerful Big 12, where he got the Sooners to the Elite 8 on the shoulders of Blake Griffin in 2008-09. Capel has proven he can recruit well: OU inked four high school All-Americans in his 5 seasons there.
CONS: Capel’s tenure at OU ended with an ugly stain when he was fired after two major recruiting violations were unearthed – neither of which implicated Capel. But the Sooners’ administration still felt compelled to part ways with Capel with 5 years left on his contract. That could be a double-edged sword because it means Capel would not likely be a leading candidate to replace Krzyewski, but his clean NCAA record allows other schools – programs desperate for success like LSU – to pursue him.
Eric Musselman, Nevada
EXPERIENCE: Nevada head coach 2015-present, LSU associate head coach 2014-15, Arizona State assistant coach 2013-14, Sacramento Kings head coach 2006-07, Golden State Warriors head coach 2002-04
RECORD: 49-20 in two seasons at Nevada, 108-138 in three seasons as an NBA head coach, 400-155 as a head coach in the CBA/USBL/NBDL
PROS: Personable guy with strong defensive foundation who has worked in the NBA as a head coach and has shown in quick order than he can succeed as a college coach, guiding Nevada to the Mountain West regular-season crown in his second season. X's and O's would be a huge advantage in Musselman’s favor. If continuity is key for Alleva, it’s conceivable that Musselman would retain Brendan Suhr and even Randy Livingston, two coaches he has relationships with, which would create a smooth transition on some levels.
CONS: Recruiting is not something Musselman has proven he can consistently master, so keeping Livingston on board would be big, but adding a more proven recruiter would be an absolute must. Although the Ohio native has bounced around quite a bit and spent part of his childhood in Mobile where his father Bill was the South Alabama coach, Musselman has strong ties to the West Coast. So every new job cycle could be hold-your-breath time if Musselman creates some momentum because Pac-12 schools and conceivably even NBA teams could pursue him.
Mike Brey, Notre Dame
AGE: 57 (turns 58 on March 22)
EXPERIENCE: Notre Dame head coach 2000-present; Delaware head coach 1995-2000; Duke assistant coach 1987-95; DeMatha High School assistant coach 1982-87
RECORD: 379-185 at Notre Dame in 17 seasons; 478-237 in 22 seasons overall; 13 NCAA Tournament appearances (14th pending), 5 NIT appearances
PROS: With the exception of Billy Donovan, nobody LSU could legitimately hope to lure in has a stronger overall resume than Brey, who played three seasons at Northwestern State from 1977-80. The Maryland native has elevated Notre Dame to the most respected status it has ever enjoyed in basketball in two tough-as-nails leagues, the Big East and the ACC. The Fighting Irish are NCAA Tournament regulars and won three games in March each of the last two seasons. Brey was one of the first big hires in Krzyewski’s Duke tenure and it’s well-known that Brey and Alleva are close. Ostensibly, it would be easy for the AD to hand total control of the program to his friend. This would be a last stop for Brey and perhaps a chance for him to groom a successor to take over long term.
CONS: A big question would be how well Brey’s recruiting prowess would translate to a program like LSU in the Deep South. Notre Dame never lacked for talent, but the Irish weren’t always contenders for the highest-level recruits, in part because of the stringent academic standards at the school.
Frank Martin, South Carolina
AGE: 50 (51 on March 23)
EXPERIENCE: South Carolina head coach 2012-present, Kansas State head coach 2007-12, K-State assistant 2006-07, Cincinnati assistant 2004-06, Northeastern assistant 200-04
RECORD: 92-72 at South Carolina; 209-124 in 10 seasons; 4 NCAA tournament appearances (5th pending), 2 NIT appearances
PROS: Unlike Jones’ tenure at LSU, the last five years with the Gamecocks have featured an upward arc of steady improvement and will culminate with an NCAA berth later this week. The tough-nosed, defensive-minded Martin would be a fiery opposite to Jones and Martin has shown he can sculpt talented teams into winners in both the SEC and more treacherous Big 12 Conference at schools without extensive basketball resources. He has a close relationship to LSU Associate AD Eddie Nunez, who played high school ball for Martin in Miami.
CONS: South Carolina restructured Martin’s contract after last year and luring him would require some buyout money. He has professed a commitment to the Gamecocks, and unlike many in his profession, it’s hard to believe Martin would make that strong a statement and not mean it. Depending on how long Carolina sticks around in the NCAA Tournament, the window to seriously court Martin could stay closed for a while.
Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
EXPERIENCE: Virginia Tech head coach 2014-present, Marquette head coach 2008-14, New Orleans head coach 2006-07
RECORD: 52-46 in three seasons at Virginia Tech; 205-132 in 10 seasons; 5 NCAA Tournament appearances (6th pending), 1 NIT appearance
PROS: Established reputation as a dynamic and a proven program builder, especially after quickly getting the Hokies headed in a positive direction. Knows the recruiting trails well in Texas, which has been and must continue to be a go-to spot for LSU, and he has spent two seasons in Louisiana as well – as an assistant to Mike McConathy at Northwestern State and then as head coach at UNO in 2006-07.
CONS: Received a contract extension after the 2015-16 season and seems to be legitimately happy in the ACC basketball outpost in Blacksburg.
Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M
EXPERIENCE: Texas A&M head coach 2011-present, Murray State head coach 2006-11, Southeastern Louisiana head coach 1999-2005, Centenary head coach 1997-99
RECORD: 115-84 in 6 seasons at Texas A&M; 321-255 in 18 seasons overall; 3 NCAA Tournament appearances, 2 NIT appearances
PROS: No candidate has a stronger connection to Louisiana than the Metairie native who played at Holy Cross and spent the first 8 years of his head-coaching career at Centenary and Southeastern Louisiana. He left the state to spread his wings and has helped build on the Aggies’ success as a basketball program, with a high-water point last season when they notched a 28-9 record and advanced to the Sweet 16. Defense is at the heart of Kennedy’s success, and that is how Texas A&M has shown it can compete in the SEC since joining the league five years ago.
CONS: As good as the Aggies were last season, it was a long process to get there and they have not exactly built on that foundation this season. Kennedy is similarly low-key to Jones, which might make for a seamless, but less-than-dynamic transition. He has battled Parkinson’s Disease successfully for the last 5 years, but whether that continues is anybody’s guess, and that could potentially shorten his tenure.
Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee State
EXPERIENCE: Middle Tennessee State head coach 2002-present; LSU associate head coach 1997-2002; Idaho head coach 1996-97; 1994-96 Utah State assistant coach; 1993-94 Chipola Junior College head coach; 1991-93 Chipola JC assistant coach; 1990-91 Texas A&M head coach; 1988-90 Idaho had coach; 1986-88 Idaho assistant coach; 1984-86 Southwest Mississippi Community College head coach; 1983-84 Mississippi State assistant coach
RECORD: 303-178 in 15 seasons at MTSU; 374-228 in 19 seasons overall; 4 NCAA Tournament appearances (5th pending), 1 NIT appearance
PROS: His tenure at Middle Tennessee State has been as strong as anybody on this list with the exception of Donovan or Brey in terms of sustained success. Very appealing connections to LSU from his time working for Brady and his connection to the South, where he has recruited extensively. Bringing in Davis would be an easy sell to high school coaches in Louisiana.
CONS: That connection to LSU could backfire if Alleva is gun-shy about staying “in the family” again after Jones. Davis wouldn’t be a sexy name for the national media, which might not matter at all, but could affect recruiting outside of Louisiana in the early stages.
Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette
EXPERIENCE: Marquette head coach 2014-present, Duke assistant coach 1999-2014
RECORD: 52-43 in three seasons
PROS: Duke connection with Alleva is here as well. Regarded as one of the up-and-comers in the game, ‘Wojo’ has taken what Buzz Williams built in Milwaukee and kept the Warriors headed in a positive direction, with a 19-11 record this season and 10-8 mark in the Big East. Like Martin, he would be a change in intensity from Jones.
CONS: Not a lot of proof that he could recruit in the South and draw the kind of players who fit at LSU. Similarly to former LSU coach Trent Johnson, Wojciechowski has recruited in different circles during his time at Marquette and his long stint at Duke. There would also be a constant question about whether Wojciechowski was polishing his resume to climb the pecking order in the growing list of potential heirs apparent to Krzyewski.
Chris Mack, Xavier
EXPERIENCE: Xavier head coach 2009-present, Wake Forest assistant coach 2001-04, Xavier assistant coach 1999-2001
RECORD: 182-89 in 8 seasons; 6 NCAA Tournament appearances (4 Sweet 16s)
PROS: Under the radar, Mack has taken the success Xavier has built with the last several coaches and enhanced it to all-new levels with four Sweet 16 appearances in the last seven years. Getting LSU to the NCAA Tournament consistently would be a first goal, and Mack has proven he can prepare a team for that stage as well as anybody not in a Power 5 league – and without rosters full of 5-star players.
