Coaching Change Creates Domino Effect

March Madness isn't limited to the college basketball court and fickle fate of sudden elimination tournament competition, it also applies to the annual coaching carousel that turns like a wacky wheel of fortune in the background, creating a classic domino effect that can crisscross the country.

For every head coach fired there's a coach hired and often another opening is created. Sometimes the cascading cause-and-effect continues unabated until a college decides to entrust its future to an assistant coach.

If there's any major Division I school familiar with the vagaries of this process, it's Tennessee where hiring a head basketball coach has become like leasing an automobile — every four years you get a new one.

Over the last 16 years the Volunteers have hired Wade Houston, Kevin O'Neil, Jerry Green and Buzz Peterson none of whom are currently head coaches at any level of basketball. During that same span the Vols have passed on or failed to pursue a veritable Who's Who of college head coaches including such notables as: Tubby Smith, Bill Self, Steve Alford, Jay Wright, Kevin Stallings, Rick Barnes, Bobby Lutz and Gregg Marshall.

Undoubtedly, UT's hire-archy has been guilty of its share of bad judgment, but it has also been the victim of bad advice, bad timing, bad representation and just plain bad luck. Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, who wasn't a part of past misfires, appears to be avoiding past mistakes by streamlining the hiring process to create maximum flexibility and autonomy.

Hamilton may also benefit from some long overdue good fortune as the current supply of quality head coaching candidates appears to exceed existing demands of prominent programs. That combined with the quick dismissal of Peterson two days after the Vols season ended with a loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, leaves UT in prime pouncing position.

The latest break to enhance Hamilton's endeavor was the decision by Indiana to retain head coach Mike Davis. That leaves Tennessee and Virginia as the most attractive and lucrative jobs currently on the market. It also eliminates a school that figured to be a potential strong contender for Wisconsin-Milwaukee head coach Bruce Pearl, who had a highly successful nine-year run at Southern Indiana before taking over at UWM five years ago. Even if the Hoosiers had elected to go after former star Steve Alford at Iowa, Pearl would have become one of the immediate favorites for the Hawkeyes' job after spending nine years as Dr. Tom Davis' top assistant during what many Iowa fans considered to be the golden days of Iowa basketball.

Pearl is a particularly hot commodity on the heels of upsets wins over No. 5 seed Alabama and No. 3 seed Boston College. Now the Panthers (26-5) move to the third round of the NCAA Tournament where they'll face No. 1 seed Illinois (31-1) Thursday night.

Pulling a pair of shockers as a No. 12 seed is sure to attract a lot of attention, but the Panthers attacking style of full court pressure defense has also opened a lot of eyes. Arkansas under Nolan Richardson and Kentucky under Rick Pitino realized consistent success in the SEC using a similar scheme.

The irony of Indiana's decision to retain Davis despite a 29-26 record the last two seasons combined is the timing of widely publicized comments by Bob Knight in which he said he planned to fire Davis before his tenure was suddenly brought ot a close in Bloomington. Did the authorities at Indiana decide to give Davis another season in order to appear they weren't influenced by Knight's comments?

It would be reasonable to make such a conclusion since Davis had reportedly inquired about job openings at both Tennessee and Tulane. He appeared to be pretty sure he was on the way out and was looking to beat administrators to the punch.

Now comes the kicker because if Knight's comments influenced IU to retain Davis, the Vols will be in better position to hire Pearl if they can't get Knight, who many believe is their first choice.

Maybe there's a method to March Madness.


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