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Texas-Sized College Basketball Coaching Carousel Kicking into High Gear

Jason King@@JasonKingBRSenior Writer, B/R MagMarch 30, 2015

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As exciting as the NCAA men's basketball tournament has been thus far, the drama unfolding off the court has been equally intriguing.

Of the head-coaching vacancies, there are four in major conferences: Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Arizona State.

Here's an analysis of each job and, of course, a list of potential candidates.

Texas

Former coach: Rick Barnes

Analysis: Make no mistake, this is among the top 10 jobs in the nation. Personally, I'd rank it behind only Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana.

Nowhere is high school basketball as good as it is in Texas, which produces more Division I players than any state. Many of those prospects want to stay close to home. Mix in the appeal of living in Austin (one of the nation's most attractive cities) and the opportunity to compete in the Big 12, and the school basically recruits itself. There is no excuse not to win at a high level at Texas, which has produced stars such as Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Mihm, Tristan Thompson, D.J. Augustin and others.

As with all jobs, Texas has its drawbacks, and the main one is that fans are too consumed with football to give a hoot about hoops. While that may be true to an extent, it certainly isn't entirely the case. Texas averaged 14,629 fans at the Erwin Center just five years ago. And even this season, when the Longhorns fell out of the polls after being ranked as high as No. 6, an average of 11,249 fans showed up for home games. So it's not as if the arena is half-empty.

There's no reason to believe those numbers can't increase significantly, and soon.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

After 17 seasons, fans grew tired and frustrated with Barnes, who underachieved in recent years after a lengthy stint in which he was regarded as one of the nation's best coaches. The Longhorns haven't reached the Sweet 16 since 2008. A new coach with a little charisma, both on and off the court, should rejuvenate Texas' fanbase, especially if his team plays an exciting, fun-to-watch brand of basketball.

Bottom line: Football will always be king in Austin, but basketball is important, too. If it wasn't, the school wouldn't be planning to construct a new $70 million arena. The positives of this job far outweigh the negatives.

Candidates

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State:  Second-year Texas athletic director Steve Patterson is an extremely private person who keeps a tight circle. Few people, if any, know what he's thinking when it comes to this hire. But common sense says that Marshall has to be the overwhelming favorite to be the Longhorns' next head coach.

Marshall guided Wichita State to the Final Four in 2013, a 35-1 record the following year and a convincing win over Kansas this month that propelled the Shockers to the Sweet 16.

Simply put, over the past three years, Marshall has arguably been the best coach in college basketball. Now Texas has the chance to hire him, and sources close to Marshall say he covets the job and would likely accept an offer if the money (at least $3 million per year) was right and there were no other hang-ups.

In many ways, Marshall is the polar opposite of the stoic Barnes. He's incredibly tough and demanding with his players in practice and won't accept lackluster effort, especially on the defensive end of the court. As much as they probably despise him at times during workouts, it's clear Marshall's players respect him because they play hard for him, and they do it for 40 minutes. 

All of it results in an intense brand of basketball that's invigorating to watch.

Some question whether Marshall's intense practices and tough-love approach would work in Austin, mainly because he'd be coaching much more talented, McDonald's All-American-type players who have been coddled and spoiled their whole lives—quite a change from the blue-collar players he has at Wichita State. But remember, Bill Self, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino and other high-level coaches use the same motivational tactics as Marshall, and they're doing it with elite players. Obviously, it can work.

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 22:  Head coach Gregg Marshall of the Wichita State Shockers celebrates after defeating the Kansas Jayhawks in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the CenturyLink Center on March 22, 2015 in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Off the court, Marshall is extremely candid with the press, almost to a fault. He's made comments in the past that have led some to label him as prickly and difficult to deal with. Most of those tags, though, come from people who don't know Marshall and are judging him from afar. Anyone who has worked for or with Marshall at Wichita State dotes on his loyalty and his kindness, praising him for being a strong "family man."

