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A big move by John Calipari or Bill Self could cause seismic impact on college hoops coaching carousel

By Pete Thamel
March 04, 2016

When projecting the volume of a coaching job market, the most important variable is market drivers. With firing season just around the corner, the looming question will be whether or not any jobs will open with enough clout to drive the market.

A flurry of pedestrian high-major jobs are projected to open: Georgia Tech, Rutgers, TCU and Oklahoma State. But those lack the gravitas to create true market upheaval. There are a pair of good jobs outside the Power 5 that are either already open (UNLV) or projected to become available (Memphis), but neither of those will likely force a ripple throughout the country. The market is generally expected to be quiet, as no school in the Pac-12 or the SEC is likely to fire its coach. (Stanford or Missouri could make moves, but it is unlikely).

We're left watching and waiting to see if marquee jobs like North Carolina, Louisville or Kentucky open. If any of those jobs become available—and that's a huge IF—it won't likely happen until later in the spring. Coaches like Roy Williams and Rick Pitino should be operating on their own timelines. John Calipari's only option would be the NBA, which wouldn't happen until later this spring.

The top young coaches like Xavier's Chris Mack and Dayton's Archie Miller really don't have anywhere appealing to consider, as their current jobs are better than anything certain to open. So the best way to view the 2016 college basketball coaching search season is to say that it's going to be on the quieter side. Unless, of course, a few market drivers emerge.

Here's a look at what to watch for on the 2016 basketball carousel:


North Carolina: Any prediction on Roy Williams's future would simply be speculation. There's no succinct feel on whether Williams would hang it up after this season. He may have the most talented team in the country, and a Final Four or a potential national title is a tricky variable to gauge here. The specter of the UNC academic scandal, which has worn on Williams, appears to have decreased. But this is a tough job to gauge until after March. Ultimately, it's up to Williams and few really know what he's thinking.

Bottom Line: 75% chance he returns

Louisville: From the moment the escort scandal broke, Rick Pitino's job security increased every day the school didn't get fire him. UNLV isn't going to happen, as it's hard to imagine Pitino coaching in Laramie, Wyo., and Logan, Utah. The NBA is also unlikely. The reality may be that Pitino ends up back in Louisville, and comments recently to Yahoo's Pat Forde certainly indicate that. The school has proven numb to scandal and let Pitino coach this long. The best guess is he's back on the sideline in 2016-17 and braces for whatever the NCAA investigation finds.

Bottom Line: 75% chance he returns

Kentucky: John Calipari has been window shopping for an NBA landing spot for a few seasons. So you can ignore his carefully worded Twitter denials that are accompanied by love letters to UK fans. Calipari has had a historic run at Kentucky, but if he's offered the right amount of control with an NBA franchise, he'd skip town. It would be the most fascinating basketball sociology experiment to mesh Calipari's ego and showmanship with a modern NBA locker room. The Nets are considered the most likely suitors. The Kings have already kicked the tires once before.

Bottom Line: 85% chance he returns

NBA: The departure of Butler's Brad Stevens to the Celtics in 2013 and Florida's Billy Donovan to Oklahoma City last year has prompted some top college coaches to re-evaluate the NBA. The college recruiting environment is a thankless hamster wheel, especially in the one-and-done climate. It wouldn't be surprising for other elite young coaches to follow their paths. Put simply, you don't find a whole lot of college coaches or assistants who go work in the NBA pining to go back to college. The trickle up should continue. We know Michigan State's Tom Izzo has been temped a few times before, and Arizona's Sean Miller has intrigued a few franchises. Villanova's Jay Wright is another established coach who has buzzed in NBA circles before. Kansas' Bill Self has publicly stated he's interested in trying the NBA at some point. (And what more can he really do at Kansas?) When do the top coaches become sick of the rat race and want to focus on basketball?

Bottom Line: The days of the lifer college coach may be ending. Expect one surprise NBA jump this season.

