More Changes Coming For Autry

Autry Court will have a lot of new fixtures in it next year - including the coach on the sidelines...

As was reported last Friday, Willis Wilson will not return as Head Coach of Rice Men's Basketball program next year. The official release from Rice Director of Athletics Chris Del Conte was worded, a "move in a new direction" was "best for everyone." With the Owls finishing a 3-27 season and going 0-16 in Conference USA play the move was hard to object to and certainly not unexpected as speculation on Willis' future had been discussed frequently of late. Unexpected, no. Unfortunate, yes.

Give Wilson Credit

Wilson has given plenty to Rice and the basketball program, and for that reason seeing him go in this fashion is tough. Wilson is an Owl through and through. He played here, and for the last 16 years he coached here. He handled himself with class and represented the University well. He's generally thought of as a nice man and well liked by his players, the media, and alumni alike. His teams had flashes of success and Wilson was instrumental in bringing about the on-going changes to Autry Court. He's done a lot of good things for the school and the program. A happier ending would have seen Wilson coach at Autry next year, but alas, a coach's career is measured by wins and losses, and regardless of a rash of injuries Willis record in recent years made his return questionable at best. His record aside, the Rice community extends Wilson a heart-felt "thank you" and of course wishes him well in the days ahead. Moving forward - dynamics of the decision and possible candidates

The Business of Athletics

Running any college athletics program is a business. Obviously, the goal is to produce a product that sells. It's unfortunate good people have to lose jobs along the way but the harsh reality is that if coaches aren't winning, the product they are generating probably isn't selling. Rice AD Chris Del Conte is the man in charge of creating sports products that sell for Rice and has his hands full with attendance challenges in 2 of the 3 major "revenue" sports. Rice Owl Baseball holds it's own but not enough to balance the coffers. Rice Football appears to be headed in the right direction with Del Conte's hiring of David Bailiff. That leaves Rice basketball as an area rife with "fiscal possibilities".

Rice Basketball: Golden Opportunity

With the newly remodeled Autry Court set to open this fall, an air of change and newness will fill the home of Rice Basketball. The timing for a fresh start in the program is now. Not to suggest that letting Willis Wilson go was easy for CDC, but the fact remains that Wilson's team going 3-27 this season made CDC's decision much easier. Rice is spending 25 million dollars on creating a home for a winner. You don't remodel your basketball arena but once every few decades - the momentum of a sparkling new facility will spark fan and recruiting interest, and winning has to follow with that. There are no 25 million dollar do-overs - especially not at budget strained universities like Rice. Chris Del Conte won't have to wonder "what if" had he retained Willis for next season. He's in the driver's seat to make a "splash" hire, a coach to take Rice Basketball to a new level, a coach that will fill Autry. Most importantly for him, one that will create a winner and a viable product - and set the third revenue generating sport at Rice on a course for profitability. Now, who will that coach be?

The Candidates

Despite rumors for months that former Rockets' coach Jeff Van Gundy would be a candidate for the job he has immediately stated that he's not interested.

Another name that has surfaced is Bob Marlin at Sam Houston State. Marlin has an impressive resume. In 9 years Marlin has won more games at Sam Houston than any other member of the Southland Conference. The Bearkats have posted double digit victories in each of Marlin's 10 seasons - including a 23-8 record this season. He's twice been named Southland Conference Coach of the Year. He also won a NJCAA National Championship while at Pensacola Junior College in Florida. He took the Bearkats to the NCAA Tournament in 2003.

A name that surfaced almost immediately for the job, because of Chris Del Conte's years at Arizona and his ties to the area, is that of Arizona Assistant Coach Josh Pastner. He's got to be high on the list of candidates if not the favorite at this point. Pastner has been about as dynamic a recruiter as you'll find over the past several years. He was instrumental in developing the AAU basketball program in Houston and coached the Houston Hoops team to the Global World Championships in the summer of 2000. Pastner played at Arizona himself and graduated with his undergraduate degree in 2 1/2 years, the fastest an Arizona athlete has ever graduated from the school. He's been the school's recruiting coordinator and also works with 'Zona's big men exclusively. Two of his pupils - Luke Walton and Channing Frye were both NBA draft picks. He's everything you could ask for in a new coach -schooled in a Top 10 program under Lute Olsen, dynamic recruiter, and about as well connected to the AAU programs in Texas as anyone you could find. The knock on him if any is that even though he's been associated with the Arizona program for 10 years as a player and coach - he's only 30. Pastner has also never been a Head Coach at the collegiate level. He is extremely intelligent however (has a Master's in Teaching) and is the type of coach that could have huge success in the right situation. Question is, will he take a chance on Rice? He has said he is interested in the job and we'll know soon enough - CDC has said he won't "linger" in naming a new coach.

While we're sorry to see Willis Wilson leave it's exciting to think about the possibilities of what a dynamic Rice basketball program could do for Rice Athletics.

The "shot clock" is running Chris...


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