With Alford getting fired, one of the biggest names if not necessarily best jobs (more on that) is now open in Los Angeles.
First, re: Alford…he was never a great fit there. I don’t think it’s because he’s a Midwest guy, because he did a fantastic job at New Mexico. I just mean that he’s yet to get close to getting the job done at two high major stops (UCLA and Iowa), whereas he’s been super at mid-majors (SW Missouri and New Mexico). That’s just how it is for some guys. In his case, I don’t think recruiting was a problem, per se, because he had plenty of talent during his time at UCLA…maybe more about being able to construct a team when he has access to more high end players. Other than the Ball team, ironically enough, I thought they rarely looked like a cohesive group during his tenure. Obviously, the big problem in a basketball sense was a chronic inability of his teams to defend. That was also an issue for him at Iowa. I have little doubt he’ll get a shot somewhere and soon, if he wants it. The big question will be at what level. Would a third high major take a flyer on him now? I suspect it’s more likely to be someone like a New Mexico…a Mountain West/A-10/CUSA type program.
The UCLA job is obviously huge from a name recognition perspective and it’s still the biggest deal in that part of the country, even with Arizona’s rise over the past 30 years. The thing is, I’m not sure the job itself is on the level many might assume. UCLA historically does not pay at the rate you’d think. Alford as of the most recent numbers I could find (this past summer) was 23rd in salary nationally and 3rd in his own conference. They finally got a practice facility up and running last year and redid Pauley recently, but any new coach would fairly wonder how well the school will keep up in the arms race that is big time collegiate athletics. Then you have the ghost of John Wooden hanging over everything. I don’t think the UCLA job has the pressure associated with it that you see at places like Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana or Kansas (or even some lesser places you might not think of, like a Maryland or NC State) but there *is* pressure and an impossible standard to live up to which no coach can easily escape.
So where does UCLA turn? One obvious name to be floated is Fred Hoiberg. Interestingly, Adam Zagoria tweeted today that someone close to Hoiberg told him he’d prefer to wait and see what NBA jobs might come available. That tracks with the “he hates recruiting” angle on things. I certainly wouldn’t rule him out at UCLA, but that info did catch my attention.
Eric Musselman of Nevada is the other obvious name right now. He’s done an unbelievable job in Reno and has two NBA head coaching jobs on his resume as well, so you can’t knock him on that basis. I would think that Nevada is not the end point of his coaching ambition, so one would imagine the UCLA job would have appeal for him. The thing is, like Hoiberg, his collegiate success is built largely around transfers. That’s not really the “UCLA way,” though I’m also not sure it’s a deal breaker at this point. I also wonder if perhaps he might, like Hoiberg, be looking for a way back to the NBA. Regardless, he will be one of the top names you hear associated with this job, no question. One question you see about him is his reputation for over the top intensity. Maybe that’s an issue and maybe not.
Other names you’ll hear and who I don’t think they can get…
Rick Pitino – Does UCLA have the balls to hire Pitino? There’s no question he’d take that job, at least not IMO, and there’s also little question he’d have them turned around on the court in short order…I’d expect them to be in the Pac 12 title mix by year two at the latest, maybe his first year if he kept enough guys from the Alford era around and taught them to defend. The spectre of NCAA violations looms so large, though. UCLA has never had a problem with cutting corners…they did it under Wooden, Larry Brown and Jim Harrick…but this is *probably* a bridge too far. I expect there will be media cheerleaders (VItale, probably) clamoring for Rick to get a shot but right now, I’d bet against it.
Chris Holtmann – This is the classic “it ain’t what it used to be” move. Maybe a generation ago, UCLA might have had the clout to lure a guy like Holtmann away from Columbus but now? Holtmann is incredibly well paid, he’s already at a job where he can think realistically about contending for national titles, and he’s on home turf, more or less. I can’t think of a single factor leading me to believe he’d take the UCLA job but I bet you’ll hear his name floated by people who don’t know better.
