Coaching search 2016: Commodore Crossroads

The Black & Gold Standard is a VandyRadio sports blog featuring nuanced commentary and advanced statistical breakdowns following Vanderbilt men’s basketball games and throughout the year. Robbie Weinstein of The Homefield Advantage will be bringing you the best analysis of Commodore basketball as the team looks to build on the success of last season’s NIT appearance. Check out The Black & Gold Standard for all kinds of new content as the Dores fight through the 2015-16 schedule. All stats courtesy of KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.

Goodbye, sweet prince (er, coach).

Goodbye, sweet prince (er, coach).

An era is over. After 17 years, Vanderbilt and head coach Kevin Stallings have parted ways as Stallings heads to Pitt to take over for Jamie Dixon. In a thrilling saga filled with twists and turns, the result is VandyRadio’s own Max Herz gets the honor of continuing to root for a K-Stall coached team for the foreseeable future while former ‘Dore Sheldon Jeter asks the basketball gods where he went wrong. Thanks to VU’s decision to approach the coaching change in such a deliberate manner, Vice Chancellor David Williams now faces the unenviable task of trying to pry top coaching prospects away from high-level schools, or risk turning to his B-list. Brad Underwood has already moved to Oklahoma State, and Underwood likely represented the only top-shelf coaching option that was clearly looking for a change of scenery. Good options remain, however, so let’s set the table for what I expect to be a quick and decisive coaching search on the part of Vanderbilt.

NOTE: Above average power conference programs rarely hire assistants from outside the program to fill vacant head coaching positions, so I don’t include any assistants on this list.

 

Tier 1: Almost certainly unobtainable, probably not even worth the call

Gregg Marshall's reaction to anyone who thinks he would take the Vanderbilt job.

Gregg Marshall’s reaction to anyone who thinks he would take the Vanderbilt job.

Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall

As Vanderbilt fans saw last week, Marshall has really coached up those Shockers. Marshall turned a group of good, smart basketball players that have some physical limitations into the best defensive team in the nation this year. But, Marshall’s current contract pays him a whopping $3.3 million per year, and there’s no reason to take the Vandy job when he can wait for a top-5 opening down the road.

 

Dayton head coach Archie Miller

Similar to Marshall, Miller is happy at his current spot and gets paid plenty (though not quite $3.3 million). Miller just got a raise from UD this week, and he’s got a potential top-15 team back next year. Lastly, Miller has said many times that he places great importance on fan and administrative support, a couple of areas in which Dayton has an advantage over VU.

 

Tier 2: Not megastars, but pretty well established and possibly obtainable

VCU head coach Will Wade

After serving as an assistant at VCU from 2009-2013, Wade returned to Richmond last offseason after Shaka Smart bolted for Texas. Everyone knows Wade is a Nashville native, but it’s unclear how much that would factor in to his decision if Vanderbilt were to offer him the job. At age 33, Wade doesn’t have much experience, but his VCU outperformed preseason expectations by claiming a share of the Atlantic 10 championship (they were picked to finish fifth) en route to a second round NCAA appearance. The other side of the equation, however, is that Wade’s success in 2015-16 did come largely with players brought in by Smart. Wade deserves credit for tweaking Smart’s “HAVOC” approach into a more half court-oriented strategy, as well as for landing transfer Korey Billbury and helping develop JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox. Similarly, Wade’s ability to facilitate Billbury’s transformation into a good defender might be near the top of the list of reasons as to why VCU was able to make the NCAA Tournament and rank in the top 40 in KenPom this season. While Wade doesn’t boast as much head coaching experience as some potential candidates, his stock will explode over the next few years if he keeps VCU at its current level. Hiring Wade would be a risk well worth taking, and he would be a very good hire for Vanderbilt if he were to accept the job. VCU has made the NCAA Tournament six straight times and it might be difficult for Wade to leave a program he has great loyalty to. As such, it’s far from a sure thing that Wade would actually agree to become Vanderbilt’s next head coach. It will be important for Vanderbilt to line up some good alternative choices, because I think there’s less than a 50 percent chance that Wade will agree to make the move.

