So it has come to this – Mike Thomas is going to turn the degree of difficulty knob up to 11 and make football, men’s AND women’s basketball hires within four months of each other. The man has stones. Let’s get right to the list, which I’ve tried to make as comprehensive as possible, even though I hope the actual list is small and already being worked:
Guys You Make Say “No”
Brad Stevens: The guy took Butler to the national title game, lost Gordon Heyward, and then took Butler back to the national title game. Holy hell – that sentence is still unbelievable to type and the events it describes happened almost a year ago. He won 117 games in four years. I don’t care if the only job he’d leave for is Duke, you call this man.
Jay Wright: “Hey, Jay? Mike Thomas at Illinois. Hey….I know you’ve won national and Big East coach of the year awards and taken Villanova to the Final Four, but uh, have you looked around the Big East lately? I’ll say hello to West Virginia as they pass through here on the way to the Big 12. You guys are kind of floating around in the wind since you don’t have a BCS football program, right? Ok, so anyway, we’ve got the most stable and prosperous conference in the country here and uh, you know, I thought maybe you’d be into something like that. I dunno. Okay – call me!”
Sean Miller: That’s right. I’m suggesting you try to poach Arizona’s coach. If he really agonized as much as he said he did over the Maryland job, then you call him and make him think about moving east again.
Assuming that all those guys say “no” and (with the possible exception of Jay Wright) I expect that they would, here is who you’re looking at:
The Best Fit, Who You Should Throw Bags of Money at, if Necessary:
Shaka Smart: Took VCU to the Final Four, lost a bunch of guys and won the CAA, a mid-major conference that has produced two Final Four teams since 2006. Wisconsin native. Was an assistant at Akron while Mike Thomas was there. The link I provided describes his philosophy as “part aggressive, full court offense and defense and part psychological warfare.” If you want to get fans excited, get recruits excited, likely raise the ceiling of next year’s roster immediately and put to bed the Board of Trustees’ issue with a lack of minority coaches all in one fell swoop, you pay whatever is necessary to hire Shaka Smart and assure him he has a long leash and plenty of time to turn Illinois into mean-spirited, organized chaos on hardwood. Would he be the youngest coach in the Big Ten? Yes, by about four years. Would his price tag probably be really high for such a young coach? Yes, especially factoring in the related buyouts. Would he play a style that stands out from all 11 other teams and appeal to anybody who considers themselves aggressive and athletic? Yes. Am I driving this bandwagon almost recklessly fast? Yes. Does this make so much sense that I’m fairly certain we will somehow bungle it? Yes.
The Top Tier
Anthony Grant: Laid the VCU foundation for what you’re seeing now with Shaka Smart. Outstanding recruiter. Unfortunately, I think it’d be hard to pry him out of the SEC. If that’s his comfort zone, he’s got some latitude to do things the way he wants to do them in Football-loosa.
Gregg Marshall: Wichita State by way of Winthrop, that team you used to always try to talk yourself into taking in 3-14 opening round games. He’s been to the tourney seven of the last thirteen years and has Wichita State firing on all cylinders. If he were a little younger, he’d maybe qualify as Bill Self-ish. Since he’s not, he looks a little Bruce Weber-ish. He’d be a solid, solid hire, but for whatever reason, I’m just not seeing Mike Thomas going this direction right now.
Buzz Williams: I’m going to let you in on a not-very-secret secret – Buzz Williams has been way more impressive at Marquette than Tom Crean ever was. Crean rode D-Wade to the Final Four one year. Aside from that, he couldn’t even win Conference USA, let alone the Big East. Williams should get the same “Look around you, football-less Big East school” pitch that Wright gets.
Lorenzo Romar: I will give you $100 if you can get really excited about Lorenzo Romar in the next minute. I’ll wait.
Nothing, huh? I’ll keep the hondo, then. Hiring Romar wouldn’t be bad, but it would be….puzzling. He had a perfectly average three-year run at SLU and then went to coach his alma mater, where he’s done more average things (two Sweet Sixteens, one Pac-10 title, plus this year’s Pac-12 performance in one of the worst high major leagues maybe ever). I think the biggest positives about this hire would be the “Whoa, a guy left his alma mater for Illinois” reaction and a shot at landing Jabari Parker. But is one year of Parker really significant? I guess it could be, I dunno. Romar is also 53, which is indicative of nothing – he could coach for 10-15 more years, or not. Everything about this makes me shrug, which is pretty accurate for a guy who’s never been to the Elite Eight.
Kevin Stallings: Collinsville native and former ISU coach. Played and coached under Gene Keady (I think we’re all set in this department, thanks) and then Roy Williams (better). It’s entirely possible to respect what he did with the Redbirds and continues to do with Vandy without wanting him to be hired at Illinois, which is good, because that’s the position I hold.
Scott Drew: I’ll let Google do the talking for Scott Drew
No thanks. Unrelated – Scott Dreisbach has to be pretty pumped with his search juice, no?
Frank Martin: It’s hard not to like Frank Martin. He might be totally insane, though. He gets the nod for the Mike Leach Honorary “I’m not totally sure what we’re getting ourselves into but the ride will be entertaining” Coach Candidate.
Chris Mack: Xavier just churns out excellent coaches. He’s at his alma mater and would likely be tough to pry away, but I’d be pretty happy if we could.
Tony Bennett: Wisconsin native. Son of Dick Bennett. Sister coaches the women’s team at NIU. Results at both Virginia and WSU are undeniably impressive. To be totally honest, though, UVA is a sweet gig. I can’t think of a major conference school that has more chronically underperformed in the major sports. Bringing consistency to the basketball program there would be a good way to set up shop for decades and be ready to jump into the ACC title hunt when UNC/Duke are experiencing talent valleys.
Larry Brown: Dark horse. Not a long term solution in any sense. “Badly wants to coach again” though, and usually if Larry Brown wants a job offer, he’ll get one. For what we need right now, it probably shouldn’t be from us.
Jerrance Howard: Let me be the first to say that I love Jerrance Howard and recognize that, without him, we’d be hurting way worse than we are now. That said, if we reach the point where we are forced to elevate him to head coach, then that can only mean our coach search has gone totally off the rails. We would be rolling the dice with a guy that was in school when I was in school.
Craig Robinson: Let’s be honest, he only gets mentioned because he’s the President’s brother-in-law. Okay, that’s not totally true – he worked with Bill Carmody at Northwestern – but if we’re talking dramatic change in styles, the “Things I Want” spectrum has the Princeton offense at one end and VCU Havoc at the other.
Chris Collins: No. Setting aside the completely legitimate criticism about the track record of K assistants, who could want this guy? This would relegate me to “check in from time to time” status for Illinois basketball.
Now, you’ll notice that many of these candidates are occupied with postseason basketball. Could be a quiet weekend/week. I think things really begin to get crazy as soon as seasons start ending next Thursday.