Tony Bennett – Ditto re: Bennett. There’s no way he leaves UVa for Los Angeles. He’s got a perfect job for him, he’s well compensated, he can contend for everything where he’s at, and on top of all of that, I have a hard time seeing the fit for him in LA culturally. Yeah, Alford was a Midwest guy too but Flex always had some “look at me” in him. Not Bennett.
Jay Wright – Ditto.
Mike Brey – HIs name is already being floated but I’ve also already seen indications that he’s not interested.
Realistic names they might be able to land…
Chris Beard – He’s done a fabulous job at Texas Tech so far. Thing is, he has a connection to that school, having served as an assistant there prior to taking the head coaching job. Is that enough to keep him? I suspect he’d have to have some interest in UCLA and if his team can stay roughly around the top 10 all year, it might be enough to get that fanbase to support his hire as well. TT would be one job where everything UCLA has is superior, unlike some of these other situations.
Gregg Marshall – Is it finally time for him to leave Wichita State? His team is 7-5 right now and not expected to contend in a deeper American than we’ve previously seen. Not that he’s in any jeopardy but this season might be the one to convince him that he needs to step up in class if he wants to consistently have a shot at doing big things. Marshall is paid insanely well with Koch Bros. money making him the 13th highest paid coach in the nation. So at a minimum, UCLA is going to have to spend to get him if he’s their guy, in a way they historically haven’t. Many believe Marshall is waiting on Bill Self to retire or grab an NBA job, but we’ll see…I would think the UCLA job would be tempting for Marshall.
Jamie Dixon – He’s gotten things back on track in his career, after the tail end of his Pitt run was pretty middling. TCU is home for him, his alma mater, so would he leave at this point? I think UCLA might be tempting enough for him. He certainly looks the part for LA with his Riley-esque hairdo, and his approach to the game was very successful when his mentor Ben Howland was racking up three straight Final Fours in Westwood, before things went sour. Another realistic name to watch.
Earl Watson – Former Bruin point guard who has NBA head coaching experience with Phoenix and is currently not working. I question this one, despite the alum status, because I don’t think he’s done enough to get that fanbase on board, but a name worth keeping in mind.
Buzz Williams – He’s won at both Marquette and Virginia Tech. Neither is exactly an easy place to get the job done. I would think he’d listen.
Bobby Hurley – Steal a coach from a fellow Pac 12 school? I have little doubt UCLA would be just fine with that. Hurley’s made ASU relevant in a way they rarely (ever?) have been in pretty short order. UCLA would give him the presence to go head to head with anybody on the West Coast in terms of recruiting, something he doesn’t have in his corner currently.
Other high major jobs I think might open up, based on what we’ve seen already this year.
Maryland – Yep. A lot of Big Ten fans may not know this but Mark Turgeon was seen as being on the ropes when they started in this league. He had that great first year and has done just enough in recruiting since then to keep the job. This is a big, big conference season coming for him , though. They’re 1-1 currently and 10-3 overall. Maryland has a lot of talent but with the league as deep as it is this season, it doesn’t look like a lock that they’ll be dancing in March. If they don’t make the field for the second straight year, I think it’s heavy odds in favor of Turgeon getting fired. That would be a quietly big time opening and a lot of the names I’ve listed above with UCLA would be in that mix as well, along with possibly some mid major guys (Nate Oats?). Maryland is a basketball school squarely in the middle of one of the great talent producing areas in the nation. You have facilities, tradition, fan support, etc. behind you.
Penn State – I think this is it for Pat Chambers unless he can pull PSU out of a nosedive in short order. He’s had a lot of years to get the job done and hasn’t pulled off a Tourney appearance yet, something that Jerry Dunn and Ed DeChellis were able to do. Unlike Maryland, this is a really tough gig. You need the right kind of guy and that guy will not be easy to find. I think Oats would be an obvious candidate but I question whether he’d take this job. This might be one where they have to go the high level assistant route.
Not a lot of other obvious ones at the moment, though it would be surprising if there weren’t more by April.