UCLA coaching candidates: 10 possible replacements to coach the Bruins after the firing of Steve Alford

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UCLA's divorce from Steve Alford sets up a job opening at what's considered within the coaching fraternity as a top-10 gig. The Westwood-based program is still one of the six or seven bluebloods in college basketball, but it's also hindered by issues and obstacles that make it unique.

The school has traditionally not been willing to pay like other historic powers. It was slow to up its facilities and hasn't been able to consistently draw well at home games. The fan base is weirdly splintered. There's casual UCLA fans who pepper southern California and treat the program like a fun thing to catch occasionally ... if the team is good. Then there's the hardcore sect that holds the school's athletic administration to the national championship standards set by John Wooden -- 40-plus years ago. 

On top of all that, UCLA basketball isn't even a top-five team of importance in its own city. The Dodgers, Lakers, USC football, the LA Rams and even the Clippers draw more interest.

But if UCLA really is one of the 10 best jobs in college basketball, and it's willing to pay as such, then few names will be off the list of potential replacements for Alford. Here's the starting point. Names that already are, and a couple that should be, under consideration.

FRED HOIBERG: The recently fired Chicago Bulls coach is the frontrunner in the minds of some in the industry. Hoiberg, 46, went 115-56 as coach at his alma mater of Iowa State from 2010-2015. He made the NCAA Tournament in four of his five seasons at his only stop as a coach in college, making the Sweet 16 once in those four appearances. Hoiberg has been vocal in the past about his issues with the hassles of recruiting, but if he seeks to get back into college he'll be among the most sought-after candidates. The question is: Will UCLA go after him, and will he want this type of job? Hoiberg has only ever been associated with jobs in the Midwest, where he's from.  

ERIC MUSSELMAN: Currently the coach at undefeated Nevada, which is in the midst of its greatest season ever. Musselman has been a buzzy name going on almost a year now, and with a lot of talent set to leave Reno after this season, it would make for an easier exit than last year or in 2020. Musselman would of course listen if UCLA called: it's UCLA. He's traveled a path more varied than almost anyone in college coaching at this point, and hasn't stayed in one place longer than four seasons in the past 21 years. The 54-year-old Musselman is 94-29 as a college coach, all games with the Wolf Pack. If Nevada winds up dominating in Mountain West, the iron will probably never be hotter for him. 

TONY BENNETT: If you're UCLA, you have to make the call. Forget about the style of play and all of that. Bennett is considered, unequivocally, as a top-10 coach in college basketball. He's won 73 percent of his games at Virginia and has that program beating out Duke and North Carolina to win the ACC with regularity. Plus, he develops pros. Justin Anderson, Mike Scott, Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris are all good NBAers at the moment, and Bennett's also got a potential future lottery pick on his roster NOW in De'Andre Hunter. Beyond all that, Bennett, 49, coached in the Pac-12 before (back when it was the Pac-10) and did the almost-impossible in winning 68 percent of his games at Washington State. Dan Guerrero, you need to at least make the call. 

MIKE BREY: The Notre Dame coach has been mentioned as a potential candidate, but a source told CBS Sports that it's highly unlikely he would leave the Irish at this point, given how good the Irish can be in the coming two-to-three years with a lot of talent. Plus, he recently signed a generous contract extension that will carry him through 2024-25, which could coincide with his retirement.

CHRIS BEARD: Maybe it's an odd fit, but Beard's coaching acumen is not in doubt. The 45-year-old is similar to Musselman in terms of the path he's traveled to get where he is. Beard's coached at the semi-pro, junior college, NAIA and Division I level. Now in his third season at Texas Tech, he owns a 56-25 record with the Red Raiders and an 86-31 overall record in D-I. He's made the NCAA Tournament three times, including last season's run to the Elite Eight. He's recruited lottery picks and made Texas Tech nationally viable, which hasn't been true for most of its existence as a program. Texas Tech is 11-1 this season. 

KELVIN SAMPSON: Who knows how long this coaching search will last, but if Houston has a tremendous season and can get another good seed in the NCAAs? Sampson, whose name was put out there for a couple of jobs at the end of last season, is worth a look. He's guiding a Houston team that's one of just four unbeatens left in college basketball. Sampson, 63, has a 591-320 career record. He's a very good college coach who can claim something that no other candidate on this list can, and something that might mean the most to UCLA's most important backers: he's made a Final Four. 

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Kelvin Sampson has done a tremendous job at Houston. USATSI

JAMIE DIXON: From the area, has revitalized his alma mater (TCU) and has proven to be a very good college coach over the past 15 years. Dixon's 53, has a 384-151 career record and has made the NCAAs in all but three seasons dating back to his start at Pitt in 2003-04. A big question here would be whether UCLA is willing to pay a lot of money to bring him in. Dixon is handsomely making north of $3 million to live and coach in Forth Worth, Texas, and so UCLA probably would need to open at $4 million annually -- which is true of most coaches on this list. 

EARL WATSON: The former UCLA player is 39, coached the Phoenix Suns from 2016-17 and has no coaching experience in college. That doesn't preclude him from success in college, but his connections to the school and the recruiting base in greater Los Angeles could be (and need to be) strong enough to overcome his lack of background in D-I. He was a hotter name a couple years back, but still figures to be in the mix. It's a weird market at the moment and UCLA is not short on options. Watson would be unconventional but not unexpected.  

MIKE WHITE: A long shot, but a young and compelling coach with a big future and someone who's bound to be on search-firm lists if Florida continues to make NCAA Tournaments. White is 41, has won 69 percent of his games, is averaging 24 wins per season and has taken Florida to the NCAA Tournament twice, earning a No. 6 and No. 4 seed. His family is well-embedded in college athletics, which can never hurt, either. His father, Kevin, is the athletic director at Duke; his brother, Danny, is the AD at UCF; and another brother, Brian, is AD at Florida Atlantic. 

MIKE HOPKINS: The longest shot on this list, but Hopkins, 49, might have a chance if he seeks a return to his home area of LA -- and if he can pick up steam in the coming two months. The reigning Pac-12 Coach of the Year has USA Basketball experience and is immediately paying dividends in Seattle at Washington after spending two decades working under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. He's worked in environments with real pressure -- and has gotten it done in recruiting. Plus, the UCLA job would bring him even closer to his ailing father. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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