Ultimately, the Indiana coaching search boils down to these six candidates
There are a lot of rumors flying around, but six strong coaches are the only realistic possibilities
It’s been four days since Indiana fired Tom Crean -- and there have been almost no credible reports connected to the coaching vacancy since. Athletic director Fred Glass has hired a search firm to assist in his attempt to secure a replacement, I’m told. But little else is publicly known.
That hasn’t stopped wild speculation, though.
Yes, there are some reasonable things floating around. But there are lots of unreasonable things too. And the latter outnumbers the former, I promise. So in an attempt to separate fact from fiction, I made calls and sent texts. The following is what I feel comfortable sharing about possible IU candidates. I broke things into categories that should speak for themselves.
IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN
Unfortunately for Indiana fans, this is the category where Brad Stevens belongs. The former Butler Bulldogs coach turned Boston Celtics coach is happy in the NBA. More important, he’s safe in the NBA -- at absolutely no risk of losing his job. His bosses love him. His contemporaries respect him. And those close to Stevens insist he has no plans to return to college. So Indiana fans should stop wishing for this Indiana native. He’s more likely to someday coach the Pacers than the Hoosiers.
I JUST CAN’T SEE IT
Some Indiana fans have been tweeting incessantly about Billy Donovan -- the Oklahoma City Thunder coach who previously led Florida to national prominence. He’s a perfect dream-list candidate, I’ll admit, if only because Glass suggested last week that multiple NCAA Tournament titles are expected of Indiana’s next coach, and Donovan has two of them. But the Western Conference playoffs don’t start until April 15, and the Thunder will likely be playing until at least the end of April. So is Indiana really going to wait until May to hire a coach?
I doubt it.
Beyond that, Russell Westbrook is signed through the 2018-19 season. And, barring serious injuries, OKC will never not be a Western Conference playoff team with the MVP candidate in his prime. So is Donovan really going to leave a winning situation in professional basketball that pays him $6 million a year to return to the college game he tired of years before he left it?
I doubt it.
So Indiana fans can keep dreaming. I’m all for dreaming. But Donovan working at Assembly Hall doesn’t seem to be a likely scenario. Same goes for Sean Miller. Needless to say, I can understand why Indiana might be interested. Miller is terrific. But it’s not obvious that the Indiana job is better than the Arizona job. And why would Miller be eager to leave somewhere he’s appreciated to go to a place where what he’s accomplished would likely be considered underachieving?
It’s true that Miller has won four Pac-12 titles -- three of them outright. But Indiana fans tell me league titles mean nothing every time I mention Crean’s two outright Big Ten titles. Final Fours and national championships are all that matter, they scream. And Miller has never advanced to the former or won the latter. So it’s possible his stellar eight years at Arizona would have him under scrutiny at Indiana. And I’d take that into consideration while considering any move, if I were him.
That’s another thing I just can’t see.
Like Miller, he’s fabulous. But the Virginia coach has still never been to a Final Four even though he’s been a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament in three of the past four years. And he just lost by 26 points in the Round of 32 to Florida. At Indiana, I’m confident, they’d be wanting to fire him right now too. And Bennett is smart enough to realize that. So there’s no reason for him to leave the comfort of Virginia for the craziness of Indiana. He’s more likely to bounce to the NBA than Bloomington.
NOW WE’RE TALKING
UCLA’s Steve Alford, Baylor’s Scott Drew, Butler’s Chris Holtmann, Xavier’s Chris Mack, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall or Dayton’s Archie Miller. One of those men will be Indiana’s next coach, I’d bet. And any of them would be a good hire. So, absolutely, I think things will ultimately end well with Indiana’s search.
If you heard Glass’ press conference last week, you know he yearns for Indiana’s storied past -- which is why Alford, a former Indiana player who led the Hoosiers to the 1987 national championship, makes sense. And I could totally see UCLA lowering his $7 million buyout to a reasonable number that allows him to walk home. Remember, less than a year ago, . And while this remarkable season would get most coaches back into good graces with their fans, UCLA supporters seem to credit Lonzo Ball more than Alford for the Bruins’ success. So if UCLA slips even a little when Ball leaves after this season, Alford will be right back where he was a year ago. Thus, for those reasons and more, Alford to Indiana is plausible provided Glass really does desire a strong connection to Indiana’s past. And, again, I wouldn’t be surprised if UCLA, in the spirit of starting fresh, would be willing to do what it has to do to make it happen.
Now let’s run through the other options.
Drew makes sense because he’s the architect of the greatest rebuilding job in college basketball history -- and a Butler graduate who worked at Valparaiso. So he has ties to the area, which is something Glass said matters. Holtmann makes sense because he’s been unreal at Butler. And hiring him would weaken an in-state rival, which could be a strong strategic move. Mack makes sense because he’s a consistent winner with a great personality who has made seven NCAA Tournaments and four Sweet 16s in eight years as a head coach. The only issue is that Indiana would be asking him to leave his hometown and alma mater, and that sometimes makes coaches hesitant to pull the trigger. Marshall makes sense because he’s a super-confident coach who has built Wichita State into a monster and is unafraid to speak his mind, which longtime IU fans raised on Bob Knight must appreciate. But he’s set to have a top-10 team next preseason. Coaches don’t usually abandon those, it should be noted. And Archie Miller makes sense because he’s considered among the brightest young stars, if not the brightest young star, in all of coaching. If Indiana doesn’t hire him now some other great Power-5 school will someday.
Bottom line, five bucks says one of those men is Indiana’s next coach.
There’s no way all six of them say no.
It’s just a matter of when one of them says yes.
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