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Georgia Tech: Props to Brian Gregory, who has led the Yellow Jackets on a late-season charge, winning four of their past five games to improve to 17-13 (7-10 in the ACC). That spurt may end up saving his job. But it's likely too little, too late. Athletic director Mike Bobinski is basketball savvy from his time at Xavier, as he's credited with hiring Thad Matta and Chris Mack there. Safe to say he's got a plan. The issue is that Tech has become a buzzless job. Can you lure an elite young coach like Dayton's Archie Miller? Probably not. In the 15-team ACC, Tech is a middling job with little resonance among high school aged kids. Gregory hung on a year longer than most expected. Hard to see that happening again, as in five seasons he's 72-84 with no NCAA bids.

Bottom Line: 35% chance he returns

Names: Bryce Drew (Valparaiso), Jeff Capel (Duke assistant), Ron Hunter (Georgia State), LeVelle Moton (NC Central), Mike Lonergan (George Washington), Herb Sendek, Danny Hurley (Rhode Island) and Jerod Haase (UAB).

Big Ten

Rutgers: The Eddie Jordan era was doomed from the start. The school couldn't even get the feel-good homecoming story right, as it turned out Jordan had yet to earn his degree. Things have only got worse, including Jordan's tone deaf dismissal of the fans amid an 0-17 season in the Big Ten. Look for Rutgers to go after an experienced metro area coach to leverage the Big Ten's cache in the Northeast. New Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs hired Kevin Willard at Seton Hall in 2010 as that school's interim athletic director and could follow a similar model here. The trick here is that Rutgers still doesn't enjoy a full Big Ten monetary share, and the facilities were antiquated in the 1990s. Good luck finding a longterm solution on short pay.

Bottom Line: 0% chance Jordan returns

Names: Steve Masiello (Manhattan), Mark Schmidt (St. Bonaventure), Steve Pikiell (Stony Brook), Tim Cluess (Iona), Lavall Jordan (Michigan assistant), Danny Hurley (Rhode Island) and King Rice (Monmouth).

Illinois: John Groce's Illini teams have gotten worse in each of his four seasons in Champaign. They've gone from 23 wins and the NCAA tournament in his debut 2012-13 season to 20 wins in 13-14 to 19 last year. Illinois is 13-17 this year (5-12 in the Big Ten). There have been significant injuries, but the distinct pattern of losing here is hard to ignore. There's no good time for a player to get charged for pulling a knife on a bouncer, but Leron Black's arrest last week didn't help Groce at a vulnerable time (Black has pleaded not guilty). Illinois is already dealing with essentially an interim football coach for 2016 in Bill Cubit. Groce would be atop all the hot seat lists next year if new athletic director Josh Whitman decides to keep him. The decision will give great insight into Whitman and how he'll operate. Do you wait and hope for better health? Or make a hard decision to try and jumpstart a rebuild? No easy answers.

Bottom Line: 30% chance Groce returns

Names: Frank Martin (South Carolina), Bryce Drew (Valparaiso), Mick Cronin (Cincinnati), Cuonzo Martin (Cal), Buzz Williams (Virginia Tech) and Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh).

Wisconsin: It appears Greg Gard will keep the Badgers' job for the long haul. There was a notion for weeks that AD Barry Alvarez didn't love the way Bo Ryan handled his departure on Dec. 15 to essentially assure Gard of an audition. But Gard is 13-5 since taking over, winning 11 of 12, and the Badgers are tied for second in the Big Ten. This comes after a precipitous dropoff in talent from last year's Final Four team. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this week that the school is preparing to give Gard a "long-term contract." Well deserved. That should quiet the Tony Bennett rumors.

