Handicapping OSU's Coaching Candidates

It was four weeks ago today that Jim O'Brien was fired as Ohio State's men's basketball coach. Today, we look at where the search stands and identify several of the leading candidates for the job -- including Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings. Click here for more.

It was four weeks ago today when Jim O'Brien was fired as the head basketball coach at Ohio State.

Since then, the rumor wire has been working overtime. Xavier's Thad Matta and Marquette's Tom Crean were the only front runners. But it seemed neither was ever seriously considered by the OSU hierarchy. Texas Tech's Bob Knight, a former Buckeye, soonafter became the public's top choice for the job, but he, too, was never a strong favorite within OSU's ivory towers.

But as the search moved toward week four, it seemed that OSU athletic director Andy Geiger was looking strongest at Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings, Penn's Fran Dunphy, Rice's Willis Wilson and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jim Cleamons, a former Buckeye. It seemed that interim head coach Rick Boyages may only get a cursory glance. Rumors had also popped up that longtime Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins was also in the mix.

Those rumors were squelched Monday when Dawkins told reporters he had no interest in leaving Duke, especially with Mike Krzyzewski announcing his return to Durham.

So that leaves Ohio State back with Stallings as the perceived front runner with Cleamons, Boyages, Wilson and Dunphy waiting patiently. Whether another mystery candidate surfaces as this week wears on remains to be seen.

The time seems to be now, though, for Ohio State. The recruiting observation period begins later this week and Ohio State, with nine scholarships to give over the next two years, is playing catch-up now on the recruiting circuit.

In the meantime, here is some info on some of the coaching candidates believed to be in the running:

* Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt -- Stallings, 43, has posted a 208-132 record in 11 seasons as a head coach between stays at Illinois State and Vanderbilt. This past year, he led Vandy to the NCAA's Sweet 16 for the first time in 11 years. But, until a 23-10 record this year, the Commodores were just three games over .500 under Stallings.

Still, Dave Telep of TheInsidersHoops.com gives Stallings, who played three seasons at Purdue for Gene Keady and later worked for him there, passing marks.

"Stallings is a hard driving coach," Telep said. "He is a very detailed oriented guy. He has some roots in the Carolina family a little bit. He has always been a coach's coach. There is nothing loud about Kevin Stallings at all.

"He has always recruited kids with high character. He's just a solid guy."

* Willis Wilson, Rice -- Wilson, 44, has a 169-175 record in 12 seasons as the coach at Rice, his alma mater. He spent one season as an assistant for Mike Montgomery at Stanford before returning to Rice as the head coach.

His 169 wins are a school career coaching record. His last two teams made the NIT field. But the down side is he has never led Rice to the NCAA Tournament.

"You are talking about a guy who is just a big time academic guy," Telep said. "He has always done things the way they are supposed to be done. He would come with a spotless NCAA record."

Clark Haptonstall is the head of the sports management program at Rice. He offered the following assessment of Wilson:

"Coach Wilson is very respected here," Haptonstall said. "He is a Rice graduate, which is important at Rice. Rice is a unique school. Rice people like Rice people.

"He does not rant and rave. He is not a screamer. When it comes to a game, it seems that all of the preparation in practice should show in the game and there is a lesser need for ranting on the sidelines.

"Athletically at Rice, it is difficult. It is a challenge. The fact that the baseball team won the national championship last year is an absolute miracle. It is very difficult here because of the high academic standards. The facilities are also a challenge. Rice's gym is over 50 years old. They are looking to bring a new one online in the next few years.

"To win 22 games at Rice is an accomplishment. Plus, they had a couple tight losses at home to Stanford and Connecticut. Overall, it looks like he commands respect and his teams play hard."

* Fran Dunphy, Pennsylvania -- Dunphy, 55, is 270-145 in 15 seasons as the head coach at Penn. His teams have won eight Ivy League championships over that stretch with three of them positing perfect 14-0 league marks. He played at LaSalle and had assistant coaching stints there as well as at Penn, Army and American.

Bill Carmody's success as the coach at Northwestern – coming from an Ivy League school at Princeton – would probably work in Dunphy's favor.

* Jim Cleamons, Los Angeles Lakers (assistant) -- Cleamons, 54, has had two opportunities as a head coach, but neither has worked out. The Columbus Linden McKinley graduate was the 1971 Big Ten MVP for coach Fred Taylor. After an NBA career, he spent time as an assistant at OSU under Eldon Miller and Gary Williams.

Cleamons then spent two ill-fated seasons as the head coach at Youngstown State (12-44) before heading off to join Phil Jackson's staff with the Chicago Bulls. When that dynasty crumbled, Cleamons became head coach of the Dallas Mavericks in 1996. But after posting a 28-70 mark in 1-1/2 seasons, he was fired.

He landed on his feet back with Jackson and the Lakers. Between his two stints as an NBA assistant, Cleamons has eight NBA championship rings. He also earned one in his rookie year with the Lakers in 1971-72.

Although Cleamons status with the Lakers is unclear with Jackson's departure, he would almost certainly latch on with another NBA team – provided his alma mater fails to offer him his dream job.

* Rick Boyages, Ohio State (interim head coach) -- Boyages, 42, remains a long shot to become O'Brien's permanent successor. More likely, Geiger could look to him to maintain the status quo until next spring, when the situation can be more thoroughly evaluated.

Boyages is in his second tour of duty and fifth season with the Buckeyes. He rejoined Ohio State's staff in April 2003 after a three-year stint as the head coach at the College of William & Mary. In three seasons at William & Mary, Boyages compiled a record of 35-52 with a 21-31 Colonial Conference mark. He won 11 games in his first season, the most by a first-year coach at the school since in 1983.

Prior to heading to W&M, Boyages spent three years with O'Brien at Ohio State. Boyages began his Division I coaching career at Boston College in 1991. He went to the Eagles' staff from Bates College, where he had been head coach for four years. When named head coach at Bates in 1987, Boyages, then 24, was the nation's youngest collegiate head coach.

His ties to O'Brien probably work against Boyages. But every day Ohio State fails to name a new coach works to his advantage.

* Johnny Dawkins, Duke (assistant) -- I know, we said he doesn't seem to be in the mix. But Dawkins, 40, would give Ohio State instant credibility after spending the last few years as Coach K's right-hand man.

"Everybody has asked Johnny Dawkins to be a coach at one time or another," Telep said. "But no one has ever gotten him to bite. He has not gone out that much on the recruiting trail and he still doesn't go out as much as other assistants might. He is a former NBA player with a lot of money in the bank. He enjoys being with his family."

When asked if Krzyzewski's return might spur Dawkins to look elsewhere, Telep said, "I couldn't answer that one. He is the associate head coach at Duke. That is a big title."

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