Coaching Carousel a Thrill Ride for AAC ProgramsPosted by CD Bradley on March 25th, 2014
While 16 teams remain alive in the chase for a championship – including AAC members UConn and Louisville – several other teams are chasing the new coaches that they hope might get them to the Sweet Sixteen some day. USF and Houston have now found their way onto this year’s coaching carousel, and their candidate pools say a lot about where the conference stands and where it’s going. USF fired Stan Heath after the AAC Tournament, and Houston announced Monday that James Dickey had stepped down to deal with a family matter. Reports on Tuesday morning indicate that Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello, fresh off a competitive round of 64 loss to Louisville and his mentor, Rick Pitino, has accepted the South Florida position.
The USF job quickly was initially linked to some major names, including Buzz Williams (more on him in a moment), but Masiello appears to be the guy. The loss to Louisville was a particularly emotional one for Masiello, who was once a 12-year-old ballboy for Pitino with the Knicks, played for him as a walk-on at Kentucky, and served as an assistant at Louisville for six years before taking the Manhattan job. After the game, his old boss recommended he take the USF job, as he told the Tampa Tribune: “For you, it’s a grand slam.”
Very shortly after the Houston Chronicle reported that Dickey was leaving, Yahoo’s Pat Forde and Adrian Wojnarowski reported that former Oklahoma and Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson was a top candidate for the job. Sampson took the Sooners to the Final Four in 2004 and appeared to be building toward similar success at Indiana, but instead in 2008 earned both programs NCAA sanctions and himself a five-year show cause order based on a large number of impermissible calls to recruits. Sampson, now an assistant with the Houston Rockets, has been a candidate for several NBA head coaching jobs as well.
Williams, earlier mentioned as a candidate at USF, instead accepted the head coaching job at Virginia Tech in a move that had AAC links of its own. Whit Babcock, Virginia’s Tech new athletic director, had left Cincinnati for the job, and admitted on Monday that current Bearcats coach Mick Cronin played match-maker between his old AD and his friend Williams. It was also reported on Monday that Cronin’s crosstown rival, Xavier coach Chris Mack, was a top candidate for the open Wake Forest job, where he was once an assistant for the late Skip Prosser. Williams and Mack both have a variety of reasons for (allegedly, in Mack’s case) wanting to leave the Big East. It has been reported that among Williams’ reasons for departing Marquette for a clearly lesser job in Blacksburg was displeasure over the Big East’s TV deal on little-watched FS1 compared with the ACC’s deal with all-powerful ESPN. The AAC also signed a deal with ESPN (and the less powerful CBS Sports Net), which appears to have been a wise business decision because it offers broader exposure for the basketball product.
The old Big East split in two over football, specifically that the Catholic Seven’s concern that basketball had taken a back seat in the view of the conference. And yet it’s now the Big East that is losing coaches (although reports that Shaka Smart may replace Williams at Marquette would certainly quell some of those concerns), while the AAC could boast an impressive lineup of coaches next year. There’s Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who has resurrected the SMU program; Kevin Ollie, who has UConn in the Sweet Sixteen in just his second season; Cronin, coming off four straight NCAA trips, and Josh Pastner, coming off three; and Danny Manning, whose Tulsa team arrives in the league next year after winning the Conference USA title. Adding Sampson, who has been to a Final Four, and Masiello, who rebuilt the Manhattan program, would leave the conference looking pretty strong as it shifts into its post-Louisville phase of development.