The scenario is inevitable.
One day Mike Krzyzewski will retire from Duke, Jim Boeheim will coach his last game at Syracuse and Rick Pitino will move on from Louisville.
Bill Self still has a long career ahead of him, but will it all take place at Kansas? The same question could be asked about Florida’s Billy Donovan. Then there’s John Calipari, who insists he won’t last 10 more years at Kentucky under the current one-and-done structure? Who seems best suited to handle that high-profile job if Calipari were to leave?
At some point athletic directors at some of the country’s top programs will be charged with hiring a new coach. The task will be daunting, the pressure to pick someone who can maintain a high level of success immense.
They can’t make a mistake.
Most any AD will tell you he or she has a “short list” of candidates tucked away in their drawer for the dreaded occasion. They might as well throw it away and replace it with a hard copy of this column.
Given the power, this is who I would choose as the next head coach for some of college basketball’s most coveted jobs. Again, this isn’t a prediction—only an opinion about who I think would be the best fit. But I certainly hope athletic directors are paying attention. I’ve got a good feel for these things.
And I’m a lot cheaper than a search firm.
Arizona, Tad Boyle: The Colorado coach is good friends with Wildcats AD Greg Byrne and would seem like a natural fit in Tucson. Personality-wise, Boyle would be a hit with Arizona fans. He’s one of college basketball’s most likable coaches off the court and, on it, his energy and fire can ignite a team and a crowd.
Even though Boyle hasn’t had much postseason success at Colorado (yet), he’s taken the Buffaloes to three straight NCAA tournaments. Colorado had earned just one berth in 15 years before Boyle’s arrival in 2010-11.
Duke, Brad Stevens: This one isn’t all that complicated. The first call goes to Stevens, the former Butler coach who is now with the Boston Celtics. If he’s not interested—and it’s too early in his NBA career to say if he would be—then Harvard’s Tommy Amaker is the guy.
Amaker, a Duke alum and former assistant under Krzyzewski, failed to lead Michigan to the NCAA tournament in six seasons in Ann Arbor. But what he’s done at Harvard is impressive enough to negate his past shortcomings. Harvard had never won an Ivy League title prior to Amaker’s hiring in 2007. Now they’ve won four in a row. The Crimson have also appeared in three straight NCAA tournaments after making the field just once in their history, and that was in 1946. He’d be a popular hire at Duke, but Stevens would, too.
He led Butler to two NCAA title games before moving to the NBA last summer. Stevens showed plenty of promise in his first season in Boston. If the Duke job came open tomorrow, I don’t think he’d take it. But it will be interesting to see where things stand with that situation when Krzyzewski decides to retire.
Florida, Shaka Smart: Illinois, Minnesota, UCLA, Marquette. Smart has shunned interest from some pretty high-profile programs the last three years. But he wouldn’t turn down the Gators. Nor should he. Smart was an assistant under Donovan for one season (2008-09) before taking the job at Virginia Commonwealth, where he’s led the Rams to four straight NCAA tournament appearances and a Final Four berth in 2011.
Even though he isn’t in a major conference, Smart’s postseason success has made him one of the more recognizable figures in college basketball, so his name would resonate with the elite, top-50 recruits that he’s rarely able to land at VCU.
I’m convinced Donovan will eventually leave Florida for the NBA, whether it’s this summer or next year or five years from now. And there’s nothing wrong with that. No one should be criticized for wanting to try something new, especially someone who has given so much to one school. If that happens, hiring Smart be an easy move Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley.
Indiana, Steve Alford: Some alums may push for Brad Stevens or former NBA coach Mike Woodson. But I can’t imagine a better hire than Alford, the former Hoosiers guard who led Indiana to the NCAA title in 1987 and is generally regarded as one of the best players in school history.
I think Alford is one of the more underrated coaches in America. He won four Mountain West Conference titles in his final five seasons at New Mexico, a difficult feat for which he isn’t given nearly enough credit. He averaged 25.8 wins in Albuquerque before moving on to UCLA, where Alford guided the Bruins to the Sweet 16 in his first season.
UCLA fans are warming up to Alford, whose hiring (strangely) didn’t go over all that well a year ago. He may not want to leave Westwood anytime soon, which is fine, because I don’t think Tom Crean is in immediate danger of losing his job. Nor should he be after the brilliant rebuilding job he did in Bloomington. One lackluster season can’t erase that. Still, if and when the Indiana job opens, I’d go after Alford first.
