Did some reading today in various places…assuming Gard is not the guy (which I don’t think he will be, short of a serious Big Ten campaign out of the Badgers…I’d start that threshold at about 11 or 12 league wins and I don’t see that happening), these are names I’ve seen referenced, with some thoughts I have on them.
TOP TIER – UNLIKELY GETS
Tony Bennett – The Holy Grail. Wisconsin kid. Wisconsin Green Bay legend. Wisconsin assistant coach under his father and Bo Ryan. Created a strong team at Washington State after succeeding his father and then moved to Virginia. He’s been in Charlottesville for 6 years and has resurrected what had become a moribund UVa program, turning them into a perennial ACC and national contender.
I don’t think he moves. First things first, he’s got a $3 million buyout in his contract. Now, that may not eliminate him as a name but that is a stiff number for any school, even one in the Big Ten, to swallow for a basketball coach whom they’ll presumably have to pay considerably more than his current $2.1 million/yr salary. So there’s that. Maybe more important, I’m not sure that one can objectively say that Wisconsin is a step up in many/any meaningful ways. He’s in a peer conference. He already has his program built (this year tells us that the Badgers need a little retooling). Virginia was down long enough that Bennett is truly his own man there…he’s competing against himself. Replacing Ryan in Madison would be an entirely different deal, and the standard would be almost impossible to match. While Ryan’s proven you can recruit well enough to win at Wisconsin, I think Bennett is currently in a little better position. Virginia produces more instate talent and it also sits in an area which is at least as fertile as the Badgers’ primary recruiting turf.
Unless TB has an unstoppable desire to “come home,” I don’t see this one happening. Too many things cut against it. FWIW, I think the same would likely apply for just about any job. I honestly don’t see him leaving for anywhere unless his situation dramatically shifted at UVa.
Archie Miller – He’s the new Shaka Smart, IMO…not as a coach (I think Miller’s much, much better) but in terms of being a hot name who will be mentioned for every job opening under the sun until he finally does opt to leave. Dayton is a really good job, no question, but it’s not a destination gig…not since Don Donoher, at least. With Miller, you don’t have a buyout to deal with like Bennett, nor do you have the competitive reasons Bennett would have to stay put…Dayton’s a nice job but it’s not comparable on any meaningful level with Wisconsin in tangible ways. He’s also a guy with Midwest roots, so that helps.
I think the two negatives for him are these…first, is he OK with replacing a legend? That’s going to be the question for anyone other than Gard. Most coaches have egos, so normally that’s not a deal breaker but this is an exceptional case. You really have to ask yourself if you can match or surpass what the guy before you did and in this case, at that place, that is a tall order. Second, Wisconsin will likely be competing with other schools with openings, so is there someone who might outbid the Badgers for him or does he simply prefer another option? It’s hard to tell right now what openings might be out there. Miller’s been selective…he’s been mentioned for some pretty good openings in recent years (his name came up in connection with Florida, for example). One thought which would apply to almost everyone on this list. If Indiana were to come open, I suspect that would relegate the Badgers to second choice among most all of these guys. Miller would be included in that group.
Chris Mack – He’s done a fine job at Xavier and seems poised to have his best season yet. IMO, X is a legit Final Four possibility. They have all the pieces you need to make a deep run as I see it. He’s also a Xavier alum, so maybe he’s the exception to what’s been the rule at that school for 25 plus years: guys get hired, do a great job and then leave (Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta and Sean Miller all following that script).
I suspect if he continues on this season’s current pace, he will be the hottest name out there unless and until he rules out leaving. He has all the same strengths Miller has from a Wisconsin perspective: Midwest guy, proven winner at a level just shy of the Big Ten, and young enough that you can expect he’ll be around for awhile if/when he wins. When I think about it, though, I don’t think he’d be likely to leave Xavier for Wisconsin. I think if he were ever going to leave his alma mater it would have to be for a truly historically elite program…an IU, maybe…not a Wisconsin, IMO.
Gregg Marshall – Similar scenario to Miller, except he’s been mentioned even more strongly for more Power 5 jobs in recent years. He’s making $3.3 million/year now and reportedly turned down a $4 million/year offer from Alabama last spring.
I see him as a guy who would only leave Wichita for a blue blood, and the word is that he’s waiting on Kansas if/when Bill Self decides to take an NBA job. I don’t think Wisconsin could get him.
SECOND TIER – GOOD CHANCE
Ben Jacobson – The Northern Iowa head coach. He’s been mentioned as a candidate for some Power 5 jobs but never as a lead guy. I think part of that is that he has a reputation as a guy with a stodgy, slow ball style and that’s true to some extent. His teams have not been uptempo offensive groups and at some places, that could be a tough sell, even if you win. I think Madison is one place where that might not be a deal breaker. With Dick Bennett and then Bo Ryan as predecssors, Badger fans haven’t been used to transition based basketball, so there’s a comfort level in the fanbase with the idea of winning via physicality, defense and valuing the ball.
Jacobson has another good team this year…remains to be seen if it’s an NCAA Tournament level group but they’re in the mix as of now and are expected to push Wichita in the MVC. If he can pull off another bid, I think he’d be viable for the WIsconsin job and he’d probably be more inclined to take it than some of the guys mentioned above, IMO.
Jamie Dixon – I’ve seen his name mentioned and it doesn’t strike me as utterly ridiculous. He too has a style which would seem to fit better in Madison than some other places. Pitt is a good job..he’s helped make it so. That said, it has sort of felt as if it’s getting a wee bit stale for him there. Might he be looking to move for that reason? If so, WIsconsin would be a place that could make some sense.
Bryce Drew – He’s done a great job at Valpo. Succeeded his successful father and has continued to develop the program. They’re a favorite to win the Horizon again this year and if he can get back to the Tournament, it would mark his 3rd bid in 5 years. I think he’d be a very interesting candidate…clearly has shown an ability to identify underrated talent and develop it, and he plays a little more freely on offense than some of the other guys on this list.
THIRD TIER – PROBABLY WON’T GET TO THESE GUYS
Saul Phillips/Rob Jeter – I have these guys grouped together because their profiles are so similar. Both played for Ryan at Wisconsin-Platville. Both were assistants under him in Madison. Both have had some success in their head coaching jobs since then. Phillips went to two NCAA tournaments in 7 years at North Dakota State and then took the Ohio job last season. He struggled last year, though, so his iron is not piping hot as of the moment. Jeter has taken Milwaukee to two Tournaments in 10 years, and finally got a win over Wisconsin just about a week ago.
The trouble with these two guys is, why them and not Gard? The advantage they have is that each have run their own programs successfully and Gard hasn’t, but Gard was the guy Bo thought was best for the job…so I have a hard time imagining it’ll get to them.
Wayne Tinkle – He’s at Oregon State after a successful run at Montana. Tinkle is a Milwaukee native, so there’s that. I just think he’s too fresh in the OSU job and hasn’t yet had enough of a breakthrough there to be a prime candidate for Wisconsin, though I suspect he’d listen if they were interested.
Right now, at an absurdly early point and with the full understanding that a ton of things can and will shift, I’d be inclined to make Ben Jacobson the favorite. It just feels like the time is right for him to move and I think he could be sold to Wisconsin’s fanbase in a way that wouldn’t be as easy at some other schools.