Marshall is also quite engaging with the public, opening up the Wichita State locker room to fans after games or returning to the court to socialize with strangers in the stands. He's extremely popular and respected by the media who cover him regularly. That type of persona would be vital for a school looking to raise money for a new arena.

Marshall's recruiting ties in Texas aren't comparable to those of Buzz Williams or John Lucas. But again, tons of prospects in the state want to go to Texas. It doesn't matter who the coach is as long as he's successful.

That's not to say Marshall wouldn't have to grind on the recruiting trail. And losing top assistants Chris Jans (now the Bowling Green head coach) and Steve Forbes (now at East Tennessee State) isn't ideal. But Marshall still has an excellent recruiter on his staff in Greg Heiar, and assistant Isaac Brown is a rising star. Marshall would surely be able to fill any other vacant positions with top-notch people.

Even though he's rubbed some folks in Austin the wrong way with his aloof nature, Patterson would probably be a good athletic director for Marshall simply because he'd stay out of the way. Marshall likes to coach his team and run his program without any interference or advice from administrators, and Patterson would probably let him operate in that fashion.

Marshall turned down a $3 million offer from Missouri last season and also spurned interest for Cal and Tennessee. Texas is a different beast. The guess here is that he'd take the Texas job without even blinking. But it has to be offered to him first.

Shaka Smart, VCU:  Smart's name comes up in coaching searches year after year, and rightfully so. Starting with an appearance in the 2011 Final Four, the former Billy Donovan assistant has consistently rolled out some of the most exciting teams in college basketball. The Rams' full-court, HAVOC defense is a nightmare for opponents and a delight for fans.

Smart has rejected numerous overtures from schools such as Illinois and Minnesota and Tennessee in recent years, but much like Marshall, he realizes Texas is one of the top jobs in the country.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 16:  Head coach Shaka Smart of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams looks on from the bench in the first half against the Saint Joseph's Hawks during the Championship game of the 2014 Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Cent
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

But is Smart a good fit for the Longhorns?

My instincts say no. Smart's recruiting ties in Texas don't compare to those of others on this list. That could be a huge factor in a state where he'd have to go against elite recruiters Scott Drew (Baylor head coach), Rick Stansbury (Texas A&M assistant) and Hall of Famer Larry Brown at SMU. The staffs at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State also depend heavily on Texas for talent.

As successful as he's been, Smart has made a name for himself using a niche style of play that might not be ideal for Texas. Longhorns fans will expect their new coach to pursue elite, top-50 recruits, and players of that ilk may not want to adjust to Smart's style. Also, the coaching in the Big 12 is so strong that opponents would eventually adapt to Smart's HAVOC defense, which could make it tough to compete for league championships.

Smart is an excellent coach, but he'd be a better fit at Florida if Donovan leaves for the NBA, which some think could happen sooner rather than later.

Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech: Williams may have been the leading candidate if he'd have stayed at Marquette for one more season instead of bolting for Blacksburg a year ago. With a 2-16 record in his first year in the ACC, Williams' star has faded a bit, at least in the public eye. Anyone with perspective, though, should realize he'd be an excellent fit for this job.

A native Texan, Williams is as folksy and good-natured as they come, a personality that would play well with the Longhorns' fanbase and boosters. He's also maintained his recruiting ties in the Lone Star State, which he mined heavily during his days at Marquette. He reached the Sweet 16 twice (2011, 2012) and the Elite Eight (2013) during his time with the Golden Eagles.

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 10:  Head coach Buzz Williams of the Virginia Tech Hokies  directs his team against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during a first round game of the ACC basketball tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 10, 2015 in Greensboro, Nor
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

However, Williams may not feel right about leaving Virginia Tech after one season, and Texas would be forced to pay Virginia Tech an approximately $3 million buyout if it hired Williams. That, more than anything, may be the biggest drawback. Still, Williams would be worth the extra coin. If the Longhorns don't land Marshall, they need to look at Williams, whose energetic sideline demeanor and snazzy suits would wake up the often sleepy, disinterested crowds at the Erwin Center.

