Now that Johnny Jones has left North Texas for his “dream job” at LSU. There is a lot of speculation and debate over who will be the next coach of the Mean Green men’s basketball program. While names can be thrown around and debated on endlessly, there is one simple fact that everyone can agree on. Johnny Jones left UNT’s program in far better shape than when he arrived back in 2001.
When Jones arrived the basketball program was in horrible shape, and it was the type of job a coach would take just to get some head coaching experience. But during his tenure, there started to be a revitalization of the program, and there was a beam of hope for success. Over the next 11 years Johnny Jones took the UNT men’s basketball program to unprecedented heights.
He had five consecutive seasons of 20 wins or more, took the Mean Green to two NCAA Tournament appearances and had UNT become a contender in the Sun Belt Conference. He even made it popular for local talent to give UNT a hard look and even brought in some great talent to make the turn around all that more spectacular.
The next head coach of the Mean Green will have a far easier job than Johnny Jones did and they will have an easier time getting fans into the “Super Pit” because of what Jones was able to accomplish. The UNT job is no longer a job that is taken just because; it is now a seen as a quality job and could be a great step up for the right assistant or small program head coach.
No matter whom the next head coach is, he will be able to do more than Jones did in his first few seasons, but at the same time he will now have more pressure to keep the program up to the standard it has been at and improve it. Now when UNT calls to inquire with a coach about the job, the coach will listen.
UNT fans and alumni should not hold any ill will towards Johnny Jones for moving on, they should be thankful he took the program from a wasteland to respectable in 11 years. Things are looking up for the Mean Green and Jones is the one to thank for that.
Larry Brown came from out of nowhere about a week and a half ago to add his name in the mix for the vacant SMU head coaching job. He came in and interviewed on Sunday with the school and has been named as the favorite to land the job by most of the local media. While this would be an impressive hire for SMU, it would be one that could raise a lot of eyebrows.
Larry Brown is 71 years old and has not coached in college basketball since 1988, which was a championship Kansas team. Since then he has been an NBA coaching vagabond going just about anywhere and everywhere. Brown has not coached since he left the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010. You want this guy to come in and be your coach as SMU transitions to the Big East? He hasn’t coached or recruited in college in 24 years.
Is Larry Brown the type of name that will make a national splash? Sure…but he doesn’t have a proven track record in the college game of today. Things are vastly different in the College Basketball game of today than they were so long ago when coached at Kansas. I realize that SMU is probably grasping at straws right now, but there has to be an assistant coach somewhere that is a better option…right?
If SMU does in fact hire Larry Brown, then expect him to bring in an assistant that will have the “Coach in waiting” tag. Because at 71 years old, Brown will not be around for the long haul, which is why I feel that hiring him could be a mistake. With the fragile state of the program and the impending move to the Big East, you want someone who can commit long term. Brown may work out for the school and put SMU in a better position, but I would think fans would want to see someone who is an “up and comer” take over.
There has been no time table on when an announcement will be made, and no one has confirmed he is the next head coach. This is all based of speculation at this point, but usually when one name gets a big push, then they are the one that gets hired. Only the administration, Larry Brown and his agent know if there has been an offer or not. The next announcement we hear may be of his hiring.
About a month ago SMU fired their head basketball coach and committed to an extensive search for the best candidate possible. About the same time I wrote a piece listing out some quality candidates; both realistic and a pipe dream. In the past couple weeks there have been a lot of rumors floated and a lot of rejection for SMU.
The candidates who have been the biggest media targets are the ones who have told SMU no. Buzz Williams from Marquettewas a big name, and everything heard and read made it sound like SMU was ready to money whip him to the hilltop. Problem is, he is already a head coach of a Big East school and they were in the NCAA Tournament this year. There was little to no incentive to even think Buzz Williams would want to move toDallas.
Also at the same time, SMU pursued Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson, who wasn’t interested in making a move either. Then earlier this week everybody was a buzz thinking that Rick Majerus was going to listen to what SMU had to say. But he quickly said no, and is happy to stay with a team who looks to be a perennial tournament contender. Now the Mustangs have fallen all the way back to square one.
They have talked to a few other coaches who weren’t big name grabs that some may have missed. They interviewed an Indiana assistant coach while in New Orleans at the Final Four, who also was on my original list. These are the types of coaches SMU needs to aim for, the assistants looking for a place to earn their stripes, or some small program they could lure a guy away from.
