Jerry Stackhouse and Other Options for North Carolina's Next Assistant Coach
Decisions to replace a departed assistant coach are rarely the object of publicity and debate, but at North Carolina, a school with a deep and star-studded history, the job of replacing UAB head coach Jerod Haase on Roy Williams' staff has generated significant buzz.
Foremost among the reasons for the attention is the public statement by Williams that he will hire someone associated with North Carolina. After bringing with him four assistants from Kansas nine years ago, he feels compelled to add a former Tar Heel to his staff.
Staying inside the program is an unnecessary but meaningful gesture to the North Carolina basketball family, to which Williams owes his start and in which he now stands second only to Dean Smith in coaching stature.
Carolina is famously inward-focused when making coaching decisions: Among the sport's traditional powerhouse programs—North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, Indiana and Duke—only North Carolina has refrained from looking outside its own ranks for a head coach in the modern era.
For this reason, even an assistant coach position can generate unexpected attention. The Carolina community is heavily invested in the lineage of its basketball tradition, and Smith used positions on his staff to promote that lineage by hiring former players such as Phil Ford and Dave Hanners.
A position on the staff at North Carolina and membership in the Roy Williams coaching tree are also major steps toward success in the profession, as Haase showed and as current assistant C.B. McGrath likely will show again sometime soon. Williams' insistence on hiring a former Tar Heel may afford someone with scant coaching experience to skip a few steps on the road to becoming a head coach.
Speculation over Williams' eventual replacement is likely to intensify over the next few years, and pressure to stay inside the family will be even higher. Depending on his success as a head coach, Haase may be a candidate, but whomever Roy hires now will almost certainly join the list of far-off options.
Developing talented assistants is critical to preserving Carolina's policy of hiring from within; only the availability of Williams, a former assistant himself, allowed North Carolina to maintain its status without compromising its philosophy.
The possibilities are impossible to capture in one story, given how many former Tar Heels could be interested in the position and how little information has been made public.
We know this: There have been 14 former UNC players to reach out to Williams, Williams declined the interest of three former Kansas players and he hopes to begin the hiring process next week. Speculation as to his decision, or even his criteria or strategy, is merely speculation.
But here are a few potential candidates and the differing approaches they represent, with the understanding that there is distinct possibility the hire comes from outside of this list.
The Big Splash: Jerry Stackhouse
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North Carolina fan message boards have made abundantly clear who the fan favorite is for Williams' decision: former Tar Heel star and current Atlanta Hawk Jerry Stackhouse.
Stackhouse is in his 17th season of a solid professional career, and in the midst of a season in which his role has been diminished to sparingly used bench player, he has made public comments about a desire to enter coaching.
Stackhouse has acknowledged that he is about to enter a new phase of his career, and that his goal of becoming a head coach requires paying his dues.
It is unclear, however, whether entering the field with no experience as an assistant coach at his alma mater counts as paying dues.
Stackhouse's success and demeanor on the court made him a beloved Tar Heel during his two seasons at North Carolina, the second of which earned him First-Team All-America honors and a place in the rafters of the Dean Dome. His baseline reverse dunk in a game at Duke is one of the most memorable plays in the history of the program.
Williams' decision to hire a Tar Heel is rooted in his desire to defer to the broader Carolina family and its fans. Among his options, there is no player who would make a bigger splash than Stackhouse. The response would be cautious regarding his lack of experience, but overwhelming in support.
Nonetheless, Stackhouse remains a long shot whose potential abilities as a coach and recruiter are unknown. Williams' hiring of Haase and McGrath suggests not a preference for superstar players but for solid players with a proven inclination for college coaching.
The Elder Statesman: Phil Ford
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Ford would make only a slightly lesser splash than Stackhouse, merely because it would be his second stint as an assistant coach at North Carolina. Ford was an assistant under Dean Smith and later the top assistant under Bill Guthridge before leaving when Matt Doherty was hired in 2000.
Ford is another fan favorite, and unlike Stackhouse, he has an extensive resume as an assistant coach, having also served under Larry Brown with the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.