John Lucas, former NBA coach:  Every coaching search needs a dark horse, although there are plenty of reasons why Lucas-to-Texas makes sense. Lucas has a history with Patterson, whose father, Ray, selected Lucas with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1976 draft when the elder Patterson was the general manager with the Houston Rockets. Lucas had three stints with the Rockets during his 14-year career, the final of which occurred in 1989-90 when Steve Patterson had become a part of the administrative staff. Sources said Lucas and Steve Patterson remain close.

Also, as the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs in the early 1990s, Lucas developed a close relationship with then-team owner and prominent Texas booster Red McCombs.

Aside from all that, the main reason Lucas may spark the interest of Texas officials is his ties to grassroots basketball. Lucas is one of the most sought-after speakers and instructors in America and runs camps throughout the country. He's a lead counselor at the LeBron James Skills Academy and also the NBA Top 100 camp. There isn't an elite player in the nation who hasn't at least heard of John Lucas, and most have close relationships with him.

Also important is that Lucas, who is based in Houston, is particularly close with coaches and players in Texas. Many of the state's top prospects travel from all over to work out with Lucas in "The Lab," the nickname for his Houston-based gym.

Current college stars such as Duke's Justise Winslow, Kansas' Kelly Oubre, North Carolina's Justin Jackson and Kentucky's Aaron and Andrew Harrison trained under Lucas. So did Texas center and Big 12 Freshman of the Year Myles Turner, who may bypass the NBA draft—he's expected to be a lottery pick—to play for Lucas at Texas.

There's also a belief that, should he get the job, Lucas would be able to lure elite 7'0" prospect Thon Maker to Austin. Maker, who doesn't currently have Texas on his shortlist, tweeted out his endorsement of Lucas over the weekend. Two sources have told B/R that Lucas is extremely interested in the job.

Alabama

Former coach: Anthony Grant

Candidates: Gregg Marshall (Wichita State), Buzz Williams, (Virginia Tech), Larry Eustachy (Colorado State), Steve Prohm (Murray State), Andy Kennedy (Ole Miss), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), Michael White (Louisiana Tech)

Steve Prohm at Murray State has drawn the interest of some around the Alabama program.
Steve Prohm at Murray State has drawn the interest of some around the Alabama program.Stephen Lance Dennee/Associated Press

Analysis: The Crimson Tide are reportedly prepared to offer Marshall in the neighborhood of $4 million per season, and the coach has said publicly that he'd listen. But an offer from Alabama won't trump one from Texas, even if the Longhorns' offer is for less money. At the very least, Alabama could be a good second option for Marshall if things at Texas fall through.

Multiple media outlets reported Monday that Alabama athletic director Bill Battle flew to Wichita to meet with Marshall, who isn't the only high-profile coach on the Crimson Tide's radar.

Buzz Williams has also been contacted, sources close to the search said. His interest level is unclear, but Williams certainly seems like the ideal fit at Alabama, or any school in the south, for that matter. People are drawn to Williams and would no doubt be excited about the hire, and the energy level with which his teams play would put butts in the seats.

A faction of Crimson Tide fans are pulling for Prohm, an Alabama graduate who is 104-29 in four seasons at Murray State. Prohm may not be a splashy hire, but giving the gig to an alum who considers it a dream job might not be a bad way to go.

Larry Eustachy
Larry EustachyOtto Kitsinger/Associated Press

Eustachy enjoyed wild success at Iowa State before alcohol issues cost him his job more than a decade ago. Even though he sobered up within a year, went to rehab and hasn't had a drink since, there are still rumblings that schools are scared off by Eustachy's "baggage." That's ridiculous. Those issues are clearly in his past. Eustachy has done wonders since returning to the court, first at Southern Miss and now at Colorado State, and hasn't had any off-court dustups. He wins wherever he goes.

Two sources have told B/R the Crimson Tide are intrigued by Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, which is so baffling that I almost don't believe it. The fact that a school would hire a coach who has been to two NCAA tournaments in nine seasons despite having above-average talent probably illustrates why it's in this position in the first place.

