Last week Marc Stein ruffled feathers when he said the Rockets were “intrigued” by Kansas coach Bill Self and Texas coach Shaka Smart.
Can't speak to the NBA aspirations of either one, but sources say two college coaches who intrigue the Rockets are Shaka Smart and Bill Self
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 5, 2016Advertisement
Stein quickly backtracked and stressed that the Rockets were targeting veteran NBA coaches first.
Yet sources stress Houston, while certain to talk to a wide array of candidates, is focused on proven NBA head coaches and rising assistants
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 5, 2016
Still, it’s a sign of massive respect to the Texas coach that he’s being tossed into NBA job rumors. How he handles rumors from now until he either loses the career momentum to be a potential NBA coaching candidate or until he actually takes a NBA job is very important. The other college coach linked to the Rockets’ job has done a very good job recruiting in-spite of annual NBA rumors linked to him.
In fact, Bill Self’s name pops up so often that the Lawrence Journal-World made a list of potential Self replacements.
Could Shaka Smart leave Austin after one season?
Smart wants to build something at Texas that can rival Self’s Jayhawks or the success that Lon Kruger has had at Oklahoma. Or take any successful program out there, Smart wants to take Texas to the promised land. He also has a strong relationship with Billy Donovan, the former Florida coach who is now in the NBA, and Smart coached under Donovan at Florida. Donovan and Smart’s careers are starting to mirror each other, although Smart has had more early on than Donovan, who found success at Marshall before heading to Gainesville.
Donovan was at Florida for nearly two decades and won two national championships before he left, so if Smart continues on this “Donovan track” Texas fans won’t have to worry about him leaving for years.
But stranger things have happened and athletic directors need to be ready when their coach leaves. That’s multiplied by about a billion at Texas, and one could argue that Texas hasn’t always been prepared at the start of a coaching search, which is natural considering former football coach Mack Brown and former basketball coach Rick Barnes were on campus for the better part of two decades.
So what if Shaka Smart left? Well, we have a list we’ll keep in the drawer handy and give it to whomever the athletics director is at the time.
Over the next few days, we’ll release our list of the top coaches we’d put on our interview list if Shaka Smart and Charlie Strong left today.
Some factors for our list:
A. These coaches need to be successful in competition as well as recruiting. They go hand-in-hand. Mack Brown and Rick Barnes were some of the the best recruiters in the nation during their prime runs at Texas.
B. They need to say “yes.” Texas has learned its lesson during the “Saban” catcalls by fans. It’s embarrassing when a coach tells a program like Texas “no.” And while we’re sure many fan-lists would have Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self at the top or Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, we’re targeting coaches we believe would go all Stone Cold Steve Austin and give us a big “hell, yeah” then stun his old school’s athletics director and #letsride (wait, can I use this?) to Austin when we offer them the job. That’s who we want. We want them to join Texas for life so we don’t have to keep this list in the drawer.
C. They need to be someone “NCAA clean.” Texas just went through an investigation and they don’t want to hire a guy with slime. Yes, they’d consider a coach with some dings, but they’d have to get turned down quite a bit to get to that point.
D. Coaching pedigree maters. Texas shouldn’t eliminate a coach just because he’s currently an assistant. Coach K’s top assistant probably has more head coaching chops than most mid-major coaches. Also, if a coach spent years working under Rick Pitino, Coach K, Roy Williams, John Calipari, Bill Self or other legends like Dean Smith and Lute Olsen, it should matter.
Here’s our list of coaches we’d contact if Shaka Smart left today:
10. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Williams was rumored to be a Texas option a little more than a year ago before the Longhorns hired Smart. Williams didn’t reach the NCAA tournament last season with the Hokies in his second season, but went from 11-22 in year one to 20-15 in year two. We knock Williams down to 10 because he hasn’t qualified for the tournament since 2013, when he took Marquette to the Elite Eight, and he’s not recruiting at a high clip (it’s Virginia Tech, so does that matter?) having landed the 121st-ranked class in 2016.
