Coaching Search Update

The impatience of fans is well known. What has been mildly shocking has been the apparent impatience exhibited by the media in regards to athletic director Bob Driscoll's search for the next coach of Providence College's basketball team.

For some, the search for PC's next men's basketball coach is taking too long. For some, if Bob Driscoll was going to let Tim Welsh go, there should have been a candidate ready, willing and able to go, immediately. And for some, the fact that Driscoll has duties at the NCAA hockey regionals or the Frozen Four in Denver, Colorado, means that he's been shirking his responsibilities to get the job done at Providence in terms of obtaining a new coach.

At least those are the types of things we've been reading on internet message boards and more surprisingly, in the mainstream media. But there are some ideas that can be safely put to rest.

We have become a society that expects immediate gratification in all things. Fire a coach… you've got about three or four days to get a new coach in place, or else. Never mind the fact that these types of processes can take time. Permission, in many cases, has to be granted. Interviews, as well as casual talks, have to take place. Contract negotiations with agents can be a bear.

We're not in the panic stage at this point. The Elite Eight of the NCAAs has not yet been played, never mind the Final Four. There is time. It's far more important to do the due diligence, do the research, and get this hire right, than it is to rush to judgement on a particular candidate, just to satisfy the demands of the media and fans. This is the hire that will define Bob Driscoll's tenure at Providence College, and its far more important for him to take the time to get it right.

And the notion that his duties for the Frozen Four have somehow rendered the search for PC's next great coach to the backburner is just plain laughable and barely worth commenting on. Who's to say that Driscoll hasn't been speaking to candidates or won't from Denver? Do cell phones, e-mails and fax machines become inoperatable in the high altitude of Colorado? Rest assured that whatever his duties may be regarding the NCAA's hockey championship, his duties regarding the coaching search remain first and foremost, and are not being neglected or put on hold.

Now that we've hopefully put some concerns to rest, let's take a look at what's happened during the past two weeks. Following are the list of candidates that we presented two weeks ago, along with updates on each one of them. And in addition, a couple of new candidates whose names have swirled in the rumor mill at various times during these weeks.

Coaches Under Consideration (listed alphabetically):

JIM CHRISTIAN
Facts:
Head Coach, Kent State (2002-Present)
Background: DOB 1965 - Bethpage, New York
MAC Coach of the Year (2006, 2008)

Jim Christian has consistently coached Kent State's Golden Flashes to twenty win seasons. In fact, Christian became the first coach in MAC history to win 20 games in all six of his seasons as head coach, as he entered the 2008 season with the second highest winning percentage in conference history. Christian has posted a 135-57 (.703) record at Kent State. Prior to being named head coach, Jim Christian had previous assistant experience under both Ralph Willard and Herb Sendek. He also was an assistant coach to Stan Health at Kent St. when the Golden Flashes advanced to the Elite 8 in 2002, and the Golden Flashes have continued to enjoy success with Christian at the top. After Jim Christian's first season at Kent State, he was named the National Rookie Coach of the Year by Basketball Times. Christian's Kent State teams have made the NCAA tournament twice in his six years as head coach, and have qualified for the NIT in three other seasons. In the 2008 season, Kent State achieved the University's first ever regular season ranking of 23rd in the AP Poll. Jim Christian's Kent State teams have been known for their tenacious defense, depth, and balanced scoring.
Pro: Christian's teams win, and play tough. An intense sideline motivator, his teams come at you, and as a URI grad, he also understands the PC-URI rivalry.
Cons: Not a big name nationally, Christian wouldn't be a sexy hire, but he can coach.
UPDATE: Christian is off the table. Jimmy recently accepted the head coaching position at TCU. There's no question that Christian was a coach under consideration, and his name was in play right from the get-go, but he opted to move to Texas Christian before any official interest was shown to him by Providence.

KENO DAVIS
Facts:
Head Coach, Drake (2007-present)
Background: DOB 1973 – Massachusetts
National college coach of the year by both the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and The Sporting News magazine

Keno Davis is in his first year as a collegiate head coach after spending five years as an assistant under his father, Dr. Tom Davis, at Drake. Prior to that, Davis was an assistant for six years at Southeast Missouri State and for two years at Southern Indiana under Bruce Pearl. Keno has guided Drake to a 28-4 record this season and a first round matchup with Western Kentucky in the NCAAs. The Bulldogs play a fundamentally sound, superb passing offense and apply tough pressure defense, in making their first NCAA appearance since 1971.
Pros: A New England native, Davis might want to come home. Tutored by great basketball minds, his team plays an unselfish, fun style of team ball.
Cons: With only one year of head coaching experience, there isn't a big track record to look at. Can he recruit at the highest level in the East after spending his college career in the Midwest?
UPDATE: There has been little to no mention of Davis since the PC job opened. It is very doubtful that Keno, with only one year under his belt at Drake, is a serious candidate.