Underwood won more games in his first two years at Stephen F. Austin than any coach in college basketball history. He's in line for a job somewhere—if not at Alabama, then maybe at Wichita State if Marshall leaves.

Louisiana Tech's Michael White has won 27 or more games in each of the past three seasons. He's an Ole Miss alum who has long been viewed as a potential successor to Kennedy if the Rebels ever grow tired of mediocrity. Apparently, though, that's not going to happen. White interviewed at Tennessee last season but turned the job down when the Vols low-balled him. A third straight season in the NIT for Louisiana Tech will undoubtedly prompt White to test the coaching waters once more. Alabama could do a lot worse.

Arizona State

Former coach: Herb Sendek

Candidates: Jeff Capel (Duke assistant), Steve Lavin (recently fired from St. John's), Josh Pastner (Memphis), Trent Johnson (TCU), Bryce Drew (Valparaiso)

Analysis: This is a tough job. Competing against in-state power Arizona and ace recruiter Sean Miller for prospects is an unenviable task. Sure, the Sun Devils can mine California for players, but they would also be going against UCLA, USC, Stanford, Cal, Saint Mary's and, again, Arizona. The facilities are subpar, and the fanbase is checked out.

Arizona State has hit the occasional jackpot with players such as Ike Diogu, James Harden and Jahii Carson. Still, the Sun Devils have been to the NCAA tournament just three times since 1995, which was the last time they advanced to the Sweet 16.

Former coach Herb Sendek has long been regarded as a top-flight X's and O's tactician, but his reserved, introverted nature did nothing to evoke passion and excitement among fans and couldn't have played well on the recruiting trail. Thus, it seems as if the Sun Devils need a high-energy coach who thrives both in the public eye and in the living rooms of high school prospects.

Memphis' Josh Pastner is considered one of the top recruiters in college basketball.
Memphis' Josh Pastner is considered one of the top recruiters in college basketball.Gary Landers/Associated Press

No one matches that description as well as Pastner.

The man who took over for John Calipari at Memphis at age 31 is regarded as one of the top recruiters in all of college basketball. He knows the region as well as anyone, having played at Arizona before serving on the Wildcats' staff. And his engaging, upbeat personality would certainly rekindle some excitement among the fanbase. Pastner has made tremendous on-court strides in his first six years as a head coach. Arizona State is a much better fit for him than Memphis.

Apparently folks in Tempe don't share my opinion, as Pastner isn't believed to have been contacted by Arizona State officials. At least not yet.

Instead, almost immediately after Sendek was fired, reports surfaced that Duke assistant Jeff Capel was the leading candidate to replace him. ESPN.com went as far as to report on March 24 that Capel had been offered the job.

Much like Pastner, Capel is a relentless recruiter who is partly responsible for bringing standouts such as Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Jabari Parker to this year's Duke team.

But as a head coach, he's had mixed success. Capel was the head coach at Oklahoma from 2006-11, a stint that was highlighted by a 30-6 season in 2008-09, when Blake Griffin led the Sooners to the Elite Eight. But without Griffin, Oklahoma finished with a losing record the next two seasons, and Capel was fired.

His career at Oklahoma is remembered as a disappointment, which is why it's a bit surprising that Arizona State would make him its No. 1 candidate, especially considering his minimal recruiting ties in the West.

Steve Lavin, who was fired last week by St. John's, is reportedly also in the mix. Lavin grossly underachieved with talented Red Storm rosters. His teams made the NCAA tournament twice in five seasons but never won a game. Lavin was criticized heavily for not developing relationships with high school coaches in Queens, which led some to believe he wasn't working hard enough. Turning around Arizona State's bumbling program is a mammoth task that can only be achieved by a grinder.

Trent Johnson of TCU.
Trent Johnson of TCU.David Purdy/Getty Images

TCU's Trent Johnson knows the West well after spending four years at Stanford, where he led the Cardinal to the 2008 Sweet 16. But Johnson's TCU squad is showing marked improvement, having won 18 games this season after winning just nine the year before.