CONS: As successful as Mack has been, he has no link to the SEC or the South. While Dale Brown proved that isn’t an absolute necessity, that was a few generations ago. Mack would undoubtedly hold his own on the bench in the SEC, but could he put together a roster of athletes capable of winning games?
Matt McCall, Chattanooga
EXPERIENCE: Chattanooga head coach 2015-present, Florida assistant 2011-15, Florida Atlantic assistant 2008-11, Florida Director of Operations 2006-08
RECORD: 48-18 in 2 seasons; 1 NCAA Tournament appearance
PROS: Should Alleva and Nunez not land any of the bigger fish in a crowded coaching search pond, they could opt to tap into the Donovan/Florida connection from a different direction with McCall. Starting as a student manager for the Gators in 2002-03, McCall was around Donovan and the UF program as it reached its zenith in a variety of roles and he has taken what he learned and blossomed into one of the brightest young coaches in the country with immediate success at Chattanooga.
CONS: Youth is great in a lot of ways, but it can be daunting as a head coach in a major conference. There are still a lot of things McCall hasn’t seen or had to do from the lead chair and the SEC might not be the most ideal place for on-the-job training. LSU isn’t a destination job for some coaches and McCall fits into that group, so hiring him could be a quick fix.
C.B. McGrath, North Carolina assistant coach
EXPERIENCE: North Carolina assistant coach 2003-present, Kansas assistant coach 1999-2003
RECORD: None as a head coach.
PROS: Serving an 18-year apprenticeship under Hall of Famer Roy Williams makes for an awfully strong foundation. He has evolved from starting as a low-level assistant to Williams’ right-hand man and one of the top recruiters for the Tar Heels, who stockpile 5-star players like loaves of bread when a hurricane warning is issued. Alleva had a front-row seat for the first half of McGrath’s tenure when he was the Duke AD. With Williams’ long-term future always a topic of conversation – especially with an NCAA investigation cloud hovering over the entire UNC athletic department – and heir apparent Hubert Davis now on the Heels’ staff, the timing might be right for McGrath to pursue a head-coaching gig.
CONS: That empty space on the head-coaching part of McGrath’s resume is hard to ignore. But don’t forget that his mentor had never been a head coach either before taking over a Kansas program with much more stress and higher expectations in 1988, and that has turned out OK. Getting familiar with the second tier of recruits would be vital because McGrath wouldn’t be able to handpick players as easily as he does with the Tar Heels. While McGrath isn’t likely to be high on UNC’s list as potential replacements when Williams does retire, he could be a factor at other ACC schools, as well as in the Big 12 – like McCall, LSU might be viewed as his destination job.
Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
EXPERIENCE: Oklahoma City Thunder coach 2015-present, Florida coach 1996-2015, Marshall coach 1994-96, Kentucky assistant 1989-94
RECORD: 90-56 in 2 NBA seasons (advanced to Western Conference finals in 2016); 502-206 in 22 college seasons; 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, 4 Final 4s, 2 national championships, one national runnerup finish; 3 NIT appearances
PROS: First and foremost, Donovan – like Martin – has a very strong connection to Nunez, who was a Florida reserve in Donovan’s first two seasons with the Gators and stayed for two seasons after that as a graduate assistant coach. There are very few college coaching resumes that can top Donovan’s, who built Florida in a perennial powerhouse in the shadow of the Gators’ football program with the back-to-back national crowns in 2006 and ’07 as the peak. He deftly blended high-profile recruits with project players during his 19-year tenure in Gainesville and just kept winning. His connection to coaches all over the country presupposes a strong staff of assistants. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Donovan has already soured on the NBA after the Thunder lost a cornerstone player in Kevin Durant and have struggled to duplicate their success from last season.
CONS: This is the longest of long shots for LSU but is also basically a cost-free opportunity. Alleva would be wise to take Nunez to Oklahoma City and pick Donovan’s brain to see if he would be interested or at the very least offer guidance as to who would fit at LSU. Other than that, the cons are limited. It was thought for a long time that Kentucky was the only other college job Donovan would consider after Florida, but that one seems to be in secure hands with John Calipari. Could a slumbering giant like LSU be a nice fallback option if Donovan has quickly brown weary of the NBA grind?