JIM LARRANAGA
Facts:
Head Coach, George Mason (1997-Present)
Background: DOB 10/02/49 - Bronx, New York
MAC Coach of the Year 1997, CAA Coach of the Year, 1999
Clair Bee National Coach of the Year (2006)

Jim Larranaga is a coach who is very familiar to Providence fans. Larranaga is a 1971 graduate of Providence who as a senior captain on the basketball team led the Friars to a 20-8 record and the NIT. In his coaching career, Larranaga was an assistant under Terry Holland at Virginia during the Ralph Sampson years, and later was the head coach at Bowling Green University, where his teams played in three NIT tournaments. He was named Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year in 1996-1997. Larranaga was then hired by George Mason, where in eleven years as Head Coach, Larranaga has made the NCAA four times in a conference that usually only receives one or two bids. Larranaga led the Patriots to the 2006 NCAA tournament as an 11 seed, and went on a miraculous run to the Final Four. As a result, he won the Clair Bee National Coach of the Year Award for his leadership. His George Mason teams have played efficient offensive basketball, and his aggressive ‘scramble' defense has also won praise for its pressure man to man with trapping principles.
Pros: An alum, Larranaga has enjoyed tremendous success recently. A solid teacher and fundamentally sound coach who knows how to run a program.
Cons: At 58, he's on the older edge of candidates, and the question remains about his ability to recruit at the highest level.
UPDATE: In the minds of some, Larranaga is the frontrunner for the job. That may or may not be true. Recent reports had Driscoll asking the George Mason athletic director for permission to speak with Larranaga, the only reported case of that so far. However, Larranaga has been quoted as saying, "My only thoughts are getting out to recruit for George Mason. I have not been contacted by Providence, I haven't thought about Providence or anything other than going out to recruit." Even as an alum, its difficult to gauge Larranaga's interest in moving from a very comfortable situation, and his statements regarding any speculation on where he'll be next year are deliberately vague.
FURTHER UPDATE: Reports are that talks between Larranaga and PC have intensified. One report has him speaking with Father Shanley. If the reports are true, Larranaga will be the next coach at PC.

PHIL MARTELLI
Facts:
Head Coach, Saint Joseph's (1995-Present)
Background: DOB 08/31/54 - Media, Pennsylvania
A10 Coach of the Year (1997, 2001, 2004, 2005)
Naismith & Henry Iba National Coach of the Year (2004)

Phil Martelli is one of the more talented but underrated coaches in the country. His St. Joseph's teams have excelled for years in the A-10 Conference without great fanfare under his old school leadership style, as the Hawks have made the NCAA tournament five out of the last 11 years.(Sweet 16, Elite 8) However, his 2004 team thrust Martelli into the national spotlight as the Hawks went undefeated in the regular season and Martelli was named National Coach of the Year. Phil Martelli guided Saint Joseph's to a number ranking in the AP Poll. Besides success in the NCAA tournament, Martelli's Hawks have also reached the final game of the NIT twice during his Saint Joseph's tenure. Martelli has a reputation as a coach whose teams are always prepared, excelling on both ends of the floor, and rarely play zone defense. Saint Joseph's under Phil Martelli has often overachieved, and the Hawks have developed a reputation for playing their best basketball in March.
Pros: Pretty much everything… great Xs and Os, excellent recruiter, superb with the media, and can you imagine Martelli on Federal Hill?
Cons: Will he be a fish out of water outside of Philadelphia?
UPDATE: Martelli is, perhaps, the most interesting case in the group. Word reached us that Martelli had put feelers out about the PC job as far back as late February. More recently, we were told that Martelli had withdrawn his name from consideration. Now we're not quite sure what to think. Martelli recently told the Philadelphia Daily News: "I have not indicated an interest in Providence," Martelli told the Daily News. "Providence has not indicated an interest in me. I've not talked to anybody at Providence and Providence has not talked to anybody here at Saint Joseph's or to me or to my family. I don't know anything about it," he said. "I haven't given it a thought. I haven't thought whether I'd even think about it." St. Joe's athletic director has also commented that he has not been contacted by the Friars. However, the language used by Martelli was distinctly vague, and certainly does not seem to rule him out as a possible candidate.

