Five New Coaches To Lead Arizona, Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama
Every March Madness, there is a sub-story to the main plot. And that is the programs who didn't get there and are out to replace their head coaches.
This year, there are some exceptional opportunities awaiting the right people. Two of the best all-time programs are open: Kentucky and Arizona.
An ACC program with incredible brand new basketball facilities is open: Virginia.
And two SEC schools looking to turn around their reputations as "football schools" are open: Alabama and Georgia.
So who is going where?
This is my attempt to answer these questions for you, dear reader. I have here a clear crystal ball that will tell me exactly how all of this will play out! (If only.)
First, I see a new coach in Arizona. It's a coach you've heard of, a proven winner. It's none other than...Rick Pitino. That's right, the man who just blew out Arizona in the Big Dance is going to come back and coach them next year.
Why would he do this?
For one, Pitino doesn't like to stay in one place too long. He's been in Louisville for eight years, he was at Kentucky for eight years, and he was with the Celtics, the Providence Friars, and the Boston Terriers for shorter tenures.
Also, Pitino wants to retire in the sun. Arizona is as nice a place to retire as any...wouldn't you want to retire there?
Furthermore, Pitino loves rebuilding projects. Arizona needs some rebuilding right about now...and it's an easy place to do it. It's got a great basketball tradition, has a sunny location that recruits love, and it competes in the Pac-10.
So that could leave Louisville with an opening, yet my crystal ball only has information on current openings. Ahem.
Down the road in Lexington, I think the new UK coach will be either John Calipari or Billy Donovan. It's a high-stress job in Kentucky with lots of pressure.
Only a certain personality type can thrive on that type of pressure, and I think Calipari and Donovan (and Pitino) are the only coaches capable of it.
Billy Boy will again be the top target, and the Gators are a little down right now so it might be a good time to jump. But at the end of the day, I think Donovan realizes that he's already accomplished everything at Florida (back to back NCAA Tournament Championships) so what advantage is there in moving to Kentucky?
Just more pressure to cook you with, and I don't think any coach truly wants that.
My crystal ball sees the Cats with John Calipari. While he has accomplished much at Memphis, I think he feels his coaching resume will never be complete without winning in a "real" conference. He thrives in the spotlight and wants to be "big time" like his hero Pitino, so the Kentucky job is a good fit for him.
On to Virginia. This is an ACC program that has really struggled to find its identity since the heady 1980s and early 1990s, when they went to two Final Fours and five Elite Eights.
One little known fact is that for the entire decade of the 80s, Virginia won more ACC games than Duke—and this was the golden decade in which Coach K got established at Duke and won a record 37 games in 1985-86.
But that was then, this is now. Virginia won a regular season ACC Championship in 2007, but that has proved an aberration.
One has to go back to 1995 to find the last time that Virginia was in the Elite Eight, and 1984 to find the last time they were in the Final Four (and no, Ralph Sampson was not on that Final Four team).
Although they haven't been winning games, one thing Virginia has been doing is improving their basketball facilities. Big time. Poorly designed University Hall has been replaced with probably the Taj Mahal of college basketball: John Paul Jones Arena.
There's no corporate name on the arena because Paul Tudor Jones, a UVA alumnus and commodity-trader billionaire (worth $3.3 billion according to Forbes magazine, making him the richest booster in all of college sports) donated the bulk of the palace's $130+ million price tag and named it after his father.
Some say Dave Leitao was dropped at UVA precisely because Jones didn't want a 4-12 ACC team stinking up his father's namesake arena.
UVA doesn't want to offend the man who built them a basketball palace, so my feeling is that they'll go out and pay top dollar for a top coach.
And that coach will be Jeff Capel III, who just skunked Boeheim's team to make the Elite Eight tonight. Oklahoma is paying Capel a paltry $1 million per annum, and Virginia is reportedly willing to pay $2.5 million or more.
Capel has coached at two schools in the state of Virginia (Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth) and his father also coached Old Dominion for seven years. Those are strong ties to the area and the fact is that Capel is an ACC guy to the core.
Oklahoma can probably keep up in a bidding war with Virginia, but Capel can't be kept out in the Great Plains for long. UVA has all the resources to build a basketball program around, and Capel has all the tools to make it happen...it's a great fit.
Which brings us to Alabama. This one isn't as hard to predict, they've already made their offer to Anthony Grant, the current coach at Virginia Commonwealth. It's reportedly for $2 million when the man currently makes $700,000.
Unless Donovan leaps to Kentucky and leaves Florida open, Grant's going to be the new coach at Alabama.
That leaves Georgia. There's no news out of Athens, unlike Tuscaloosa. None at all. So what are they doing down there? No one knows.
I've read the rumors that the Dawgs are interested in Jeff Capel III but if Virginia is interested as well, there is no way that Georgia wins that battle.
Tubby Smith is a possibility. He started in Athens before he coached Kentucky, and I always got the impression he wished he had stayed there. I'd be surprised if Georgia doesn't put out some kind of enormous offer to Tubby before looking elsewhere.
But they will eventually have to look elsewhere, and your guess is as good as mine as to who they end up with. I'm going to go with Brian Gregory of Dayton, because he's built up a great record there and he deserves to move up to a major conference.
And now for one whose name is associated with nearly all of the above jobs but isn't going anywhere: Jay Wright.
Has no one told you that he is married to a former Villanova cheerleader?
When you are making the Big Dance every single year and playing in the Big East, there isn't much motivation to go anywhere else.
When you're from the Philadelphia area and you coach at Villanova, there isn't motivation to go anywhere else.
The Crystal Ball says Jay Wright is at Villanova to stay.
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