Bottom Line: 90% chance Gard returns

Big 12

Oklahoma State: Remember all those rumors floating for years about the Cowboys backing up one of T. Boone Pickens' Brinks trucks for Bill Self? Well, those have shifted to Buzz Williams of Virginia Tech and Gregg Marshall of Wichita State. The Cowboys will owe Ford $7.2 million when they fire him, a tribute to the astonishingly short-sighted 10-year extension the school gave him in 2009. Were that many people lining up for Travis Ford? The Cowboys have struggled with injuries, but a 3-14 league record and oceans of empty seats at Gallagher-Iba Arena have essentially sealed Ford's fate. The Cowboys need to be careful—Ford has gone to the NCAAs five times in eight years— and there aren't a lot of hot coaches pining to coach in Stillwater.

Bottom Line: 80% chance Ford is gone

Names: Buzz Williams (Virginia Tech), Gregg Marshall (Wichita State), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), Kelvin Sampson (Houston) and Rick Stansbury (Texas A&M assistant).

TCU: The Horned Frogs brought their facilities up to a Power 5-caliber level, thanks in part to a $72 million facility upgrade that was completed before the season. That makes this job only slightly more attractive, as it is still one of the most difficult in the Big 12. The Trent Johnson era has gone stale, with the Horned Frogs last in the Big 12 and Johnson failing to show significant progress in his fourth season. Look for athletic director Chris Del Conte to search for new blood, as Johnson is 49-77 in Fort Worth with no NCAA appearances. Del Conte has also seen how quickly Tubby Smith turned around Texas Tech, which may be the most ominous sign for Johnson.

Bottom Line: 75% chance Johnson is gone

Names: Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), Josh Pastner (Memphis), Herb Sendek, Chris Beard (Arkansas-Little Rock), Dan Muller (Illinois State) and Kelvin Sampson (Houston).

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Memphis: Memphis and UNLV are kindred cousins of unrealistic expectations and current teams chasing past glories. Memphis faces the quandary of firing Josh Pastner and paying him more than a $10 million buyout. Pastner's contract reportedly doesn't have offsets, meaning that he'll get virtually every dime, even if he gets another job. (This editorial in the Commericial Appeal gives great perspective to the degree of irresponsibility of the contract.)

If he's fired, Pastner's deal could be remembered as one of the worst contracts in the history of college sports. (Even Charlie Weis' agent is blown away how lopsided the deal is against the school.) Memphis is in a terrible spot, as it can't afford to fire Pastner but realistically can't afford not to with rapidly dwindling attendance. It will be borderline untenable financially to fire him. It would be just as awkward to keep him amid a season filled with garish losses to UT Arlington, East Carolina, Tulane and USF. The best solution here is if Pastner can find another job and the university allows him to walk. Pastner has a poor reputation as a tactician. Can an athletic director sell a coach to a fan base that a school is willing to consider paying $10 million to go away?

Bottom line: 40% chance he returns

Names: Bruce Pearl (Auburn), Buzz Williams (Virginia Tech), Gregg Marshall (Wichita State), Penny Hardaway, Jerod Haase (UAB), Frank Martin (South Carolina), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), Rick Byrd (Belmont), Chris Beard (Arkansas-Little Rock) and Rick Stansbury (Texas A&M assistant).

UNLV: There have been some flashy names out there, which is expected. This is Vegas, after all. Don't expect Rick Pitino to walk through that door. Or Jay Wright. Former Rebels star and current assistant coach Stacey Augmon isn't a realistic option. Nor is any highly compensated coach, really. UNLV can barely afford to pay half of the $5 million Pitino is expected to make next year. So where does UNLV turn? The Rebels had plenty of time to think about it after firing Dave Rice in early January. No one on the current UNLV staff is a serious candidate. Schools tend to hire opposites, and Rice was a talented recruiter with little sideline acumen. The opposite would be a veteran coach with a strong reputation as a tactician. That's easier said than done on a tight budget.

Names: Mike Brown, Russell Turner (UC-Irvine), Mike Hopkins (Syracuse assistant), Rick Stansbury (Texas A&M assistant), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), King Rice (Monmouth) and Tommy Lloyd (Gonzaga assistant).

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