BOB McKILLOP
Facts:
Head Coach, Davidson (1989-Present)
Background: DOB 1949 – Long Island, New York
SoCon Coach of the Year (1994, 1996, 1997, 2002, 2005, 2008)

Bob McKillop is one of the most unassuming coaches in America. He has never been a self promoter, but since Davidson joined the Southern Conference in 1992, McKillop's teams have won the Southern Conference Championship on multiple occasions, taking small but prestigious Davidson College to the NCAA tournament five times in that period.(4 in the last seven years) He's also led Davidson to three NIT appearences. While Bob McKillop grew up a New York basketball player, he's become a respected fixture in North Carolina over the years; first as a college athlete at East Carolina, and now as the Head Coach at Davidson. In the past two seasons, McKillop's Davidson Wildcats have only lost 1 conference game. McKillop's teams are known for their preparation and attention to detail, as he is known for stressing fundamentals and team discipline. As a result, Davidson has often played the role of giant killer, knocking off more talented non-conference opponents from major conferences.
Pros: Excellent strategist and bench coach. A New York guy, his teams play great team ball and he knows how to build a program.
Cons: Like Larranaga, he's 58 and has been at Davidson for 18 years. Does he have the energy to compete in the Big East?
UPDATE: McKillop's Davidson squad has become the Cinderella story of the NCAA Tournament and is still playing. If he's under consideration, he's a candidate that Bob Driscoll can't speak to yet. But even if Davidson's magical run ends against Kansas, would McKillop consider leaving Davidson or is his heart forever tied to North Carolina?

TIM O'SHEA
Facts:
Head Coach, Ohio University (2001-present)
Background: DOB 1962 – Wayland, Massachusetts

O'Shea arrived in Athens from Boston College, where he spent four seasons at his alma mater under Al Skinner. He moved to BC from URI with Skinner, where he was Skinner's top recruiter for nine seasons. Ohio was named College Basketball's "It" Team in 2005 by Espn.com, and the Bobcats have enjoyed steady success under O'Shea's tutelage. This season, Ohio compiled a 19-12 record and will host Brown in the inaugural CBI Tournament. Ohio's top season under O'Shea was the 2004-05 campaign, which saw a NCAA run, but the Bobcats have been postseason contenders on an annual basis. O'Shea has always played an Al Skinner-type of motion offense, along with tough man to man defense.
Pros: After serving under Skinner for 13 years, O'Shea knows how to win, play a style and run a program. Has great contacts in New England and can spot under the radar players.
Cons: Like Christian, would not be a sexy hire, but Christian has surpassed him in the MAC. Has been a bit up and down at Ohio.
UPDATE: O'Shea's Ohio team lost in the second round of the CBI, and his name has been conspicuously absent from the rumor mill since the PC job opened. Another longshot at this point.

CRAIG ROBINSON
Facts:
Head Coach, Brown University (2006-present)
Background: DOB 1971 – Chicago, Ill

Robinson has guided Brown to the inaugural CBI Tournament in just his second year as coach. The 19-9 Bears established a school record for victories in a season and have a chance to win 20 for the first time in their 103 years playing the sport. Robinson came to Brown from Northwestern, where he spent six years under Bill Carmody, and played his collegiate ball at Princeton under Pete Carril. He's spent some time in the national limelight as Barack Obama's brother-in-law, and runs the same system on offense and defense as fellow Princeton grad, John Thompson III of Georgetown, with backdoor cuts and patterned offense.
Pros: If you like the way Georgetown plays, you'll like Robinson. Could be JT III before JT III was JT III. Has elevated Brown in a short time to Ivy contenders. Great pedigree.
Cons: Not a lot of experience and as a result, not much of a track record to examine. Would be a high risk hire.
UPDATE: Robinson has been mentioned in the press a few times, most notably in a recent column in the Providence Journal by Bill Reynolds. He's local, a chic pick by some, but he remains a very risky hire. Still, he's going to be a fine coach for someone at some point… it may just be that this opening at Providence came up about two seasons too soon for Robinson.

