The Ideal Candidate to Fill Each Vacant College Basketball Head Coaching Job
The first month of college basketball's offseason is a tumultuous place, full of players on the move. Many of those players are merely reacting to similar moves among their coaches.
Coaching changes push numerous other dominoes over, leading to a busy season for schools and fans across the country. Compared to previous seasons, this year's Division I men's coaching carousel has been somewhat subdued, with only 36 jobs turning over as of April 15. Of that crop, only six remain vacant.
The six open positions have stirred varying degrees of interest, but each could have an ideal candidate just waiting to be tendered an offer. Here are six men who would make solid fits at each school still searching for a new chief whistle-blower.
Coppin State: Larry Stewart (Associate HC, Bowie State)
The best we can find in our media database to introduce you to Larry Stewart is this video from 1993 featuring Naughty By Nature performing "Hip Hop Hooray" with the 1993-94 Washington Bullets (now known as the Wizards). Any time you see No. 33 in the video, that's Stewart. Friendly advice: Don't blink.
Stewart was twice named MEAC Player of the Year for Coppin State in 1990 and '91, leading CSU to its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. Despite finishing third in the nation at 13.4 rebounds per game as a senior, he went undrafted.
He still made an NBA roster, however, averaging 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds as a rookie for the Bullets in 1991-92. That season, he became the first undrafted player to ever make the All-Rookie team.
His numbers dwindled over four more NBA seasons, then he went overseas for a lengthy professional career in Europe. A year after his 2008 retirement, he joined the coaching staff at Bowie State University, a Division II school within 30 minutes of Baltimore, where he's coached ever since.
Stewart has no head coaching experience, but his unique status as Coppin's most distinguished NBA player could make him a natural replacement for the iconic Ron "Fang" Mitchell.
Athletic director Derrick Ramsey told Don Markus of The Baltimore Sun that he was placing a priority on recruiting local talent. "Whomever the new coach is, we're going to start right here in Baltimore," Ramsey said. “Everyone comes here to get talent. We're going to start here.”
Who better to convince local talent to choose Coppin than a man who proved that it's possible to reach the NBA from there?
Maine: C.B. McGrath (Assistant Coach, North Carolina)
To be blunt, the University of Maine is a basketball wasteland. The school has never been to an NCAA tournament and hung on to previous coach Ted Woodward for 10 years despite only one winning season in the bunch.
There's precious little to suggest that any average coach can turn around this drifting ship, so the school may as well aim high.
New athletic director Karlton Creech comes to Orono from North Carolina, where he spearheaded the fundraising effort for an $88 million renovation to UNC's Kenan Memorial Stadium. His first hire will be to replace his basketball coach, and his prior connections could come in handy.
C.B. McGrath (above right with Roy Williams) has been a fixture on Williams' staff since his playing career—also under Williams—ended in 1998. He followed Williams to North Carolina, where he has remained ever since.
The extent of McGrath's head coaching experience comes to five seasons of leading UNC's junior varsity team. Eventually, one would expect that he'd decide to strike out on his own. He made comments to that effect in 2012 to Kevin Haskin of his hometown paper, the Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal.
“It’s nice to be an assistant coach at North Carolina,’’ said McGrath, “but at some point you’ve got to move on, be on your own and see if you can be successful.’’
Another comment in the above interview suggested that proximity to family could be part of his criteria, and that could make Maine a difficult sell to a son of the heartland. Creech, however, managed a tough sale to North Carolina boosters on the Kenan renovation, so don't expect him to shy away from this one.
Marshall: Jeff Neubauer (HC, Eastern Kentucky)
Marshall is still in the midst of a lengthy head coaching search. It's been more than a month since Tom Herrion was let go, and the Thundering Herd appear no closer to making a hire.
The university is said to be waiting on distinguished alumnus Mike D'Antoni to be let go by the Los Angeles Lakers before swooping in to bring home the veteran NBA coach. D'Antoni, however, has no college coaching experience whatsoever and may command more of a salary than the football-centric school may be willing to pay.
Among potential candidates who've made their bones in college basketball, Eastern Kentucky's Jeff Neubauer presents an intriguing possibility. In nine seasons at EKU, he's won 167 games and spearheaded two trips to the NCAA tournament. No other EKU coach has posted four 20-win seasons.
Before taking charge at Eastern, Neubauer spent a decade in Virginia and West Virginia. From 1996-2005, he held assistant jobs at Richmond and West Virginia under current Michigan coach John Beilein.
His experience in the region and proven ability to assemble conference champions should make him more than desirable for Marshall, as long as he doesn't break the bank with contract demands.
Tennessee: Michael White (HC, Louisiana Tech)
Tennessee's coaching situation looked to finally be settled after Cuonzo Martin led the Vols to the Sweet 16. Hard feelings apparently lingered over a segment of the UT fanbase pining for Martin's predecessor. After falling short in a bid for the job at Marquette, Martin came out of nowhere to take the open job at California Tuesday afternoon.
Martin's move leaves the Volunteers scrambling to keep a five-man recruiting class intact just a day before the spring signing period begins. A coach who can promise an exciting brand of basketball is needed when UT inevitably strikes out on its dream hire of Wichita State's Gregg Marshall.
Enter Louisiana Tech's Michael White. A four-year starting point guard at Ole Miss who later spent seven years as an assistant at his alma mater, White's SEC roots run deep.
As the head man at Louisiana Tech, he's built teams that have thrived on pressure defense. The Bulldogs have ranked in the top 35 among Ken Pomeroy's most efficient defenses (subscription required) the past two seasons, while ranking among the top 15 in turnover percentage. The offenses in both of those seasons have ranked in the top 25 in adjusted tempo, as well.
Vol fans who weren't enamored with Martin's methodical system would be woken up by White's attacking style, similar to chugging a double espresso after sipping a cup of chamomile tea. And maybe this time they won't screw it up by constantly begging for Bruce Pearl's return.
While UT fans still have a sour taste in their mouth from the last time their school hired a coach from Louisiana Tech, White should be a more effective hire than Derek Dooley in football. It would be difficult not to be.
Tennessee State: Dana Ford (Associate HC, Illinois State)
We couldn't find a video of Dana Ford dropping rhymes with Grammy Award-winning rappers, so we had to settle for a picture from his playing days at Illinois State. Ford is the second-in-command at his alma mater, and the top job could possibly be his with one more shaky season out of current boss Dan Muller.
If he's impatient, however, a return to Nashville could be in the cards. Ford was an assistant under current Miami (Ohio) coach John Cooper for two seasons when the latter was in charge at Tennessee State. Ford's connections in the Chicago area brought future NBA prospect Robert Covington to TSU.
Tennessee State athletic director Teresa Phillips had been hoping to make a hire around the time of the Final Four, according to The Tennessean. The process has taken longer than anticipated as the school examines several deeper candidates.
The current list of six finalists covers the spectrum of experience. Assistant coaches in the ACC (Rob Moxley, N.C. State), Big 12 (Larry Harrison, West Virginia) and SEC (Stacey Palmore, Georgia) rub shoulders with community college and Division II bosses.
Harrison, a former head coach at Hartford and an assistant under Bob Huggins at both Cincinnati and WVU, has the edge in experience, but Ford's familiarity with TSU should make him just as attractive.
Tulsa: Alvin 'Pooh' Williamson (Assistant Coach, Texas Tech)
Pooh Williamson's coaching career has bounced him around the country since his days as Tubby Smith's point guard and first recruit at the University of Tulsa (pictured). He journeyed from Washington State to Illinois State to Tulane before landing at his alma mater as an assistant in 2001.
Four years later, Williamson concluded his return to Tulsa as the Golden Hurricane's interim head coach, going 7-15 in Tulsa's final season in the Western Athletic Conference. He hasn't left the state of Texas since 2007, holding assistant positions at Texas A&M, SMU and TCU before rejoining Smith at Texas Tech in 2013.
Current head coaches like Mercer's Bob Hoffman and Stephen F. Austin's Brad Underwood are in the mix, according to the Tulsa World's Bill Haisten. However, the longer a search drags on, the more likely a head coach can be wooed into staying with his current employer.
Williamson represents a clear bridge to the Golden Hurricane's golden decade, the 10-year span from 1993-2003 with eight NCAA tournament bids, only one of which ended in the first round.
What may hold him back is a lack of head coaching experience, which may become a deal-breaker as Tulsa prepares to enter the American Athletic Conference and face off with prime programs like Cincinnati, Memphis and national champion UConn.
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