FILE - In this March 14, 2015, file photo, Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart, left, cheers on his players from the bench during an NCAA college basketball game against Davidson in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in New York.
John Minchillo, File
April 03, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Shaka Smart's jump from VCU to Texas has left athletic director Ed McLaughlin with an unexpected coaching vacancy, and one he doesn't expect to have any trouble filling.

The Rams' ascension onto the national stage in six years under Smart has made the job an attractive one. McLaughlin said he's already heard from a number of candidates, though he didn't identify them.

''Thank God that we don't have any limits on text messages any more on our cellphones because I would own $3 million for the last 24 hours,'' McLaughlin said Friday by telephone from Indianapolis, site of this year's Final Four. ''The interest has been incredible and quite honestly, it's humbling.''

Humbling, and understandable.

The Rams' next coach will inherit a program that has won at least 26 games for six years running, a feat matched only by Duke in Division I. The Rams have had 50 consecutive sellout crowds at the wildly raucous Siegel Center, and McLaughlin expects the next coach to elevate the program even higher.

This fall, VCU is scheduled to open a $25 million practice palace complete not just with basketball courts, but athletic dining facilities, sports medicine services, academic support and player lounges.

It's all part of a vision Smart and McLaughlin - and more notably, VCU boosters - shared to keep building on the success that has seen the Rams advance to the NCAA Tournament for five years in a row.

No other school in the state has ever received five consecutive NCAA berths.

Under Smart's watch, the Rams' 94-foot defensive style earned the nickname ''havoc,'' which was emblazoned on their warmup shirts and even trademarked within Virginia by the university.

McLaughlin said the next coach will have a lot to say about whether the trademark carries on, but in what he hopes will be a ''quick but thorough'' search, the style of play will remain a priority.

''I think style of play is important for our student-athletes,'' he said. ''They enjoy the style of play we have. I think it's important we take that into consideration with a new coach. Our fans, too, love how we play now. I think those two things right off the top. We also want someone who is a winner.''

McLaughlin plans to handle the search himself, with input from university President Michael Rao when needed. The AD he will use the gathering of coaches at the Final Four to get the ball rolling soon.

Rams players, many of whom had been crying, were ushered from their meeting with Smart back to their dorm Thursday night and declined comment, but McLaughlin said he caught up with them via Skype on Friday.

One of Smart's strengths was recruiting, and the class of four freshman that debuted this season and the class committed for next season were his two best groups. It is unclear whether the commitments will stand, or whether any of the players might seek to get to transfer and possibly follow Smart to Texas.

In the Skype meeting, McLaughlin said he explained to the team how the search will work, and added that ''there were no questions about anyone wanting to leave. I think all of our student-athletes are happy at VCU, and they love being in Richmond and playing for our university. So no one brought that up.''

If that changes, he said, the school will make no decisions regarding players until the next coach is in place.


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