Saturday March 22nd, 2008

Here at Cinderella's Castle, everyone wanted to know how a Sweet 16 appearance might boost the three mid-major programs still alive Saturday. One ? either 12th-seeded Western Kentucky or 13th-seeded San Diego ? is guaranteed to make the Sweet 16 in the West Region. Siena, No. 13 in the Midwest, also could crash the party by beating No. 12 Villanova.

But when a mid-major team makes a Sweet 16, there's always an elephant in the room, and he's usually holding a resume.

The coaches of those lovable, cuddly underdogs will find themselves courted by the power-conference brethren of the very Goliaths they vanquished to reach the NCAA tournament's third round. If Siena's Fran McCaffery leads his team past Villanova, wouldn't it make sense for Providence athletic director Bob Driscoll to call the coach and at least ask if McCaffery thinks he could beat the Wildcats every year? And by the way, Driscoll probably would mention, McCaffery would have a bigger budget, a bigger arena and a bigger salary.

Bruce Pearl did it three years ago, parlaying a Sweet 16 run at Wisconsin-Milwaukee into the Tennessee job. But while Pearl and Thad Matta (Xavier to Ohio State) have thrived, other coaches have found it difficult to replicate their mid-major success. Last year, Arkansas officials chased off Stan Heath, who they hired after he reached the Elite Eight in his first year at Kent State. Heath's predecessor at Kent State, Gary Waters, resigned under pressure at Rutgers a year earlier and wound up back in the mid-major ranks at Cleveland State.

McCaffery's current players heard rumblings a week ago when Providence fired Tim Welsh. "The second the Providence job opened up," freshman forward Ryan Rossiter said, "there were already rumors coach Mac was going there." The whispers will turn into full-fledged screams if the Saints beat 'Nova, and McCaffery knows it.

"The process doesn't change," McCaffery said. "What you do is you evaluate, and you make a decision. I can assure you I could not be happier at Siena ? with my team, my boss, the community, the good living. So, I don't know that money would be a deciding factor."

And what about San Diego coach Bill Grier? After 16 years as a Gonzaga assistant, Grier left because he worked for one of the rare mid-major maestros (Mark Few) who didn't immediately cash in on a tourney run by jumping to a bigger school. Grier, whose team beat Connecticut on Saturday and faces Darrin Horn's Western Kentucky squad Sunday in the Glass Slipper Invitational, should return his entire team next season. If the BCS-conference schools don't come knocking this year, they will next year.

There are jobs. South Carolina is open. So is LSU, but Virginia Commonwealth coach Anthony Grant ? who would have used a 2007 first-round upset of Duke to quadruple his salary as Florida's new coach had Billy Donovan not waffled on his decision to jump to the NBA ? seems headed for Baton Rouge. McCaffery, Grier and Horn probably don't have the juice to get a look at Indiana, but any of the three could be a candidate to replace the guy who heads to Bloomington.

So how do the coaches avoid thinking about the fact that a potentially life-changing payday could ride on the outcome of Sunday's games? Easy, they said. If they think about their next job, they'll lose. If they focus on their current job, they might advance professionally and get rich in the process. Horn said he learned that from his former boss, Marquette coach Tom Crean. It should be noted that Crean's name appeared on candidate lists at Illinois (2003) and Kentucky (2007).

"His whole deal was, 'Take care of your job. Take care of your people. Take care of your players,'" Horn said. "And anything you want for yourself will take care of itself. ... I would be doing that if I was selling insurance."

Siena's Rossiter said he accepts the reality that the better the Saints play, the more attractive McCaffery becomes to bigger schools. Rossiter should understand. His father, Steve, played for three different head coaches at Loyola.

"It would hurt a little bit if he left," Rossiter said. "But he's got to do what's best for his career. It's his call."

McCaffery, who spent 11 years as an assistant at Notre Dame and who called leaving UNC-Greensboro for Siena in 2005 a "no-brainer," said he doesn't necessarily believe bigger is better. Still, if the Saints win Sunday, McCaffery may find himself testing that theory.

"When you find a place that you can call home, you have to be real careful running somewhere because they'll pay you a dollar more," he said. "For me, it will never be about that."

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