Kansas, Sean Miller: If I were an AD starting a program from scratch and could pick any coach under the age of 50 to lead my team, I’d go with Miller. He’s the total package. He recruits as well as any coach in America, his teams play a selfless brand of basketball on offense and are among the best in the country defensively, and he handles himself well in the spotlight (although no coach in America tops Bill Self in that area).
It would be tough for any coach to match Self’s success in Lawrence, where he’s won 10 straight Big 12 titles while averaging just under 30 wins per season. But Miller would come as close as anyone. He’d continue to sign the McDonald’s All-Americans and future pros that have become a staple on Kansas’ roster. And the Jayhawks, just as they are now, would remain a cohesive unit.
KU fans aren’t too fond of Miller at the moment, but that’s only because he’s won some high-profile recruiting battles against Self in recent years. But they’d warm up to him quickly if Self ever bolted to the NBA, a move I predict Self will strongly consider whenever Gregg Popovich retires in San Antonio or Scott Brooks leaves Oklahoma City.
I could also see Kansas hiring Larry Brown if Self were to depart anytime soon—especially if Self left in mid-to-late summer and KU couldn’t land someone such as Miller. Brown remains wildly popular with Jayhawks fans, and his success at SMU has answered any questions about whether Brown still “has it.” It would certainly make sense for a year or two until Kansas was ready to make a pick-of-the-litter, long-term hire.
Kentucky, Billy Donovan or Sean Miller (tie): Both would be tremendous hires. I’d probably call Donovan first, simply because he’s won two NCAA titles and has been to either the Elite Eight or the Final Four the past four seasons.
I’ve got to think he’d be the No. 1 choice of Kentucky fans. But Donovan spurned interest from the Wildcats in both 2007 and 2009, and there’s no reason to believe he’d be interested this time around. If he leaves Florida I think it’ll be for the NBA.
Miller, for all of the reasons listed above, would be a good backup plan. And here’s another name I’d consider: Tim Miles. I realize it may seem a bit far-fetched, especially at the moment. Miles has turned around programs at Colorado State and Nebraska, but Kentucky is a different beast. Miles hasn’t done enough to show he’s ready for that job—but I think he eventually will.
Again, this isn’t a hire you make now. But if Calipari were to leave in three or four years, Miles may be on the list. His personality and poise in the spotlight are perfect for this job.
Louisville, Richard Pitino: He’s only been a Division I head coach for two seasons, but Rick’s son has certainly shown promise. He led Florida International to its best record in school history (18-14) before guiding Minnesota to the 2014 NIT championship. The Gophers defeated SMU and Hall of Famer Larry Brown in the title game.
It’s easy to say that, after just two seasons, Richard Pitino isn’t ready for a high-level job like the Louisville gig. But he will be by the time his father decides to retire. And one has to think that Rick Pitino will have input when it comes to naming his successor. He could recommend Donovan, his protege. But I think he’ll lean toward his son, which would make perfect sense for Louisville.
Maryland, Chris Mack: The Xavier coach’s name pops up in searches almost every year, but he's remained committed to his alma mater. I can’t, however, see him turning down Maryland, which has no excuse not be a top-25 program every year. There are too many top-flight prospects in the Washington D.C. area, and the fanbase is too passionate for the Terrapins not to be successful.
There are plenty of reasons why Mack would be an attractive candidate. He’s been to four NCAA tournaments and two Sweet 16s at Xavier and worked as an assistant at Wake Forest under the late Skip Prosser.
Because Xavier is in Cincinnati, Mack has spent the last 10 years recruiting in Big Ten territory, which would be beneficial to Maryland as it moves into the conference this season. Tony Bennett would also be a good fit for this job, although I can’t see him leaving Virginia for a school this close in proximity.
Memphis, Gregg Marshall: I can’t think of a person better suited for this job than Marshall. Memphis is Wichita State on steroids. The FedEx Forum sells out every game, and fans appreciate the no-nonsense, gritty type of style that has come to define Marshall’s teams. It’s a blue-collar program for a blue-collar coach.