During the past two weeks, since the PC job opened, a couple of other potential candidates have seen their stars rise and have been mentioned at various times in various places. They are:

DARRIN HORN
Facts:
Head Coach, Western Kentucky (2003-present)
Background: DOB 12/24/1972 – Glasgow, Kentucky

Horn has been mentioned several times as a possibility of the job at PC by various media ourlets, but he may be a tough one to move. An alum of Western Kentucky, Horn was an assistant at Marquette for four years before taking the Hilltoppers' job. Since he assumed the top spot, he's guided Western to a 111-48 record in his five years, including a 29-7 mark this season. The Hilltoppers made it to the Sweet Sixteen, beating Drake and San Diego before falling to UCLA. At 35, Horn ranked 14th on the Basketball Times' list of top 40 Up-and-Coming Coaches entering the 2007-08 campaign. Horn's teams play race horse basketball on the offensive end but can clamp down defensively when they have to.
Pros; Not a lot not to like about Darrin Horn. He can X and O, he can recruit, and he can motivate.
Cons: Can you get him to leave home? Does he have any desire to coach at another school and does he have any Northeastern recruiting connections?
UPDATE: Horn is off the table. He accepted the head coaching job at South Carolina on Monday.

FRAN McCAFFERY
Facts:
Head Coach, Siena (2005-present)
Backgound: DOB 5/23/1959 – Philadelphia, PA

McCaffery certainly raised his stature with Siena's upset of Vanderbilt in the NCAA Tournament this season before a loss to Villanova. The 13th seeded Saints finished 23-11, McCaffery's best showing yet at the school. Prior to Siena, McCaffery spent six years at UNC-Greensboro, where he went 90-87 and enjoyed several postseason appearances. Before that, he spent 11 years on the staffs of Digger Phelps and John MacLeod at Notre Dame. And prior to that, he was the nation's youngest Division I head coach while at Lehigh for three seasons. Known for his fundamentally sound style of play, McCaffery is a calm figure on the sideline but a superb tactician.
Pros: His teams play solid defense, and run a systematic, patterned offense. Siena has upset several more highly regarded squads under his tutelage, get better as the year goes on and he has solid recruiting ties in the Northeast.
Cons: Has spent the last ten years at relatively low profile, low pressure jobs. Is he ready for the big jump up to the Big East and can he establish a consistent, winning program there?

And finally… we've been hearing from multiple sources that discussions may have taken place between PC's AD and this candidate. So, as a wild card possibility, we'll present the final candidate along with the caveat that sometimes, where there's smoke, there's fire.

JEFF VAN GUNDY
Facts:
NBA Head Coach: NY Knicks (1996-2001), Houston Rockets (2003-2007)
NBA Asst. Coach: NY Knicks (1989-1996)
NCAA Asst. Coach: Providence College (1986-1988), Rutgers (1988-1989)
Background: DOB 1/9/62 - Hemet, California

Jeff Van Gundy is a basketball coach that is as well known as any coaching figure in the NBA. He began a college coaching career at Providence College as an assistant to Rick Pitino in 1986, and within ten years, he would become head coach of the New York Knicks, despite having no prior experience as a head coach. His Knicks' teams made the playoffs every season Van Gundy was at the helm, including one NBA Finals and one Conference Finals. He resigned the Knicks position in 2001 and was hired by the Houston Rockets in 2003, where his teams made the playoffs three out of his four years there. In total, Van Gundy's NBA teams had winning records in nine out of his ten seasons as a head coach. Since his time with the Rockets, Van Gundy has been providing color commentary for NBA games televised on ESPN. Jeff Van Gundy is known for an intense sideline demeanor, and his teams have always been known for their tenacious and superlative defense. Van Gundy attended the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the 1987 Final Four at Providence College and is very familiar with the Friar program today.
Pros: With coaching experience in college and in the NBA, Van Gundy has proven he can win at the highest level of play. He is a cerebral coach, would instantly improve the Friar defense, and could match minds in the Big East. In addition, his high profile in the basketball world would provide a big boost to the program's recruiting. Knows PC and the program.
Cons: He's been out of the college game for years; he may not wish to stay at Providence for an extended period, and can Providence pay him enough? He will have to put together a crack staff for recruiting purposes, as his ties and contacts in that area may be lacking.

Meanwhile darkhorse candidates previously mentioned – Pete Gillen, Jim O'Brien and Fran Fraschilla – seem to be getting very little run in the media rumor mills. The guess here is that all three will not be strong candidates, along other darkhorse candidates – like Kevin O'Neill and Paul Hewitt – have been mentioned. For impatient Friar fans, always keep one thing in mind. This will all be over soon, and its better to take the time to get it right.

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