 

UC-Irvine head coach Russell Turner

Turner has the most coaching experience of anyone in this tier, and he’s built UC-Irvine into arguably the best program in the Big West. While Turner spent 2004-2010 as an assistant for the Golden State Warriors with a focus on player development, he has over 15 seasons of college coaching experience as well, split between Wake Forest, Stanford, and his current gig. While Turner’s lack of familiarity with the southeast might seem like a concern at first with respect to fit, his time at Wake helps fill that hole in his résumé a bit. Similarly, Vanderbilt relies less on the south for its recruiting base compared to other SEC schools, so VU shouldn’t feel bound to any one region when conducting its search. Turner’s best Anteater squads have thrived by playing a slow-paced, defensive style that focuses on forcing opponents to shoot a low percentage rather than playing for turnovers. This strategy is similar to what Stallings has implemented at Vanderbilt, although one can argue over whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Turner’s best teams at Irvine haven’t shot many threes, which seems to be a slight red flag in my eyes based on how the college game has evolved. Turner offers a bit of a more experienced alternative to King Rice and Bryce Drew if those three are the finalists.

 

 

Valparaiso head coach Bryce Drew

Perhaps known best for his legendary shot to upset Ole Miss while playing for Valpo in 1998, Drew has garnered significant attention for his role in keeping the Crusaders among the elite of the Horizon League as head coach. Unlike Turner, Rice, and Kevin Keatts, Drew’s program was in a pretty good place when he got the job, taking over for his father, Homer, in 2011. Drew’s Crusaders have lost just five conference games over the past two seasons behind an excellent defense that thrives at protecting the rim (top 15 nationally in two-point percentage defense each of the last two seasons). Drew has done a decent job with recruiting, but many of his team’s top players such as Shane Hammink, Keith Carter, and Vashil Fernandez have really developed over the course of their respective Valpo careers. Drew’s successful transformation of Valparaiso into an at-large contender out of the Horizon League over the last few year’s shouldn’t be overlooked, but factors working against him are his lack of connections outside of Indiana and his lack of diverse experiences in coaching.

 

Monmouth head coach King Rice

Monmouth’s team this past season was best known for the antics of its bench, but Rice should be commended for turning a moribund program into one of the MAAC’s best over the course of five seasons. Rice’s smart scheduling tactics nearly made up for the Hawks’ three sub-200 RPI losses to get them into the NCAA Tournament, and unlike some other coaches on this list he didn’t have to rely on JuCo recruits to finish with a 28-8 record. Monmouth has played uptempo under Rice, and the Hawks’ 67th-rated defense per Ken Pomeroy in 2015-16 is impressive considering their lack of access to elite physical talent. Rice’s team won upwards of 15 games away from home this past season, including wins over USC and Notre Dame, and they play a fun style. Having coached at Vanderbilt under Stallings, Rice is a natural fit if Williams wants a coach who is familiar with VU, or a poor fit if Williams wants to branch out a bit. Rice has not made the NCAA Tournament since leaving Vanderbilt, although that probably says more about Monmouth than about him.

 

UNC-Wilmington head coach Kevin Keatts

This would be a bit of a weird one. Keatts has spent most of his coaching career at Hargrave Military Academy, which is known best as a destination for college recruits who can’t qualify academically to take a postgrad season. After leaving Hargrave, he was an assistant at Louisville from 2011-2014 and helped coach the Cardinals to the 2013 National Championship. Under Keatts’ watch, UNCW has rebounded from six straight losing seasons to win back-to-back CAA regular season championships while claiming an NCAA Tournament appearance this past season. UNCW’s 26-10 regular season CAA record under Keatts represents a major positive on his résumé, and the team’s strong KenPom numbers in 2016 show how quickly Keatts turned the program into a dominating force in the CAA. Keatts only has two years of head coaching experience at the Division I level, however, which is the smallest amount of any coach in this tier. Under Keatts, UNCW likes to push the pace and play aggressive defense with the goal of forcing turnovers, a style similar to Louisville’s. Like Wade, Keatts will draw the attention of numerous other high-major schools if he continues to win at UNCW, so now isn’t a bad time to take the risk and pick him up if Vanderbilt feels he is the right man for the job. Keatts was the lead recruiter at Louisville when the Cardinals’ recruiting scandal went down, so this one would be a PR nightmare.