One of the biggest shocks to me in this coaching search is the fact that SMU has not reached out to UNT’s Johnny Jones. All he has done is turn North Texas into a contender every year. But it may be too late to call him because he is being rumored for the LSU job opening. SMU is not against the clock as this search is dragging on and instead of being a viable option; they won’t be an option for a lot of coaches.
Steve Orisini has been so obsessed with making the “splash hire” that he has lost the opportunity to make a good hire and excite the fan base by building a winning program. Regardless of who they eventually hire, it will be a tough task to turn this program around. But for them to hire a coach, Orsini needs to wake up and look for a realistic hire instead of chasing pipe dreams and wasting everyone’s time.
There are still quality coaches out there who can build excitement in the fan base by putting a winning product on the floor. At this point any hire they make who isn’t a national name could be a let down to the fans. And that will only make their job tougher because Orsini and the media pumped up big names only to get left with pie on their face.
Since SMU has wisely ended the Matt Doherty era inDallas, it is time to start looking forward and determine who could possibly be the next Men’s Basketball coach on the Hilltop. Athletic Director Steve Orsini said he will begin a national coaching search this week. Needless to say I immediately took it upon myself to compile some names that would spark some interest for the fans and help lead the Mustangs into the Big East. And by the way Steve, if you’re reading this, my fees are cheaper than a national firm.
Orsini has shown with the hire of June Jones and even Doherty, he is willing to make a hire that will cause a big splash. However, the question needs to be; will a big splash hire be the right one for the Mustangs as they move into a conference move? Or, will hiring someone less well known and a stronger resume be the winning decision? Nobody really knows – but here is my current list of potential candidates for the SMU job.
- Doc Sadler- Doc was previously the head coach at Nebraska. He was terminated recently after a lackluster season in Lincoln. Now, why would a coach who was fired for a bad season, become a candidate for this job? Simple…Doc has a history of quality recruiting in Texas when he was the head coach at UTEP. Plus he took that UTEP team he coached to the NCAA Tournament and the NIT tournament in consecutive seasons. Maybe not a glamorous hire, but he could prove vital to recruiting the area and building a winning program.
- Jeff Capel- Capel will always be known in this region from his time as the head coach at Oklahoma. Obviously there may be some people who would have an issue with him coming to the Hilltop as he left Norman in a sea of questions after there were allegations of wrong doing. However, Capel does have a solid track record of building winning programs. He took VCU to the NCAA Tournament once and he took Oklahoma to “The Big Dance” twice, getting as far as the elite eight. He is currently an assistant coach at Duke. I am sure he would probably like another shot at a head coaching job. Needless to say he could utilize some of his former recruiting trails to bring great talent to the Hilltop.
- Scott Cross- Scott Cross will not be a name on the tips of many tongues nationally. However, for a local look, he is very well worth a phone call. He is currently the head coach of UT-Arlington and has taken the Mavericks to the NCAA tournament and the NIT tournament in his 6 seasons at UTA. He doesn’t bring a major splash, but he has proven to be a solid recruiter and has won both the conference and a conference tournament with the Mavericks. His 103-82 career record is something to behold, because he has proven you can take a team from nothing and turn them into something. “He has been there and done that”. Going from zero to hero is exactly what SMU needs.
- Johnny Jones- Here is another local coach who has enjoyed a great tenure at the University Of North Texas. He has taken the Mean Green to the NCAA tournament twice recently. He has also enjoyed a stretch of 5 straight 20 win seasons until this year. Johnny has created a buzz locally about what he has been able to do with North Texas. The big question is; will he make a move if it is available? He has a strong recruiting base locally and has turned a laughing stock into a winner. This could be a great hire if SMU finds a way to lure him to Dallas.
- Chris Mack- After 3 seasons at Xavier and two NCAA Tournament appearances; it is a wonder why this guy hasn’t been offered many opportunities at a big time school. Then again, being an Ohio guy and coaching at his alma mater, he may have just turned down every opportunity he has been offered. While chances are very slim he would even take SMU’s phone call he would be a quality hire for the Mustangs. He has shown to be a proven recruiter in the Ohio area and has kept Xavier competitive with the other Ohio schools. He may not have a lot of experience, but he wins and that is all that matters in College Basketball.