Marshall has proved to be excellent at instilling discipline and toughness in the street-tough types of players he’d be able to recruit from inner-city Memphis. And the school would be able to pay him the $3 million-plus it will take to pry him away from Wichita State. Missouri made an offer in that range in April and Marshall turned it down. But I don’t think he’d be able to say "no" to the Tigers. This is a really, really good job.
Michigan State, Tim Miles: This would be a popular hire in East Lansing, especially if Miles continues to work wonders at Nebraska. Miles gets a lot of national attention for his outgoing personality (which would be huge for this job) but any coach in the Big Ten will tell you that the man can flat-out coach.
I’m not sure this job will open anytime soon. I don’t see Tom Izzo leaving for another school, and he’s spurned interest from the NBA on multiple occasions. But if it did became available in three or four years, Miles will have established himself as a veteran on the Big Ten recruiting trail and should be able to keep Michigan State in yearly contention for the Big Ten title.
North Carolina, Gregg Marshall: A source close to Marshall told me a year ago that North Carolina was his “dream job.” He knows that part of the country well. Marshall was born in Greenwood, South Carolina, attended college at Randolph-Macon and has coached at Belmont-Abbey, College of Charleston, Marshall and Winthrop. The hire would make a lot of sense, especially considering there aren’t any members of Roy Williams’ coaching tree who would be a good fit.
Steve Robinson will likely be considered too old by the time the job opens, UAB's Jerod Haase isn’t ready and Hubert Davis doesn’t have the experience. So why not go after Marshall? Some have said his “prickly personality” has kept him from getting jobs, but I don’t believe that to be the case. I know of two BCS conference jobs he turned down during this past offseason, and his phone rang multiple times the year before.
Marshall is actually one of the most personable, down-to-earth coaches I’ve ever dealt with, and I’m confident anyone who has worked with him at Wichita State will tell you the same thing. His only fault is that he’s a bit too honest at times, but to me that’s actually refreshing. I think Marshall would handle the spotlight at North Carolina just fine, although it will be tough for any coach to match what Williams has accomplished.
Oklahoma State, Bill Self: I can’t see him taking the job, but if you’re the Cowboys, you’ve got to place a call to Self. Again. Self listened the last time his alma mater inquired about his services in 2008. I’m not sure if he was genuinely interested or if he was just doing his former school a courtesy. I guess anytime Boone Pickens calls, you answer. My guess is that Self would pick up the phone again and give the same response. Things are going too well at Kansas.
His next move, if he makes one, will be to the NBA. Still, make no mistake, the Oklahoma State gig is an excellent job, ranking behind KU and Texas in the Big 12. A lot of high-profile candidates will come forward when this position opens again. Good backup plans to Self would be Marshall and Buzz Williams.
Syracuse, Mike Hopkins: Jim Boeheim’s longtime assistant (1996-present) was a candidate for the vacancy at Charlotte in 2010 and at Oregon State last month. But it’s probably a good thing he’s still with the Orange, because he seems like the obvious choice to succeed Boeheim whenever the Hall of Famer decides to step down. Hopkins played at Syracuse from 1989-93 and is one of the main reasons for the Orange’s success on both the recruiting trail and on the court over the past two decades.
Texas, Buzz Williams - Williams left Marquette for Virginia Tech in March. If he’d have waited a few more weeks he probably would’ve been hired at Tennessee or Missouri, both of which would’ve been more desirable. Still, Williams’ long-term goal is to get back to his home state. And if the Texas job comes open anytime soon, there won’t be a better candidate than Williams.
His Southern accent and folksy demeanor would play well with the Longhorns fanbase, and his on-court energy would jolt some life into the Erwin Center, where the stoic Rick Barnes has stalked the sideline for the last 16 years.
Williams is a big personality, which would be a huge plus at any school where football is king. And even though he’s been at Marquette, his recruiting ties in Texas are strong. Some of Williams’ best players (i.e. Jimmy Butler) hailed from the Lone Star State.
The only problem is that Williams’ star could fade if he struggles at Virginia Tech, which is a real possibility considering the state of the program he inherited. He’s attractive now, but will he be in three or four years? Barring a complete meltdown in Blacksburg, I’d hire Williams no matter what.
Wisconsin, Tony Bennett: The Virginia coach was among the leading candidates for national coach of the year in 2014, and rightfully so. Bennett guided Virginia to only its second ACC title in school history and also led the Cavaliers to the conference tournament championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This week he was rewarded with a new seven-year contract.
