[Part 3 of a 3-part series]
Now that an exhilarating weekend of March Madness is behind us, we can return to our depressing lives as Friar fans. Then again, we guess things aren’t quite so depressing — after all, we’re about to turn the page on a new era in Friar hoops.
But who will be the face of that new era? We’ve already discussed those who won’t be that face — “The Untouchables” and “The Odd Men Out” — but now we move to a group that just might contain PC’s next head man. Read on to find out more.
Head Coach, Virginia Commonwealth
Simply put, the ideal candidate. Young, black, and damned good-looking, he learned his trade under Donovan at Florida. His pesky VCU squad came within a whisker of the Sweet 16 last year, and while he did it with Jeff Capel’s players, his experience under Donovan makes it pretty clear he can recruit. His greatest strength is his ability to coach defense: VCU plays an aggressive, trapping style that wreaked havoc on both Duke and Pitt in last year’s Tourney. The only problem is that he is probably in line for a bigger job than PC.
Some may ask: why is Grant a “Goodfella” while Martelli is an “Untouchable”? The reason is that while we’re not brimming with confidence that Grant would want to come to PC, the simple fact is that he’s looking to move up from VCU, while Martelli is unlikely to leave St. Joe’s. We’ll have plenty more on Grant in the coming days, so be sure to check back.
Head Coach, Kent State
If you put a bunch of factors into a computer (young coach, good recruiter, emphasis on defense, success at mid-major, familiarity with the Northeast) and asked it to spit out the perfect choice, it would likely come up with: Anthony Grant. Oh, but Jim Christian would probably be second on that list, because he’s got all of the above factors. He’s in his mid-40′s; he’s led Kent State to six 20-win seasons in six years, including two NCAA Tournament appearances; his squad is the best in the MAC defensively; and he’s a Long Island boy who played at BU and URI.
Some may be scared off by the performance (or lack thereof) of his Golden Flashes in the first half of their NCAA Tourney loss to UNLV. We’ll just point to the obvious fact that one game does not make a coach — if it did, then our very own Tim Welsh would be a coaching genius.
Head Coach, Wright State
We’re not sure if Brownell is even on Bob Driscoll’s radar, but he most certainly should be. Before Anthony Grant and Jim Larranaga were all the rage in the Colonial Athletic Association, Brownell was a two-time CAA Coach of the Year at UNC-Wilmington in just four seasons at the helm. In two years at Wright State, he’s led the Raiders to two 20-win seasons and one NCAA Tournament (last year) — and he’s done it with a serious emphasis on defense.
Did we mention that he’s still only 39? He fits Driscoll’s description of someone who has had success as a head coach, but he’s young enough to give the program a shot in the arm. The only drawback is that he’s a Midwest guy, but that’s nothing a carefully-chosen assistant or two can’t overcome.
Head Coach, Dayton
Another Midwest guy, but he fits the mold that PC is looking for: a young mid-major coach who teaches good defense, and has had success early in his head coaching career. Dayton knocked off Pitt and Louisville — at Freedom Hall, no less — early in the year, but an injury to the Flyers’ second-leading scorer had them struggle in A-10 play and just miss out on the NCAA Tournament.
The questions about Gregory are the same as those about Brownell: can a Midwest guy make the transition to the Northeast? It’s certainly a valid question, but we’d much rather hire Gregory than someone with Northeast roots who hasn’t proven anything (like Kevin Willard, for instance).
Head Coach, George Mason
He’s a great guy and a great representative of PC, and he’s obviously done a fantastic job at George Mason. Larranaga would be perfect in a lot of ways: he’s a PC alum, he’s had serious success at the mid-major level, and he’s gotten there with good defensive squads. In other words, everything makes him the perfect candidate… except his age (he’s 58).
We’d certainly be happy if Larranaga were to take the reins at PC, but because of the age factor, he’s not our first choice. There’s also the problem of whether he’d actually want to leave George Mason: at his age, with what he has accomplished there (4 NCAA Tournaments in 11 years), and with his family settled there, Larranaga could choose to forego the chance to coach his alma mater. With GMU out of the Tourney after a disappointing loss to Notre Dame, Larranaga’s fair game to pursue at this point, so stay tuned.