However, with Virginia Tech on the verge of possibly breaking through in the nation’s best basketball conference, we rank him 10th because we’re not sure if the Texas-native Williams would say “yes” at this point and time.
9. Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette
In two seasons “Wojo” has gone 33-32 at Marquette. The No. 10 coach on this list left Marquette just as a run of talent was wrapping up. In Williams’ final two years Marquette went from 26-9 to 17-15. Wojciechowski’s first season at Marquette, after spending 15 years as a Duke assistant, was a struggle and he went 13-19. He didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his second season, but had a seven-game improvement and went 20-13. This offseason he landed six recruits, three 4-star players, that make up the 16th best recruiting class in the nation, or in others words, one behind Texas.
Texas overlooking his lack of tournament appearances and ho-hum career record is why he’s not higher on this list. But “Wojo” checks every other box on our drawer list and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’d be No. 1 on this list by the end of next season, as Marquette should be pretty talented next season.
8. Larry Krystowiak, Utah
Krystowiak would be higher on the list if we were sure he’d say yes. The Montana native seems to have hit a groove the last two seasons at Utah and have got the Utes looking more and more like the Rick Majerus powerhouse program of the late 1990s. If Utah was still in the WAC or Mountain West Conference, this would be a no-brainer for Krystowiak: take the Texas job. But since Utah is in a major conference and has a strong basketball history and has been to the last two NCAA tournaments, it’s tough seeing him leaving. He’s a good coach, but Texas is unlikely to get in a bidding war for a coach who has made one Sweet 16 appearance.
Krystowiak, though, would be a good fit at Texas. He preaches defense first, like Kansas’ Self and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, and has coached in the NBA, like Oklahoma’s Kruger. He also isn’t bad a recruiter, reeling in the 38th-best recruiting class this season.
7. Jeff Capel, Duke assistant coach
People forget that Capel once led Oklahoma to the Elite Eight and recruited Blake Griffin to the Sooners. He also was the guy who built the VCU program that Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart took to next levels. Capel ran into NCAA troubles at Oklahoma and fans turned on him by the end of his five-year run. Instead of hiding in a corner, Capel was instantly brought back to Duke, where he played college basketball. He was recently named the top recruiter in the nation, and has helped Duke land two of the top recruiting class in the nation over the last three years. He is the associate head coach at Duke, meaning he’s the top assistant coach for college basketball’s best program.
Aside from overlooking the fact he used to coach the Sooners and had 13 wins vacated in 2009-10 , Capel would be a home-run hire for Texas. He checks all the boxes. Yes, he has failed but likely learned from those mistakes at Oklahoma and has 161 career head coaching wins.
6. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Bennett would be No. 1 on this list if we knew he’d leave Virginia today. However, he just led the Cavaliers to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, has won two ACC championships the last three years and seems to be pretty comfortable In Charlottesville. He has won 165 games at Virginia and is gaining momentum on the “best coaches to never reach the Final Four” list. He preaches defense first and has won 234 games in stops at Virginia and Washington State.
Texas would likely have to offer Bennett one of the largest head coaching contracts in college basketball to pry him away from a top-three ACC job and then have to wait for Bennett to get a contract extension offer from Virginia before he even made a pro-and-con list for leaving and taking the Longhorn job. Then Texas would have to hope that Greg Gard at Wisconsin can continue Bo Ryan’s success, because Bennett’s ties to Wisconsin run deep, and its the only job that we can realistically see him leaving Virginia for.
5. Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA
If Kevin Durant leaves Oklahoma City, Donovan would likely keep an eye on the college basketball carousel. He ranks on the middle of this list because it’s unlikely he would leave the Thunder after one season and after flirting with NBA jobs for years when he was at Florida. But it wasn’t a clear and easy path for him this year in Oklahoma. He’s been criticized for his coaching acumen, something may have gotten you thrown in jail in Gainesville when he was there. If Durant leaves, it makes a lot of sense that Donovan would be eager to return to college.
Texas is the perfect job him and he is the perfect coach for Texas. He spent two decades at Florida, a football school, and won two national championships and was a standout recruiter. He’s a future member of the basketball Hall of Fame, and will probably will join that hall sometime in the next two or three years. He checks every box and would be the most accomplished coach the university has hired since baseball hired Augie Garrido.
4. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Again, he’d be near the top of the list if we knew he’d leave Wichita State. Maybe he’s getting closer to doing so. He seriously considered Alabama last year before telling them no and getting a contract extension from the Shockers. The guy took a team from Wichita to the Final Four and went undefeated during the regular season a few years ago. He has been brazen enough to call Kansas’ basketball program the “Chickenhawks” and then beat Kansas in the tournament!
Disregard any talk about his recruiting. He’s recruited enough talent at Wichita State to win 228 games in nine years. Have you been to Wichita (the city this writer was born in)? An exciting and thrilling night in Wichita involves a six-pack of Code Red Mountain Dew and a board game. If Marshall is waiting for a marquee job, Texas would be it, and that’s exactly what Shaka Smart thought when he left a similar situation at VCU.
3. Fred Hoiberg, Chicago Bulls, NBA
Have you read reports coming from Chicago? Have you seen how much of a trainwreck that organization has become and probably always was? They’re going to trade Jimmy Butler? They’re going to shop Derrick Rose? Pau Gasol is not going to be there next season? Who wants that job?
Who likes going from the center attention and a hero that Hoiberg was at Iowa State to scapegoat he’s kind of being pegged as with the Bulls? Hoiberg’s run at Iowa State resulted in 115 wins in five seasons. He reached the tournament four times in five years. You want excitement? Hoiberg’s style is all excitement. You want to play fast, that’s what Hoiberg does.
He beat Kansas twice his final year at Ames. Hoiberg checks all the boxes and is moving closer and closer to being No. 1 on this list. His failure in the NBA doesn’t impact his college coaching credibility. If anything, he’ll be able to recruit at an all-time clip, like Calipari does these days.
2. Dana Altman, Oregon
That list we wrote about earlier, the “best coach to never reach the final four,” Altman is probably right behind Arizona’s Sean Miller on that list, if not at the top of that list. Altman has 564 head coaching victories. He’s taken Kansas State, Crieghton and Oregon to the NCAA Tournament. He led Oregon to the PAC-12 regular season and tournament championship this March. He led the Ducks to the Elite Eight a few weeks later as a No. 1 seed. Seven times he’s been named his conference’s Coach of the Year.
With Midwest roots, Altman would be an ultimate Texas fit. Would Oregon try to keep him? Yes. But Texas probably wouldn’t mind getting in a bidding war with Oregon for this coach.
- Tommy Amaker, Harvard
The job Amaker has done at Harvard, in the Ivy League, has been one of the best coaching performances of the last decade. Amaker led Harvard to a top-25 ranking one week in 2011, won five consecutive league titles from 2011-2015 and, remarkably, just landed the No.22-ranked recruiting class of 2016. His recruiting class at Harvard just beat eight Big 12 team’s classes.
Amaker makes so much sense. Yes, when Amaker was at Michigan he went 108-84 in six seasons. But much of that time was spent when Michigan had a lack of scholarships and was reeling from the Fab Five era scandal. In 2004, he won the NIT Championship and was an NIT runner-up in 2006. He was let go because he never made the NCAA tournament at Michigan, but that was hardly a perfect situation. Amaker has bounced back as well as any coach could in a situation where to win in the Ivy League you have to coach, you just can’t recruit loads of talent and roll the basketball on the court and go.
Amaker checks every box on our list. He’s won a lot. He’s won a lot in less than ideal situations. He’s avoided NCAA troubles and probably knows more about handling academics and basketball better than coach in the nation,considering he played at Duke and coached at Seton Hall, Michigan and Harvard. His pedigree is as good as they come, having played under and served as an assistant under the winningest coach in college basketball history, Coach K.
All this, and Amaker is probably less expensive than Bennett, Donovan, Altman and Marshall.