 

Tier 3: Some combination of lack of track record and unknown obtainability

Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett

Bennett is west coast through and through, but he’s led Saint Mary’s back to the top of the WCC since taking over in 2001 while producing a number of NBA players along the way. SMC has been in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT each year since 2008, winning at least 21 games in every one of those seasons. Bennett’s teams are known for their highly efficient offenses and the Gaels have had plenty of success against high major foes during Bennett’s time, suggesting there shouldn’t be any worries about his style translating to the SEC. Saint Mary’s has only made the NIT the last three years, and after this season’s somewhat surprising snub by the NCAA Tournament committee, it’s possible Bennett would look at jumping to a power conference. This is all speculation, however, and I don’t think Vanderbilt represents a particularly good fit for Bennett, who has shown no inclination to move out east for a bigger job.

 

Arkansas-Little Rock head coach Chris Beard

The No. 12 seed Trojans were one of the big stories of the NCAA Tournament first weekend as they made a up a big late-game deficit en route to an upset over Purdue in the first round. Beard has drawn praise for fitting in numerous new players in 2016 while improving Little Rock’s record from 13-18 last season to 30-4 in his first year; only four of the 10 Trojans to play against Purdue saw action for the team in 2014-15. While this fact reflects tremendously well on Beard’s coaching ability, his lack of experience makes it unlikely Williams would turn to Beard if some of the above candidates have interest. Beard spent multiple seasons as a head coach at the junior college level, and his successful identification of JuCo recruits that could help Little Rock paid major dividends for the Trojans this season. Vanderbilt’s administration, however, is unlikely to ever get on board with taking junior college recruits due to the academic stature of the school. Hiring Beard, therefore, would constitute a major risk since his success this past season was tied so tightly to JuCo recruits.

 

Tier 4: LOL

Former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt

Ladies and gentlemen, your new head coach for Vanderbilt University men's basketball.

Ladies and gentlemen, your new head coach for Vanderbilt University men’s basketball.

We know Blatt gets along great with his players, and his Princeton education makes him highly relatable off the court. Blatt’s large-and-in-charge coaching style would be a much better fit for college than it proved to be in the NBA, especially at a school like Vanderbilt that’s comparable academically to his alma mater, Princeton. Players and scouts overseas have long admired Blatt’s Princeton offense, and it’s fair to assume it would work in college since his players would be more likely to actually do what Blatt tells them. Having learned under the great Pete Carril during his days as a player at Princeton, Blatt has rarely been questioned as a basketball tactician and showed a strong feel for organizing rotations and formulating game plans even in Cleveland. Did I mention he went to Princeton?

 

Former Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau

Just look at how the Bulls have tanked this season after firing Thibodeau and hiring Fred Hoiberg, a noted friend of GM Gar Forman. Unfortunately, this makes no sense at all from Thibodeau’s standpoint considering he’ll be a hot commodity on the NBA coaching market this coming offseason. Thibodeau hasn’t coached in college since 1989, so I don’t know why he would decide to go back now.

 

Former Nuggets, Suns, Knicks, and Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni

This is getting silly. Despite what dumb Lakers fans on the internet would have you believe, D’Antoni is a good coach who has pioneered multiple in-game and out-of-game strategies that nearly every NBA team has since taken up in recent years. D’Antoni has never coached in college and could be in line for another NBA job soon, so I’m only bringing his name up for entertainment value.

Check out VandyRadio’s comprehensive Vanderbilt sports blog series. Building the Masonic Tradition covers Commodore football, The Black & Gold Standard covers VU hoops, and Eyes of the Hawk covers Vandy baseball. VandyRadio.com is your home for year-round coverage of your favorite Vanderbilt teams.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *