Here's Friday's Dear Gary ...
Dear Gary: How about a list of coaches or your views on who Arizona may consider to replace Lute Olson? ... I think Tennessee's Bruce Pearl would be a good candidate (after he buys a suit).
A Kentucky fan trying to get Pearl out of the SEC East, huh?
You sneaky devil you.
Seriously, what Pearl has done at Tennessee in three seasons is remarkable, so you'll get no argument from me about whether he'd be good at Arizona. But as I said minutes after Thursday's news came down, the two obvious top candidates to replace Olson on a permanent basis should be Gonzaga's Mark Few and Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon.
Would either come right now?
No, not at this minute.
Both have Final Four-caliber teams and neither would relocate less than two weeks before Arizona's first exhibition. So what that means is that the Wildcats will likely use an interim this season (it'll be assistant Russ Pennell, according to a source) and then conduct a national search that should start and stop with Few or Dixon.
You want some other possibilities?
VCU's Anthony Grant would be intriguing, as would Washington State's Tony Bennett. And if athletic director Jim Livengood wanted to "keep it in the family" he could tab former Arizona player and assistant Josh Pastner, who is now at Memphis. Obviously, Pastner is only 31 and without head coaching experience. But if you think he's going to be good (and just about everybody does) then why not go for it if you are compelled to move quickly and strongly?
I mean, Billy Donovan was 28 when he got his first head coaching gig.
John Calipari was 29.
Those two have done OK, haven't they?
But again, I'm just throwing out Grant, Bennett and Pastner as back-up plans, because the first two options should be Few and Dixon. Both are experienced and proven winners with west-coast ties (Few has been in the WCC forever and is from Oregon; Dixon is from the Los Angeles-area and assisted Ben Howland at Northern Arizona in the mid-1990s) and still young enough (Few is 45, Dixon 42) to where it's reasonable to think they'll be going strong for at least another 15 years. And, yes, I honestly believe one of them (if not both) would accept an offer after this season under certain circumstances because they will both be facing revamped rosters in 2009-10, making it an ideal time to leave if they were ever going to leave (Gonzaga will lose Jeremy Pargo, Josh Heytvelt, Micah Downs and perhaps Austin Daye after this season; Pitt will lose Sam Young, Levance Fields and perhaps DeJuan Blair).
Now I know what you're thinking, Gonzaga and Pitt fans.
You're thinking that Few and Dixon have already turned down multiple opportunities to leave, that they love their jobs and wouldn't mind retiring from their current positions. I acknowledge all of that to be true. But you must understand Arizona is a different animal, one of the top 10 programs in America, and that it would be difficult for either to pass on this gig if they felt comfortable with the administration and received the money Arizona is capable of dishing out.
As for Few specifically, at what point does he become bored killing folks in the WCC? You’ve got to think he'll want to try something new at some point, and Arizona would be a great situation, about as good a situation as would ever present itself. So those would be the reasons for Few to leave Gonzaga, to face a new challenge and see if he can run one of the nation's power programs.
And trust me, he'd be great at Arizona.
But so would Dixon.
And to the Pitt fans who have already emailed to inform me that if Dixon was in a hurry to get back west he would've taken the California job after last season, I'll just ask whether you ever considered whether it's possible Dixon rejected California because he knew Arizona would be opening soon? It would be crazy to take the Cal job if you thought you could get Arizona a year or two later, wouldn't it? And as I pointed out in Thursday's column, nobody in basketball circles really thought Olson was going to last more than one more year, meaning it's pretty safe to assume Dixon saw this day coming and has long known he'd be an obvious candidate.
Anyway, that's my long answer to a short question.
Arizona should hire an interim coach, get through this season and then pursue Few or Dixon.
Assuming the Wildcats could get one of them, the program would be set for 15 years.
And then these tumultuous times would seem like a distant memory.