Talk about hitting a grand slam. As first reported by ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman, Auburn hired former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl as its new head coach this morning. Pearl, who is still subject to a show-cause penalty until August and will not be able to have contact with recruits over the summer, inherits the reins of the program from Tony Barbee, who was fired last week after four seasons at the school. Needless to say, the hire is a major splash for a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003 and has essentially been an SEC also-ran throughout the tenures of Barbee and his predecessor, Jeff Lebo.
For Bruce Pearl, a Different Shade of Orange Coast is in Store at Auburn
Pearl’s hiring has to be considered a surprise. Many thought Auburn was overreaching when there were indications that Pearl was going to be considered for the vacancy, as the former Milwaukee and Tennessee head coach figured to be a candidate for several higher-profile jobs. But Pearl obviously felt the challenge was the right one for him at this time. He led Milwaukee to two NCAA Tournament bids before landing his first major job at Tennessee in 2005, where he resurrected the Volunteer program by taking it to the Big Dance in each of his six seasons in Knoxville, including its only Elite Eight appearance in 2010. As evidenced by their reaction on Twitter and message boards, many Tennessee fans see the move as a punch in the gut. Dissatisfaction with Cuonzo Martin had led many to believe that it was possible Pearl would return to the school, and a petition for his rehire had garnered over 36,000 signatures among Volunteer fans earlier this year.
John Stevens is a featured writer for RTC. His column appears on Tuesdays throughout the season.
So of course now there’s speculation that Bob Knight is headed to yet another school where all he’ll have to do is change the logo on his red sweaters and he’s good to go. I obviously don’t know if he’ll end up taking the position, but despite Knight’s feeble attempt to downplay the issue, I think we can say for sure that he’s considering it.
Questions, Indeed… (photo credit: daylife.com)
Note how the initial reports stated that “a friend” of Knight’s stated that he was interested in the job. Ok, fine. But the General’s response to this? He didn’t say anything about whether or not he’s talked to friends about the job, he never said anything about how his friends would NEVER talk to local media about Knight’s speculation over a job, he never said anything about how he flatly didn’t want that job. In fact, he’s made it a point to reiterate his previous statement of “I never said I wouldn’t coach again, I’d be interested if the right situation came along,” though he adds that he hasn’t had any contact with anyone “at Georgia” about that particular vacancy. “I haven’t talked to anyone from Georgia about it” is not an answer to the question. “Are you thinking about taking a job that an alleged friend of yours said you were interested in?” Woodward and Bernstein would call that a non-denying denial. Seems like Knight’s had contact with SOMEONE or else he’d be angrier and more direct in his lack of interest. And he’d most certainly have this “friend” publicly flogged.
Another interesting wrinkle is the timing of this Pat Summitt situation, with her 1000th win coming up sometime soon. Summitt didn’t get it on Monday, but as you likely know, they had Knight, as the all-time-winningest NCAA men’s coach, calling that game with Brent Musberger for ESPN. I wonder how easy that is for Knight to be around. I’m not saying he begrudges Coach Summitt anything, but the worship for the Tennessee coach has increased so much lately ahead of that pending 1000th win. You don’t think a competitive guy like Knight wouldn’t mind a little of that reverence and adoration, himself? To go down as the ONLY NCAA men’s coach to get into the quadruple-figures, and therefore don the implied “best-coach-ever” mantle that comes with a number like that? I think Knight would consider that to be an absolute acquittal and justification for everything he’s ever done, and that might be to tasty a legacy to pass up.
It was either this, or a shirtless Bruce Pearl. (photo credit: afrothunder.wordpress.com)
On Monday’s “Tirico and Van Pelt” program on ESPN Radio, the first question Mike Tirico asked Coach Knight was about the possibility of Knight taking the Georgia job. You know Coach Knight’s response (as above). But later on in that interview, in my opinion, came a more telling moment. Mr. Tirico asked Knight about how he communicates with his son Pat after incidents like the one Pat just had down at Texas Tech, and specifically inquired whether the conversation more resembles that of a father-son interaction or if it is more like two coaches talking shop (a great question). In his response, Knight hesitated for a moment, and then stated, “I just can’t stay away from it, Mike…” and explained that he basically let Pat consult him with basketball-related questions from time to time. I don’t blame Pat Knight for this, of course — I mean, who wouldn’t occasionally call up their winningest-NCAA-men’s-coach-ever-dad for some coaching advice if they had the chance? — but does Bob Knight’s response to the Tirico question sound like a man who is ready to leave the coaching profession behind? When your name comes up as a possible candidate for a coaching job and you’re saying things in interviews like “I can’t stay away from it,” no matter how you try to downplay your interest, I’m going to call you on it.
