Column: What type of coach will Missouri men’s basketball hire next?
Mizzou AD Jim Sterk could go in several different directions with the school’s next coaching hire.
Mar. 08, 2017
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
As Missouri students cram into Ellis Library to prepare for midterm exams (or for tornado drills), first-year athletic director Jim Sterk is now faced with his first real test just nine months after arriving at Mizzou.
After asking men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson to step down at season’s end, the athletic department is now left to search for its fourth head basketball coach in seven years and finds itself at a crucial juncture.
The next men’s basketball coach will likely come to define the next half decade, or possibly more, of Missouri men’s basketball. Should this coach be a success, the team could find itself once again competing on the national landscape within the next three to five years. But if things go the opposite way and the new hire is a flop, the men’s basketball program will sink even further into the abyss.
So who will that next hire be?
You can find some real long “short” lists anywhere from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to the Kansas City Star to the Columbia Missourian. All of that is at best some really in-depth, really impressive speculation. But that’s all it is. No one in the media knows who Missouri will target, how much money they are looking to spend or how long it will take Sterk to make a decision.
A question that can be somewhat answered is what type of coach Missouri basketball might find itself ultimately hiring. Among the coaches whose names are being thrown around, there is a vast variety of coaching backgrounds, experience and name recognition.
So which archetype will we see Missouri most likely end up with?
(By the way, the following is basically just as speculative as those shortlists are and is based almost solely on names being put out there by the media and fans. We likely won’t know anything until the athletic department begins contacting and interviewing candidates. With that said, enjoy 1,200 words on the subject.)
The big-name, big-money hire
When a job opens up at a Power Five school (yes, Missouri basketball is still Power Five … barely), it's natural to wonder about which big-time coaches are available or are on the brink of departing from their current situation — either by force, or by choice.
One such name is Indiana head coach Tom Crean. After nine years at IU, things have soured for Crean in Bloomington, and according to Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde, his future at IU is “currently unclear.” He’s just a few years removed from being one of the most coveted names in college basketball, but after several disappointing NCAA tournament exits and a down year in 2016-17, Hoosier fans have turned on Crean, and his time at Indiana may be done.
Crean is not the only coach being discussed. Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall is another big name being speculated about.
Missouri was unable to lure Marshall away from Wichita State prior to hiring Kim Anderson in 2013, and there isn’t much that has changed to suggest that Marshall would be more open to leaving the Shockers now. Tempting Marshall would likely take something of a Godfather offer with significant years and money, and even that might not cut it.
A big-name hire along the lines of Crean would be an encouraging next step for Missouri basketball. But along with a large price tag, he would also bring with him outsized expectations. Missouri is not going to be a two-year turnaround, and Tigers fans will likely have little patience for a coach making $3-5 million a year. Throw in the general difficulty of prying a high-caliber coach away, and it’s difficult to imagine Missouri hiring a coach of this magnitude.
At the same time, the university has been able to raise an astounding amount of money for renovations to its football stadium, and if they are truly looking to make a splash with a big-name hire, they may be willing to do whatever it takes, or pay whatever they must, to get a coach like Crean to Columbia.
Overall, the buyouts and ballooning contracts of a big-name hire may scare Missouri away.
The assistant coach hire
The idea of Missouri poaching an assistant coach from one of the nation’s top programs is an intriguing one. Northwestern’s Chris Collins and Marquette's Steve Wojciechowski are two of the most recent examples of coaches who jumped straight from assistant positions to head coaching roles successfully. Both have produced impressive results, and each should be headed to the tournament with their teams this season.
Missouri could attempt to do something similar, but doing so does come with the risk of an unproven coach.
The consensus top option in terms of assistant coaches would be Kentucky’s Kenny Payne. While John Calipari is the face of Kentucky recruiting, Payne has been Calipari’s top assistant for the past eight years and is recognized as one of the nation’s best recruiters. As a key cog in Calipari’s staff, Payne has been heavily involved in bringing some of the nation’s top recruiting classes to Lexington. His coaching abilities, though, are somewhat less established, but Payne has served as an assistant for the past 13 years and may be ready to make the jump.
Cincinnati's Larry Davis would be the dark horse assistant candidate, essentially making him the dark horse of dark horses. The associate head coach under Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin, Davis took over for the final 25 games of the 2015-16 season, when Cronin took a leave of absence due to a health issue. Davis led Cincinnati to a 16-9 record and became the first interim coach to take a team to the tournament since 1989. At age 60, he too could be ready to take over a program of his own.
As promising as both Payne and Davis are, it’s likely that Sterk will prefer to bring in a proven head coach to turn the program around. Under different circumstances, an assistant might be a reasonable hire, but right now, Missouri requires stability that a first-time head coach cannot provide.
The young, Mid-Major hire
The archetype that leaves the most to the imagination is a coach who has found success at a Mid-Major. And that may be a scary prospect for Tigers fans. There’s no telling how a coach who found success in a weaker, non-Power Five conference will fare once they arrive at a big-time program. But a young coach who has made a name for himself at Mid-Major may be just what Missouri needs.
One name to look at is Virginia Commonwealth University head coach Will Wade, who took over the Rams after Shaka Smart left the program for Texas. Wade has amassed a record of 49-18 in his two years leading VCU and possesses a 89-43 career coaching record. While he has continued to keep VCU’s program strong, Wade may be intrigued by the prospect of coaching on a larger stage.
Kevin Keatts, who won a national championship while on Rick Pitino’s staff at Louisville, is another strong Mid-Major option. He has gone 72-27 in his three years at UNC-Wilmington with two NCAA Tournament appearances.
If interested, Missouri would likely have to compete heavily for Wade and Keatts with North Carolina State (among others), who will let coach Mark Gottfried go at the end of this season.
Mid-Major coaches deal with recruiting disadvantages, lack of respect from the national media and a host of other issues. Sound like a certain team located in mid-Missouri that you’re familiar with? It’s an oversimplification to say that a coach from a non-Power Five school could easily step into the mess that is Mizzou basketball just because they’re used to being at a disadvantage, but if the Tigers cannot land a big name, a coach like Wade or Keatts could be a strong hire. And if Sterk whiffs with Crean, a big time Mid-Major coach is likely the next place Mizzou will turn.
Edited by Katherine Stevenson | firstname.lastname@example.org