Head Coach, Davidson
Coming off this past weekend, McKillop’s name is as hot as it’s ever been, but he was a legitimate target for PC well before Stephen Curry poured in 70 points in upset over Gonzaga and Georgetown. And while Curry is a phenomenal player, chalking Davidson’s success solely up to him is a disservice to McKillop, a Long Island native (grew up in Queens before attending Chaminade and then Hofstra), who has taken a SoCon school (lower than a mid-major) and elevated them to be competitive with the big boys — no, we’re not talking about the NCAA Tournament success. Try scheduling (a difficult enough task at a school like Davidson) and hanging with UNC, UCLA and Duke (three losses by a combined 22 points) this season.
People say PC plays second fiddle for recruits in the northeast corridor, well Davidson would love to sport that title in basketball-saturated North Carolina. With that distinct disadvantage, McKillop has still built a remarkably deep team for such a small conference. Yes, a player of Curry’s offensive talent makes an enormous difference, but McKillop also does a great job coaching defense. Watch the Wildcat guards this week — they aren’t physically up to snuff with their opponents, but they contest everything. Under McKillop, Davidson tips more lazy inbound and cross-court passes than any team we can remember, which leads to easy hoops.
McKillop will be 58 this summer, and after coaching at Davidson since 1989 there will be questions about how he can recruit at the Big East level in a different talent pool. But, the guy is a heck of a coach, who identifies talent and coaches them into smart players — both musts in Providence’s next coach — and that’s why he would make a good hire.
Head Coach, Duquesne
After a pretty successful five-year stretch at Northeastern, Everhart took a Duquesne team that went 3-24 in 2005-06 and guided them to a 17-12 finish this year. Under Everhart, the Dukes have played an up-tempo style that teams have had difficulty dealing with — 10 players averaged 11 minutes or more per game, and the Dukes finished second only to Xavier in the A-10 in scoring differential at +8.2.
We’ve been stressing defense, defense, defense in our PC coaching search posts — the reason, of course, is that PC will rarely if ever be more individually talented than its rivals, and it needs a system that levels the playing field to some degree. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is through stingy defense, but as John Beilein showed at West Virginia, that isn’t the only way. Everhart doesn’t fit the defense-first description of many of the other coaches on this list, but his frenetic, full-court style is another system that gives opponents fits, and that’s why he intrigues us.
Head Coach, Siena
Somewhat like Everhart in that he wins more on the offensive end than on the defensive end, with the added bonus that his teams rarely turn the ball over. A former Notre Dame assistant, McCaffrey recruited both Pat Garrity and Troy Murphy to South Bend. This skill as a recruiter is evident in the turnaround he engineered at Siena: a Saints squad that went 6-24 in 2004-05 (the year before McCaffrey took over) just knocked off 4th seeded Vanderbilt in the NCAA Tourney over the weekend thanks to double digit outputs from three sophomores, all McCaffrey recruits.
A Philly native, McCaffrey is certainly familiar with the Northeast in general and the Big East in particular. The only red flags for McCaffrey: his teams are typically not great defensively and get killed on the glass, and he posted only a 90-87 record in six years at UNC-Greensboro.
Head Coach, SMU
If ever there were a situation for which “playing with fire” was a great analogy, this is it. Doherty is an ace recruiter, has Northeast roots (he’s a Long Island guy), and would help re-energize a stagnant program. On the other hand, he flamed out horribly at UNC and hasn’t bowled anyone over in his time at Florida Atlantic (15-13 in one year) or SMU (14-17 last year, 10-19 this year). Then again, he did convince former PC superstar Jeff Parmer to transfer to Florida Atlantic, so he certainly has an eye for top-shelf talent.
All kidding aside, we’d suggest that any PC fans pushing for Jim O’Brien should look to Doherty instead. If you want to roll the dice with a big name coach, then here’s your guy. Doherty is far from our top choice, but we don’t deny the buzz he would bring to the program.
There are other candidates who certainly would intrigue us — Scott Sutton (Oral Roberts) and Bill Grier (San Diego), to name a couple — but given their locales and other factors, we don’t see any way that the PC administration would pursue them. We’ve also heard rumblings that Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt is in hot water; if he were available, he’d certainly be near the top of this list, but until he is released, we won’t entertain him as a viable candidate.
Who on this list intrigues you? Is there anyone you think we’re leaving off? Let us know in the Comments.