For what it’s worth, I totally agree with rtmsf’s earlier piece about Knight not being a good fit for Georgia (that second photo makes me think I’m personally a GREAT fit for UGA, but I digress). He’d be a basketball coach going to a football school and I can’t see Bob Knight going anywhere where he doesn’t have the biggest office and, as Mel Brooks would say, the biggest schwartz, as it were. And, as Mark Schlabach reported in a phone interview on ESPN.com on Monday night, the current president of the University of Georgia is Michael F. Adams. And who is Dr. Adams good friends with? Dr. Myles Brand, the current president of the NCAA…and the man who fired Knight from Indiana in 2000. Methinks the current UGA administration and Mr. Knight might not see eye-to-eye on a few matters.
The Smiling General. (photo credit: lubbockonline.com)
But Knight has never been one to back down from a challenge. It might not be the best idea for Knight to go to UGA. It’s also not a great idea to throw chairs across floors, physically threaten your AD, or hurl plants in your office, but that didn’t stop him. Listen, I have no problem with Coach Knight taking the reins at some program. I can’t blame a man who think he still has it in him to achieve excellence — and indeed, further cement his “all-time” status by breaking that 1000-win barrier. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be known as the all-time greatest at what you do. I’d miss his wit on the GameDay set, but who knows, maybe he’ll take this job and be reborn and make everyone forget about Dennis Felton and Jim Harrick. I don’t think it’s the best fit, but he could certainly prove me and rtmsf wrong. In my view, though, despite his attempts to downplay the issue and make it seem like he’s not interested, I think we have a lot of evidence to the fact that he’s either considering the job…or he likes the attention, and at least wants us to think he’s considering it.
By now you’re already heard all the hubbub about the possibility of Bob Knight leaving his ESPN media persona behind to get back in the saddle at one of these high-level SEC jobs that have recently opened. Put specifically, Georgia. From the AP report today:
Bob Knight could be ready to return to coaching and Monday said Georgia would be a desirable destination. “We would have the wherewithal to recruit and be able to compete with anybody,” Knight told ESPN on Monday. Knight, who resigned as the Texas Tech coach almost one year ago, said he would return to the sideline if offered the right situation. Georgia could be that situation.
Does anyone else think that this wouldn’t be a great fit for Knight or Georgia?
The Locale Isn't the Problem (photo credit: Flickr.com)
Knight specifically said today that he would want to go to a school where he could recruit and graduate his players. Ok, fair enough, but what coach wants to go to a school where you can’t recruit? On its face, UGa, with its postcard-pretty campus and college town environs, should have no problem attracting top-flight student-athletes. Within a two-hour drive of Athens, the ATL suburbs boast a wealth of top-flight hoops talent that SEC and ACC coaches annually feast upon. Just as an example, 12 of the top 150 recruits in the Class of 2009 are from the Peach State, according to Rivals.
But wasn’t that true for Dennis Felton and Ron Jirsa before him (we’re excluding Jim Harrick from consideration because of his and his son’s recruiting practices)? Weren’t those same suburbs full of the same talent then, yet those players still chose to go to UNC, Alabama, Florida and Kentucky anyway? The underlying problem at Georgia begins with poor coaching, but in the talent-rich SEC East, it ends with poor recruiting, and only once in the last six seasons has UGa had a top 25 class (#12 in 2005). Why does anyone believe that Knight could change this?
Seriously, the Locale Isn't the Problem (photo credit: Red Solo Cup)
It seems amidst all the hype (typically, Vitale is the worst offender, claiming that he’ll become his assistant and chaffeur Knight around if he takes the Georgia job) that nobody is taking a sensible step back and wondering why Knight, a self-professed hater of the recruiting process, would want to walk into a football-school-of-all-football-schools situation where he’s not the BMOC (Mark Richt with 2 SEC championships will continue to own that title even with BK on campus) and try to convince kids to play for him. If you look at his last decade-plus body of work (both at Indiana and Texas Tech), we’re not convinced that Knight can get Georgia prep stars to come to Georgia with any more regularity than Felton or Jirsa did. If anything, Knight’s reputation as a hard-ass and the anti-”player’s coach” would probably end up working against him in the SEC – a league that tends to depend on raw God-given talent more than most others.
We’ve said it before, but if Knight is serious about finding a final resting spot where he can shoot for 1,000 wins and hoops immortality, his best bet would be to pick a mid-major school with incredible fan support and a commitment to resources where he could recruit four-year players. In a relatively short period of time, he could turn that school into another Butler (or, dare we say?) Gonzaga. Forget this SEC stuff. Knight would have more fun playing the underdog role at the smaller school anyway.
Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the ACC, SEC and Big West Conferences.
Meeks may very well inherit the conference with a Kentucky SEC Championship this season, but last night the Wildcats were shocked in a road loss to Ole Miss, whose 1-4 conference record was hardly intimidating. But the Rebels held the Wildcats to 38.5% shooting on the way to their first SEC loss. Kentucky still sits atop the SEC East standings with a half-game lead over Florida, and Ole Miss moves into third in the SEC West with a half-game lead over ‘Bama (trust me, we’ll get to them later).