The problem with Johnson is that he's too much like Sendek—dry and stoic and emotionless in public. Arizona State needs the exact opposite in its next head coach. If Johnson somehow ended up in Tempe, look for Pastner to be in the mix to replace him at TCU.

Another possibility could be Bryce Drew, who went 28-6 at Valparaiso this season while winning the Horizon League title for the third time in four years. Drew was offered the Mississippi State job three years ago and turned it down. There's a chance he'll be in the mix at Tennessee, too.

Tennessee

Former coach: Donnie Tyndall

Candidates: Rick Barnes (recently fired from Texas), Chris Holtmann (Butler), Richard Pitino Jr. (Minnesota), Steve Prohm (Murray State), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), Michael White (Louisiana Tech), Bryce Drew (Valparaiso)

Analysis: Vols athletic director Dave Hart is under a ton of pressure to make a good hire after his embarrassing whiff on Tyndall, who was fired after one season amid an NCAA investigation into alleged improprieties at his former school, Southern Miss.

It's hard to understand why the Vols have had such a tough time hiring a proven, high-achieving coach since firing Bruce Pearl in 2011. Fans are itching for a good team again and have demonstrated in the past that they'll support a winner. There are plenty of recruits in the region from which to choose, and the SEC, because of its current state of mediocrity, is a league where you can win relatively fast—if you're a good coach.

Rick Barnes certainly is.

Barnes, who was fired Sunday after 17 years at Texas, is the most intriguing name linked to this job. His wife, Candy, is a Tennessee grad, and Barnes grew up a few hours away in Hickory, North Carolina. And a coach who boasts a Final Four appearance (in 2003) and more than 600 career victories seems like a no-brainer, especially considering Barnes, 60, appears to be interested in the job.

Asked at his press conference Sunday if he planned to coach again, Barnes smiled. "Yeah, probably quicker than you think," he said, per Matt Slovin of The Tennessean.

As good as Barnes was during the peak of his career, there's a feeling that he may have become a bit complacent in recent years. He doesn't spend as much time on the recruiting trail as he has in the past, and on the practice court, he appears to have lost an edge.

For those reasons, it's fair to question whether Barnes would be the right hire. It's not like he'd be walking into a healthy program with a lot of returning players who would make things easier on him. This is a rebuilding situation that may be better suited for a younger, hungrier coach.

Chris Holtmann went 23-11 in his first season coaching the Butler Bulldogs.
Chris Holtmann went 23-11 in his first season coaching the Butler Bulldogs.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

One such coach could be Holtmann, who just completed his first season at Butler by beating Texas in the NCAA tournament before falling in overtime to Notre Dame. The Tennessean reported last week that Vols officials contacted Holtmann and had a preliminary discussion with him about the job.

Holtmann may see this as a prime opportunity to cash in while his name is hot. He may also not feel the same type of pull to stay at Butler others (i.e. Brad Stevens) felt in the past, simply because he’s only been there for two seasons and had no prior history with the school.

An easy answer would be to hire Prohm from Murray State before Alabama scoops him up. Or perhaps the Vols should go with Stephen F. Austin's Underwood, who will certainly be a candidate at Wichita State if Marshall indeed leaves.

A source told B/R late last week that Minnesota's Pitino Jr. is interested in the job and that his father is pushing him to pursue it. Pitino Jr.'s star has faded just a bit after winning the NIT last year and finishing 18-13 this season.

Louisiana Tech's White turned down the Vols last season because they didn't offer him a good financial package. Would Tennessee go back to him again with more money—and would White even listen? Valparaiso's Drew also deserves consideration after winning the Horizon League three times in four years.

And finally, Rick Byrd (Belmont) and Will Wade (Chattanooga) are local success stories—Belmont has played in seven of the last 10 NCAA tournaments—a crowd would rally around.

Jason King covers college sports for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.

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