The Cowboy Coaching Derby

As the search for the 18th head basketball coach in the history of Oklahoma State begins in earnest, we attempt to break the field down as they enter the starting gate.

There are plenty of questions to be answered in the coming weeks: Will this be a six-furlong sprint or a 1 1/2-mile race similar to the Belmont Stakes? Will the person who is favored by Cowboy fans be left standing when Mike Holder introduces the new coach, or will it be a long-shot who no one saw coming?

To be perfectly honest, there are only a handful of people (Holder, Boone Pickens and Burns Hargis are the three that come to mind immediately) who really know the coach that Holder would like to lead the Cowboys back to national prominence. Having said that, here's one persons look at the field.

Bill Self, Kansas (3-1)
The Oklahoma State alum (he played for the Cowboys from 1981-85, and was an assistant coach to both Leonard Hamilton and Eddie Sutton) has denied that he's returning to his alma mater not once, but twice, in the last month. He has the Jayhawks within two wins of capturing the school's first national championship since 1988, and has things rolling in KU. So why would he want to leave? Because it's very possible that the Jayhawks will lose six of their top seven scorers off this season's team – seniors Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Russell Robinson, and underclassmen Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, and Darrell Arthur could all be first-round picks if they declare for the NBA Draft. If he's going to ever leave KU, now's the perfect time.

Anthony Grant, Virginia Commonwealth (7-2)
He has just two years of head coaching experience but was the top assistant coach at Florida for Billy Donovan before moving to VCU prior to the 2006-07 season. The 41-year-old Grant replace OU's Jeff Capel as head coach at VCU and took the Rams to the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and led them to a first-round upset of Duke. The Rams failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament this past season, and finished with a 24-8 record after losing to Alabama-Birmingham in the first round of the NIT. But Grant is considered one of the up-and-coming coaches.

Billy Gillespie, Kentucky (8-1)
The first-year Wildcat head coach proved he could win in the Big 12 Conference during his time at Texas A&M. He experienced a roller-coaster ride of a season in his first year at Kentucky but got things rolling the final weeks of the season and earned an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Gillispie, a former assistant to Bill Self at the University of Tulsa, is a proven recruiter in the state of Texas.

John Calipari, Memphis (10-1)
Calipari's name has not been mentioned much but it's one worth keeping an eye on. He may be the unknown in this race. His Memphis Tigers have a 37-1 record entering Saturday's Final Four semifinal game against UCLA. The Tigers have won more than 74 percent of their games during his seven years as head coach, and Calipari has compiled the third most wins in NCAA history through 15 seasons. In 15 years as a Division I head coach, he has led his teams to two Final Fours, four Elite Eights and five Sweet 16 appearances. He coached at Massachusetts before becoming head coach of the NBA's New Jersey Nets for two-plus seasons. He returned to the college ranks as the head coach of Memphis prior to the 2000-01 season.

Sean Miller, Xavier (12-1)
The 38-year-old Miller has led the Musketeers to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, including this year's Elite Eight run which included wins over Georgia (SEC), Purdue (Big 10) and West Virginia (Big East) before losing to UCLA, and three 20-plus win seasons in a row. Miller led the Musketeers to a school-record 30 victories this past season, and has compiled a 93-39 record since taking over as head coach at Xavier when Thad Matta left for Ohio State.

Tubby Smith, Minnesota (15-1)
Why wouldn't Smith want to return to the state where he enjoyed the type of success that propelled him into the national spotlight? In his first major college coaching job, Smith led the University of Tulsa to 79 victories (in four seasons) and back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances (in 1994 and ‘95). That success helped him get the Georgia head coaching job, and eventually he became the head coach at Kentucky, where he won a national championship in 1998. His Kentucky teams advanced to four Elite Eights and six Sweet 16s. His first Minnesota team finished 20-14 this past season, an 11-game improvement over the previous year.

Lon Kruger, UNLV (20-1)
Would the Silver Lake, Kans., native and former Kansas State Wildcat want to return to the Midwest? That's a good question. He's certainly proved that he can coach over the years by taking four different college teams to the NCAA Tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and now Nevada-Las Vegas). The Runnin' Rebels were 27-8 this past season and advanced to the second-round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Kansas in a second-round game. Kruger also has NBA experience having spent three seasons as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks (2000-03) and part of the 2003-04 season as an assistant with the New York Knicks.

Tony Bennett, Washington State (30-1)
Bennett said he was not interested when Indiana came calling, so it's probably a real longshot to consider him as a successor to Sean Sutton. But the 38-year-old has proven that he can coach in his two seasons as a head coach, leading Washington State to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and a 52-17 record. Bennett led the Cougars to their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1983 when they defeated Oral Roberts in a first-round game in 2007.

Kevin O'Neill, Arizona (50-1)
As of Tuesday, O'Neill is looking for a job after longtime Wildcat head coach Lute Olson announced that O'Neill would not be returning to the program next season despite leading the team on an interim basis this season. O'Neill took over on an interim basis right before the season began when the 73-year-old Olson announced he was taking a season-long leave of absence. O'Neill led the Wildcats to an 19-15 record and their 24th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. He previously served as head coach at Marquette (1989-94), Tennessee (1995-97) and Northwestern (1998-2000). He spent seven seasons in the NBA as a head coach, assistant coach and consultant before joining the Arizona coaching staff in 2007.

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