Not to take away from the Rebels’ victory, but I’d like to take a moment to take away from the Rebels’ victory by bestowing further praise on Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks.
For most shooting guards, a 4-15 shooting night (3-10 from three) could be thrown away as a garbage game. But Meeks still managed to put up 21 points because he was able to get to the line and hit all ten of his charity shots. This is our sign that Meeks is the real deal and will be able to score at the next level – even when the defense focuses on him and his shot isn’t falling, the 6’4″ junior can put up enough points to keep his team competitive. Pat Patterson led the ‘Cats with 24 by going 8-12 and hitting 8-9 free throws, but Meeks put up a game that reassured anyone not sure if he was ready for the big time. More than his 54-point performance, showing that he’s able to get his even in the midst of a bad shooting night proves his ability.
There’s news coming out of Tuscaloosa tonight that doesn’t involve Nick Saban (although Utah’s demolition of the Tide a month ago may have led to this unrelated breaking news). No, the crimsontided stepchild of Alabama’s athletics program is the one driving the needle tonight – Mark Gottfried’s Philip Pearson’s basketball program. Er, formerly Mark Gottfried’s basketball program.
Gottfried, who played at Alabama, said he quit during a meeting with athletic director Mal Moore. “It has been a wonderful decade for me and my family, and I love the University of Alabama, but I feel that it is in the best interests of everyone involved,” Gottfried said in a statement released by the university. Gottfried’s teams have missed the NCAA tournament the last two years, and the coach was criticized over the recent departure of point guard Ronald Steele, a preseason first-team AP All-American pick two years ago, who later was hit by injuries. The school blamed Steele’s departure on a recent injury, but Steele said there was more to his decision than that.
There’s absolutely more to it than this. A generation ago, a coach in the SEC with the success of Mark Gottfried could have stayed for thirty years and eventually had a practice facility named after him (Dale Brown comes to mind). No longer. Today in the era of million-dollar salaries and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately performance evaluations, even in the football-centric SEC (minus Vandy, Kentucky and Arkansas), “good enough” is no longer good enough. Just last year, LSU canned John Brady, an Xs & Os charlatan who two years prior had parlayed a couple of great recruits into a very unlikely Final Four run. They replaced him with a well-respected rising star in coaching, Trent Johnson (at $1.2M per, reportedly, of course). At South Carolina, Dave Odom was invited to retire after he had taken the Gamecocks to two NIT titles and an NCAA Tournament in the last five years. Darrin Horn already has matched the win total (14) of Odom’s last season with virtually the same roster. Over in Athens at Georgia, Dennis Felton is currently walking the Bataan death march with his 310th most efficient offense and is expected to be replaced at the end of this season even after his unprecedented run in the SEC Tournament last year.
This Used to be Good Enough at Bama
A sea change in philosophy is moving through the SEC in basketball. Mark Gottfried is a competent head coach. He recruits fairly well, his players generally stay out of trouble and graduate, and he occasionally had a good enough team to make a little noise in March, but nobody would ever have confused him for Hank Iba. That used to be good enough for a football school like Alabama. Or LSU. Or South Carolina. But times are changing, and those schools have seen how all-inclusive athletic prowess can build a national “brand” such as at Florida, Ohio St. and Texas that benefits the entire athletic program (and school at-large). Basketball is a key component of that equation, and therefore it doesn’t surprise us in the least that Gottfried is now gone (before he got a chance to make a late-season run and “save” his job).
Memo to VCU’s Anthony Grant, you might want to answer any calls that come from The 205 this spring.
A mere two days after making comments to the media that he was “fired up” to be back for a new season, the Lute Olson Soap Opera continued in earnest today. ESPN (through Rays megafan Dick Vitale) is reporting that Olson is retiring from Arizona after 24 seasons at the school. (h/t The Big Lead)
Arizona’s Lute Olson is stepping down as the school’s men’s basketball coach, a source has told ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. Associate coach Mike Dunlap will take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis, the source told Vitale.
As of mid-morning Pacific time, Arizona officials are vehemently denying these reports. From the Arizona Daily Wildcat:
UA sports information director Tom Duddleston said the news is not true. “Dick Vitale is wrong right now,” Duddleston said in a phone interview with the Daily Wildcat. When asked if there is any indication that any of the reports may be true, Duddleston said no.
The reports further claim that Mike Dunlap, a current assistant coach for Olson, will take over the reins as the head man. Dunlap’s previous head coaching experience was at D2 Metro State in Denver, where he was an astonishing 248-50 (.832) with two national titles at that level (2000 and 2002).
We’ll see how this shakes down as the day matures, but it has all the earmarks of a solid scoop. Olson’s recent history of mania notwithstanding, we do hope that his medical condition is treatable and something that will allow him to continue to enjoy a happy, fulfilling life.