Still, if I were hiring the successor to Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, I’d feel confident about my chances of landing Bennett. He was an assistant there under his father, Dick, from 1999-2003. Dick Bennett coached the Badgers to three NCAA tournament berths and a Final Four (2000) during his six-year tenure. Before his arrival Wisconsin had made just three NCAA tournament appearances in 97 years.
Badgers fans will always be grateful to Dick Bennett for building their program into a national power. They’d welcome his son with open arms.
Other Hoops Thoughts
- Texas A&M landed one of the most high-profile transfers of the season when it signed Houston’s Danuel House (13.6 points; 5.3 rebounds) on Monday. House, if eligible to play immediately, is a shoo-in to start on a squad that also adds high-scoring SMU transfer Jalen Jones (14 points, 7.7 rebounds in 2012-13) and top-50 recruit Alex Robinson.
- Speaking of transfers and SMU, former Xavier wing Justin Martin pledged to the Mustangs on Tuesday. The 6’6” Martin, who averaged 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds last season, has graduated and will be eligible to play immediately. SMU should be a potential top-10 team with a starting lineup that could feature Nic Moore, Emmanuel Mudiay, Martin, Markus Kennedy and Cannen Cunningham. Don’t be surprised if Texas Tech transfer Jordan Tolbert ends up redshirting.
- Media members (myself included) spent so much time talking about the standout freshmen at Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Arizona last season that we forgot about Noah Vonleh of Indiana. Most mock draft I’ve seen in recent weeks have Vonleh going No. 5 overall to the Utah Jazz.
- Darius Paul, the forward who Illinois coach John Groce suspended for the upcoming season, will play for Lamar State College in Port Arthur, Texas, this season. I watched Paul work out with John Lucas in Houston last week and he was incredibly impressive, especially from long range. Paul is supposed to rejoin the Illini in 2015-16, but I can’t help but wonder if another school will try to sign him if he has a good season.
- I can’t understand why former Iowa State point guard DeAndre Kane isn’t projected to go higher in the NBA draft. I thought he was one of the best point guards in college basketball last season. Seriously, what’s not to like? Below is a statistical comparison between Kane and Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, a projected lottery pick.
|Field Goal %||.483||.422|
|3-Point Field Goal %||39.8||29.9|
- The Seattle trip I mentioned a few weeks ago is scheduled for next weekend. Thanks to everyone for the recommendations. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, does anyone have any tips for good spots in Oakland/San Francisco or Charlottesville, Virginia? I’m visiting both cities later this month. I saw an episode of Man vs. Food that featured Tacqueria La Cumbre in San Francisco, but I didn’t have a chance to stop in on my last visit. Any good?
- I hate when I’m the steam room at 24-Hour Fitness, trying to sweat off a few extra pounds, when someone comes in and starts doing calisthenics right in front of me. I mean, the room is the size of a janitor’s closet. And there’s a 30,000 square-foot facility on the other side of the door. Can’t they find a better place to do their toe touches and stretches. That’s just bad etiquette.
- Speaking of the gym, the song “Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon makes for some great workout music. My gym playlist is pretty random, everything from Ice Cube to Alan Jackson to EPMD to Rihanna to Kanye to Kesha to Kenny Loggins to Jay Z to No Doubt to Skrillex to Public Enemy. I like everything, I guess.
- Pray for me. I’ve got three trips to Vegas scheduled during a five-week span this summer. Two are for work, one is for fun. That just isn’t healthy. Anyway ... here’s my weekly “Vegas Top Five” list:
Top Five Vegas Day Trips
*Full disclosure: Unless you count venturing across Interstate 15 for a burger at In-N-Out, I don’t take day trips in Vegas. I’m usually either recuperating in bed or in the pool at Encore Beach Club. Luckily my guy Rob Handley (@Rob_Vegas) offered to help.
1. Grand Canyon tour — You don’t really need me to explain what this is, do you?
2. Red Rock — Awesome casino and spa near the entrance of Red Rock Canyon, just minutes from the strip (I’ve actually been here)
3. Lake Mead/Hoover Dam tour — The growth of the entire Southwest can be tied directly to the electricity created by the dam. Or at least that’s what they told me when I went on the tour. I didn’t really care at the time, because I was in college and wanted to go back to the casino. Something tells me I’d find the excursion much more interesting now.