- Bruiser Flint- Bruiser may be one of the more well known names on this list. He took over UMass when John Calipari bolted for the NBA. He proceeded to take UMass to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons and then to one NIT appearance before his departure in 2001. He was soon named the new head coach at Drexel where he currently still coaches. He has coached Drexel into the NIT four times since 2001, and is making his first appearance in the NCAA tournament this season. He has won everywhere he has been, and could be just what SMU needs to put a spark in their basketball program.
- Tony Benford- Tony Benford has never been a head coach. He is a very well respected assistant coach on the Marquette coaching staff. He is a former Texas Tech basketball player, so he is familiar with the area and could make an easy connection to high school coaches around Texas. Chances are this guy will not be an assistant much longer and he will be in high demand as his name becomes more and more popular in coaching circles. If SMU wants to find an up and comer, this guy may just be the right choice.
- Scott McClain- Scott McClain has coached at Indiana, Wyoming, Texas A&M, and TCU. He is currently an assistant under Tom Creane at Indiana. He did enjoy some success as a head coach at Wyoming. He would be very familiar with the local recruiting scene after stops at A&M and TCU. This guy could be a solid hire, but may not excite the fan base. My question on this: is hiring a guy who coached at Indiana a bad thing?
- Brooks Thompson- Brooks is a former NBA player who has enjoyed stints as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, SE Louisiana and Arizona State. He was named the UT-San Antonio head coach in 2006, and has been quietly building a winner there. He took the Roadrunners to the NCAA Tournament for the first time last season and had them close again this season. He would be familiar with the recruiting grounds of this area and this would be a nice jump for him. But then again, he may be content to stay where he is.
- Shaka Smart- Everyone in the country knows this guy’s name. He was brought to instant fame when he took little Virginia Commonwealth University from the First Four in “The Big Dance”, all the way to the Final Four. It would be no surprise to learn every school that has a job opening would want this guy. In just 3 seasons at VCU he has won the CBI tournament, been to the Final Four and has the Rams back in the tournament again this year. He just recently got a huge pay raise, but if there is one hire that could make a splash…it would be bringing Shaka Smart to the Hilltop. This may be more of a “dream” hire for most fans, but the Big East move could be enough to entice his interest.
- Brad Stevens- Here is another one of the “Little guys” that made a big splash over the last few seasons. Stevens took his Butler Bulldogs teams to back to back Final Four appearances and has them in the CBI Tournament this year. While his salary is not as high as Shaka Smart’s, I would guess this guy would be tough to attract to Dallas. He is an Indiana born and bred guy and was an assistant for Butler before he became their head coach and took them to unprecedented heights. However, he may want a new challenge and coming to the Hilltop and joining the Big East could be the challenge. It is always worth a phone call. The worst he could do is say no.
- Pat Knight- The son of Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Knight may not show up on many lists. I believe he is worth a look and could bring some “PR” if he is hired on. He just completed his first season with Lamar where he had them in the First Four, but lost to a talented Vermont squad. He previously coached at Texas Tech, so he would be familiar with recruiting the area and have some relationships with coaches here. Would SMU really want him? I don’t know; but at this point why not pull out all the stops? He would bring some big time name recognition to the school if he was brought in as head coach.
- Fran Fraschilla- I know what you’re thinking…really? This guy? I think he would be worth a look for the Mustangs. He is currently out of coaching and doing games for ESPN as an analyst, but he could be a nice hire because he has experience coaching in the Big East with St. Johns. He could be a great coach for the Mustangs; he has taken all three teams he has coached to post season tournaments. Manhattan and St. Johns to the NCAA Tournament and New Mexico to the NIT 3 years in a row. And at this point, making any tournament would be a great start for the Mustangs.
There you have it…13 candidates for the SMU job. Some will be a farfetched dream and some make perfect sense. I created this list based off of some suggestions I have seen and heard. I even threw in a few names I came up with. Right now nobody will know who is a true candidate and who isn’t. Obviously there are a lot of choices out there. Over time this list will change and be whittled down. At some point I will probably pick the top 3 in my opinion and go more in depth with those candidates.
Only time will tell who becomes the next Men’s Head Basketball Coach, but if one of these names becomes a top candidate then SMU fans have a lot to be excited about. Stay tuned for updates because I am sure once the official search is on there will even be some surprises that I don’t know about.
After yesterday’s loss to Cincinnati, I have come to the realization it is time for a change in Austin. Rick Barnes is a good coach who has done some great things for the Longhorns Basketball program. Working and living in a football crazed state; winning at basketball is not seen as a priority. However, during his tenure with Texas, Rick Barnes had some teams who could have won it all.
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