However, hiring Ford seems even less likely than Stackhouse. Williams likely is not looking for someone to come in and assume a top role on his staff; experienced assistants Joe Holladay and Steve Robinson have been with Roy for much of their careers.
Moreover, the position vacated by Haase is better used to bolster the trajectory of an up-and-coming member of the Carolina coaching tree—one who could later be a head coach, potentially in Chapel Hill.
There are other names who fit into the same category as Ford, among them Dave Hanners and Pat Sullivan, but this approach would truly be an odd one for Roy to take, despite the clamoring of fans.
The Proven Commodity: Brad Frederick
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Frederick is only recognizable as a Tar Heel for the most diehard of Carolina fans, but he is without question the person whose qualifications most align with what Williams is likely looking for.
The former reserve forward is the longest-tenured member of Kevin Stallings' staff at Vanderbilt and a proven assistant coach at a Division I school with a long career ahead of him.
Frederick's most notable accomplishments at Carolina were his academics and his still-active record for running the fastest timed mile in program history at 4:36.5. His impact with the fans as an inside-the-family guy may be limited, but that is not likely to plague Roy in his decision making, nor should it.
His immediate impact on the staff would be immense as an experienced coach and proven recruiter. It would be a low-risk, high-reward move; having ascended to his current position at a high major program, Williams can trust that Frederick can coach.
If Roy decides he wants someone with this level of experience, Frederick may truly be the only option who has not already left for a head coaching position. Fellow former players Wes Miller and Scott Cherry fit the mold, but they are not likely to leave their jobs at UNC-Greensboro and High Point, respectively.
The biggest question remaining, if Williams chooses this path, is whether Frederick is indeed on the list of players who have expressed interest. On the surface, leaving Vanderbilt for a job at his powerhouse alma mater seems like an easy decision, but given the stage of his career, it may be more complicated.
Frederick has been with Stallings for his entire 13-year tenure at Vanderbilt, and the program has become a consistent contender at the top of the SEC. A job at North Carolina is a step up, but is it enough of a step up to merit leaving a position as a senior assistant to a well-respected, successful coach?
Frederick is already on track for a head coaching position, and if he views that as his next major step, making a jump to Carolina in the interim doesn't make much sense.
The Other Possibilities
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Stackhouse is not the only recently retired former Tar Heel to state publicly his desire to enter coaching. A star guard on the 1997 and 1998 Final Four teams, Williams spent much of the season hanging around Chapel Hill, watching the coaches and mentoring players as preparation for a coaching career.
Like Stackhouse, however, Williams has no coaching experience as of yet.
Carolina fans remember Reese as a key player on the 1993 national championship team, and they got a look at him as a coach this season when the Tar Heels faced Monmouth, where Reese currently serves as an assistant to fellow Tar Heel, King Rice.
Reese doesn't quite have the experience that would suggest he is ready to make the jump to Chapel Hill, but there is a void of options in between the stature of Frederick's position and Reese's inexperience.
If Frederick doesn't become an option, Reese may move to the front.
The same could be said for Derrick Phelps, Reese's teammate on the '93 team and fellow assistant coach at Monmouth under Rice.
Phelps has going for him that Roy Williams seems to have an affinity for point guards, and point guards typically make good coaches. Phelps was one of the program's best.
Lynch was a consummate teammate and respected leader of that '93 title team, and he is the third potential candidate from that group. Currently the strength and conditioning coach at UC-Irvine, Lynch acquired some experience as an assistant coach under recently-fired Matt Doherty at Southern Methodist.
While Lynch never developed the professional stardom of Stackhouse, his jersey hangs in the rafters of the Dean Dome, and his selection would certainly draw respect and applause from the Carolina community.
As I mentioned earlier, it is impossible to list or even know all of the candidates Roy is considering among the 14 players to express interest. One would need to comb through decades of Tar Heel rosters, including the guys, like Frederick, who rarely got off the bench.
I am curious to hear thoughts: Carolina fans, who else do you think is being considered?