4. Zion National Park — Located about two hours from Sin City (in Utah), the park offers some of the more awe-striking views in the Southwest. If you’re into scenic photos, this is for you.
5. The Resort on Mount Charleston — Hike, ski, snowboard, swim, eat, drink, sleep, get a massage. You can do it all just 30 minutes from The Strip.
Thoughts About Restaurants/Food
*Note: I apologize for the abundance of Texas-related food posts in recent weeks. I’ll be back on the road soon.
*Dallas used to be weak when it came to hot wings. Not anymore. Finally—finally—someone in that city stepped up and started serving some good bird. I stumbled upon Wing Bucket a few weeks ago while driving down Main Street after an all-out gorge session at Pecan Lodge.
Too full to eat any more that afternoon, I went home and did some “Yelp” research and learned that Wing Bucket serves up the whole wing (drummies and flaps) just like they do at my all-time favorite spot, The Peanut in Kansas City. In other words, they’re twice the size of a traditional wing, so ordering 10 wings (which I did) is kinda like ordering 20. Anyway ... the reviews were great, so I stopped in the following afternoon.
The thing I liked most about Wing Bucket is that, unlike The Peanut (which offers just one flavor, buffalo) there are 17 sauces and rubs from which to choose. I went with Original Buffalo, Margarita Chile and Jamaica Mon, which is basically Jamaican jerk.
The wings couldn’t have been cooked any better. The skin was crispy but far from overcooked, the pieces were huge and meaty and just the right amount of sauce was applied. The folks at the counter gave me a to-go box with my order, thinking there was no way I’d finish all 20 (err.. 10) wings. But I didn’t even come close to needing it. I polished off the entire basket, along with an order of fries with lemon-pepper seasoning (incredible) and some damn good baked beans with tiny pieces of diced jalapeno.
The owner was even nice enough to let me sample a peanut butter and jelly wing. The experience reminded me of my first trip to Six Flags when I was eight years old. Initially, I was frightened as my dad picked me up and plopped me into my seat on the Judge Roy Scream roller coaster, but it ended up being one hell of a ride that I repeated over and over again for years. I’ll do the same thing with those peanut butter and jelly wings each time I visit Wing Bucket. And believe me, there will be plenty of visits.
*A bunch of you have asked me to rate my top 10 wing joints. I couldn’t hold the list to 10, so I went with 15. And before anyone in Arizona or Tennessee complains...I’ve heard there are some great places for wings in Phoenix and Memphis. I’ll get to some of them soon (hopefully).
1. The Peanut, Kansas City - Homemade blue cheese is tremendous. Try a BLT if you have extra room.
2. Wing Bucket, Dallas — I loved the WB Original Buffalo and the Jamaica Mon. Get your fries seasoned.
3. d.d. Peckers, Charlotte — Tons of flavors. Best Lemon Pepper wings I've had. Hot Gold are good, too.
4. Oscar’s, Omaha — Try the buffalo-barbecue or buffalo-teriyaki sauces. Char-buffed is an option.
5. Henry T’s, Lawrence, Kansas — Don't think too hard here. Stick with the standard sauce. Heaven.
6. Wings Cafe, Kansas City — Big wings with lots of flavors for a reasonable price. Great seasoned fries.
7. Watering Hole, Lincoln, Nebraska — Make sure to get 'em grilled. It's the only way.
8. Duff’s, Buffalo, New York — Has overtaken Anchor Bar for Buffalo's best bird.
9. Kegler's, Morgantown, West Virginia — Lots of variety here, but none better than the Seasoned Blend.
10. Sweetwater Tavern, Detroit — Unique, delicious seasoning sets these monster wings apart.
11. East Coast Wings, various locations in the Carolinas — 75 flavors of wings are .59 cents on Mondays.
12. Mac’s Sports Pub, Kansas City, Kansas — Best Spicy Garlic wings I've ever had.
13. Syberg’s, St. Louis - I'm a huge fan of their original, mustard-based sauce.
14. Wings & Things, Wichita, Kansas - Could this be the reason Gregg Marshall won't leave Wichita?
15. C.J.’s, Columbia, Missouri - So underrated. Could easily be in the Top 10.
Until next week ...
Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR