New Coach in Town: Arizona's Coaching Search Almost Over
October: Lute Olson retires, Russ Pennell is named the interim head coach
November: Michigan State's Tom Izzo, through the typical back door channels, tells friends of friends of colleagues, who happen to be of mutual acquaintance with Jim Livengood, that he might be interested in learning a little bit more about the open Arizona Head coaching position.
December: Jim Livengood begins his search, speaks with C.M. Newton at the U of A vs. Kansas game up in Phoenix. As we all know, Livengood has never been a plan B guy in his coaching searches. He knows who he wants and goes after only them. Reggie Theus announces his interest in the coaching vacancy. Livengood doesn't listen.
January: Rick Pitino's name starts coming up in small sections of possible coaching replacements. From the Doc Randi intel, it is at this point that his interest begins heating up like an Arizona summer.
February: Rick Pitino rumors spiral up to the top. It appears that he is fast becoming the top target. Despite Arizona's seven-game win streak, Russ Pennel is not being considered at all for the job, and won't be.
March: Livengood's list is two candidates long—Pitino and John Calipari, both of whom are in the Sweet 16. Calipari's Memphis team loses its Sweet 16 matchup and is overheard saying that Arizona gave him a blank check. Again, the Doc Randi intel says that Calipari and Livengood were approaching an understanding on details.
March 27: Kentucky fires coach Billy Gillespie. Arizona fans take a heaving gulp knowing that there was competition for top coaches, then gets taken apart by Pitino.
March 30: My cell phone is dinging off the hook. First, Pitino is almost locked up. Ten minutes later I get a text saying Pitino has cooled significantly. John Calipari is the leading candidate for the new Kentucky opening for a ridiculous sum of money. With their contract offer on the table, it seems Kentucky killed Arizona's top two choices by chasing Cal with a truckload of money.
March 31: I receive the following texts:
6:30 PM - "My buddy just called and told me he thinks we'll have a coach (no specifics) in the next 24-48 hours."
10:30 PM - "Press Conference sometime between tomorrow afternoon and Friday morning. Izzo out, Pitino less than five percent chance."
10:35 PM - "FWIW (for what it's worth) I'm hearing it's either (Gonzaga's Mark) Few or (Oklahoma's Jeff) Capel...no strong evidence though, just general feelings....supposedly (Jim Livengood) was in El Paso meeting with Capel yesterday morning."
April 1: "Add Bruce Pearl to the list, we are looking at a top three of Capel, Few, and Pearl at this moment. The deal is done and the coach is in town."
With the announcement that Calipari will take over this afternoon in Kentucky, I don't see Livengood holding his presser today. So Cats fans, in my estimation, you will go to bed tonight without knowing for sure who the next Arizona Head Coach is. There is always the possibility that a name could leak before or after the Calipari presser, but chances of a formal announcement today is unlikely.
Capel is coming out of left field here (which for those of you who watch My Boys learned to true definition of last night), but Bruce Pearl and Mark Few were on my original list of believed candidates from October.
Mark Few has been my top choice since day one. He won't require a huge price tag. If he can recruit to Spokane, he can recruit to Tucson, he will still have access to all of his pipelines he's been using for recruiting. He's young, he's helped maintain the Gonzaga program that came out of nowhere in the late '90s.
We know that there might be some interest there based on his comments (following the loss to Arizona) on Dec. 21 about shoveling snow for six hours upon his return to Washington from the 60+ degree December days he'd spent in Arizona.
Fans who want to continue to hold out hope for Pitino can do as they please, but it sounds like January and February was the time to get Pitino to sign a contract (which wasn't possible) because he was considering it then, but the Calipari signing might have done just enough to keep Pitino out of Livengood's reach.
So Tucsonites, with Doc Randi telling us that the next coach is in town, keep an eye out for Few, Pearl, Capel, or whomever else you think might be taking over the house that Lute built. Those of you working at hotels, airports, rental car agencies, and restaurants, keep those cell phones at the ready.
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