HOO Will Be Virginia's Next Basketball Coach: Anthony Grant?

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HOO Will Be Virginia's Next Basketball Coach: Anthony Grant?
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

University of Florida's Athletic Director Jeremy Foley boarded a plane one morning in 2007 with the fate of three school's hanging in the balance.

Billy Donovan, coming off two straight national championships, was banking in on his success to become the new head coach of the Orlando Magic.

This left Florida obviously in the lurch but it also left Rob Lanier in limbo.

Lanier was an assistant for Dave Leitao at the University of Virginia, who had decided to join Donovan only weeks before he made his decision to bolt.

Now he wondered just where his future would be.

Foley had decided on his future, it was Anthony Grant.

Grant, the long-time assistant for Donovan, had left to take the vacant Virginia Commonwealth University job when Jeff Capel moved on to Oklahoma.

To say Grant found success is putting it mildly.  He led the Rams to the Colonial Athletic Association title and a first round victory over Duke in his first season.

Foley was boarding the plane to Richmond to officially offer Grant the job.

Instead, he received news that Donovan was returning.  Just a few days after accepting the position at Orlando, he got cold feet and returned to Gator Nation.

Like that, the fate of three programs turned.

For VCU, it was a dream come true.  Grant would continue to steer their program to great success including three regular season titles, a second CAA conference title this season and took UCLA, a team that had reached the Final Four three straight years, to the buzzer.

For Virginia, it was a nightmare. 

Lanier was the counterbalance to the volatile Leitao.  He balanced out the team and his coach.  He was the good cop to Leitao's bad cop and when he left so did the order and direction of the team.

Lanier's loss is perhaps the most under-appreciated factor in Virginia's demise but it was certainly destructive.  Two seasons later and Virginia is out one coach and these schools may be linked again.

Pardon The Interruption's Michael Wilbon weighed in on the Virginia coaching search loud and clear: It's time to bring in Anthony Grant.

Indeed Grant will be the hottest name in the coaching carousel this season, already on the radar of both Alabama and Georgia.

He is the complete package of youth, vigor, charisma and results.

Grant was almost on the move in 2007, will he be on the move in 2009?

More importantly, will that new property be in Athens, Tuscaloosa or Charlottesville?

(For previous candidates look here and here)

 

WHY GRANT WILL GO TO UVA

Grant has done a marvelous job at VCU.  He has not only done a wonderful job bonding with his players but with the community at large.

Grant is not a figure to sit back and count his money, he wants to be on campus and on the television set selling his school and his program.

Watching him, you see a rather selfless and likable guy, an image Virginia has missed.

That's not to say Leitao was a selfish man, he certainly was not.  However, the image of Leitao ranting and raving on the sidelines seems to have played a role in his premature departure.

Players had a great deal of respect for Leitao but his image on the court overshadowed his kinder persona off of it. 

Grant is firm but has avoided the same "drill sergeant mentality" that has limited the amount of players who can thrive in such an environment.

If Virginia wants an accountable guy who players can relate to and work hard for, you cannot do much better than Grant.

Grant is also a tremendous recruiter, having brought in terrific players to Florida as well as VCU.  Sure Grant adopted Eric Maynor from Capel but he brought in some very solid supporting pieces, namely the big man Larry Sanders and a great shooter in Joey Rodriguez.

In other words, Grant has already had success recruiting in the area.  Imagine the success he could have recruiting with an ACC team boasting great facilities, the reigning Rookie of the Year, and a strong historical record.

Grant's greatest strength, however, is his youth.  Grant is 15 years younger than Virginia's beloved candidate Tubby Smith. 

As Wilbon put it, he's not the short fix but the long-term answer.

Grant has done a great job at VCU amassing a record of 76-24 and I am sure he enjoys his position.

However, Grant knows that he can only go so far at this school.  He may one day become the Florida coach, but Donovan is not likely to retire anytime soon. 

That itch to play in a major conference might be calling and especially with that power conference money attached to it.

Sure Grant could get a major payday at all of these schools but if he really does love the area, he might as well stay nearby. 

Heck, with Charlottesville only being about an hour away he won't even need to move.

Grant is a class act and I know he does not want to jump ship from a program that has treated him so nicely.  However, I think we all know that Grant will not be at VCU forever. 

With Eric Maynor leaving, VCU is almost guaranteed to fall back in the pack at least a little bit.  His stock may never be higher.

Coach Grant will one day take the leap up to the power conferences and if Virginia plays it's card right, it might just be now.


WHY GRANT WILL NOT COME TO UVA

What makes Grant such a good candidate also makes him an elusive candidate. 

If Grant were to leave VCU he would have his pick of destinations, and given the weak state of the SEC, a jump to Alabama may make perfect sense.

After all, playing for a power conference is one thing but coaching in the ACC with the dominance of North Carolina and Duke, along with an incredibly young Wake Forest, and an emerging Clemson team makes Virginia's road to recovery a long-term project.

The SEC, on the other hand, has no truly dominant team and as others have pointed out, may not be turning it around as quickly as we may all want.

Grant has plenty of experience in the SEC and it may make sense to return.

As good a job as Grant has done at VCU, he does have one glaring question.

Can he win without Maynor?

In other words, how much of the success for the Rams came from Grant and how much from its all-time leading scorer?

Dave Leitao looked like a genius until his dynamic duo of Singletary and Reynolds was broken up.  Might Grant have a similar fall from grace?

Craig Littlepage, Virginia's Athletic Director, took a risk when he hired Leitao in 2005 because he had failed to prove that he could win at a major level.

It seems that Virginia is determined to correct their blunder this time around and get a candidate with head coaching experience in one of these "BCS conferences," in which case, the Cavaliers will not get into a bidding war with Alabama and Georgia over Grant.

Anthony Grant has looked very good in three years at VCU but sometimes that is not enough.

Whether it is because Grant thinks he can find greener pastures or Virginia simply thinks it needs more, the Cavaliers should not expect to see Anthony Grant on their sidelines anytime soon.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Anthony Grant is the first candidate in our series that would undeniably see the Virginia job as a step up from his current position. 

Virginia has a great deal to offer Grant and its combination of location and willingness to spend big on this contract might make it the best suitor for the Rams head man.

Still, the problem with Grant coming to Virginia may be timing.  It seems obvious the Cavaliers are going to go after Tubby Smith first. 

By the time they have approached Grant, he may already be in Tuscaloosa.

Grant is the entire package, he has everything a program could want except for a great deal of experience.

While hiring him may be a risk, it is certainly a calculated one.  Given his pedigree and his record, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Grant can continue his success at any school.

However, even though Virginia wants a fresh, young face to represent its new era, Littlepage is not in the mood for risks. 

His job depends on finding an all-star.  Grant could be that shining star or he could fade into the night like a "Dave Leitao version 2.0".

I don't think that's a risk Littlepage is willing to take. 

The real question is, will it be a decision he regrets?

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