Some Rules to Live By When Evaluating 2nd Tier Candidates

Gary Parrish is as connected as anyone, certainly anyone in Memphis, when it comes to College Basketball coaching searches. On his radio show Monday, Parrish made it clear that Gregg Marshall likely isn’t coming to Memphis. Bruce Pearl, Buzz Williams – also probably not coming.

As most schools do, Memphis will wind up choosing a basketball coach from a “next tier” of candidates. In Memphis’ case that “next” tier of candidates equates to dudes that for one reason or another, can be lured from their current school to work for a salary of approximately $2.5m per year.

This is assuming Memphis wants a sitting or former head coach – which they most certainly should want in light of how the whole Pastner era unfolded.

Not that it matters what I think, but I’m fine with that. I think Memphis can make a good hire for roughly the same money they were paying Josh Pastner.

That being said, there are some rules I suggest living by when shopping from this particular zone of candidates. They are as follows:

  1. Don’t hire a dude that’s in the habit of losing 10+ games almost every single year. Example: Andy Kennedy. Kennedy has coached 11 years in college basketball. He’s lost more than 10 games in all but one of those seasons. That’s not great. I’m a big believer in past performance being a somewhat reliable indicator of future outcomes. So while I think Kennedy would connect with the Memphis fan base, recruit well and be an upgrade over Josh Pastner, I prefer dudes whose record will inspire greater dreams.
  2. Don’t hire a coach that routinely misses the NCAA tournament. Example: Kermit Davis. Again, see above statement regarding past performance. And I recognize that qualifying for the NCAA tournament is more difficult in some leagues than others, but consider this: Kermit Davis coached an entire decade at MTSU (2002 – 2012) before qualifying for the NCAA tournament. He also lost at least 12 games each of those years. That’s a prolonged run of futility. Sure, he turned it on the last few years, and that’s great – but I’m too big a believer in these 2 rules to roll the dice on a guy like this.
  3. Hire a coach whose experience allows you to reasonably dream that he’ll succeed at a very high level. This is almost the converse of the two rules above – but it’s important.  Let’s call it the “plausible case for excellence” rule. It further disqualifies Davis, and to a lesser extent Kennedy.
  4. Hire a coach that has some familiarity / history with the Memphis program. Call this the “good vibe” rule.

Essentially you want a coach that understands your program, might be really good and doesn’t clearly suck (again, those are repetitive, but important).

These rules also cast doubt on the respective candidacies of Lorenzo Romar, Brad Brownell, and Mike Anderson (to a lesser degree) all of whom have been discussed as possible candidates. Apart from one really good season at Missouri, Anderson’s career has been remarkably unremarkable since leaving UAB 10 years ago.

So who does this leave?

Parrish said Kelvin Sampson was in a group of guys Memphis could hire “in 30 minutes.”

Well if that’s the case then that’s a hell of a good backup plan. In his last 10 full seasons of coaching College Basketball, Sampson has lost less than 10 games 7 times. He went to 7 NCAA tournaments during that span as well. In 2 short years, he’s upgraded the Houston program tremendously. Sampson’s downside is the NCAA trouble he’s been in in the past regarding illegal contact with recruits, but those issues seem resolved, especially since the NCAA has subsequently loosened restrictions regarding such contact.

Former Memphis beat writer Mike Decourcey apparently suggested that Nevada coach and former Memphis Grizzlies Assistant Eric Mussleman could be a candidate. Side note: I say “apparently” because even though I had been a huge and vocal fan of Decourcey, he blocked me on Twitter for correctly pointing out that he was peddling an implausible realignment story which was clearly planted to further his hometown school’s (Cincinnati) case for P5 inclusion. So now I don’t typically read his stuff unless someone else re-tweets him. 

Parrish also included Musselman in  the “30 second” group, implying that he’s gettable. Mussleman doesn’t have enough of a track record in college to violate the 2 initial rules above regarding losing records and he comes with the added bonus of some NBA head coaching experience (with the hometown Grizzlies), which reinforces the plausible case for excellence.

So for unique reasons, I like Mussleman.

While I was looking, I came across a few “2nd tier” ideas that don’t  violate the rules:

BYU’s Dave Rose is 283-99 in 11 years as a college coach, and played at the University of Houston during the famed Phi Slamma Jamma era, meaning he’s familiar with the Memphis program. Perhaps he could be lured away from BYU given that he’s from Houston originally. Rose’s current salary isn’t public.

You wouldn’t think John Thompson III will ever leave Georgetown, but the popular Casual Hoya blog is openly speculating that maybe the Hoyas should make a change – so it’s possible that Memphis could pluck him away. Does Thompson III violate the rules enunciated here?

In 12 years at Georgetown, Thompson III has missed the NCAA 4 times, and he’s lost more than 10 games 8 times. I’m OK with those numbers, especially given that most of that time was spent in the impossibly hard version of the BIG EAST conference.

Thompson III makes a lot of money and his family is legendary in DC, but perhaps his recent struggles make him a good candidate for the Memphis job.

Just a thought, but I’d be exploring it before I threw money at candidates whom I can’t plausibly believe can be excellent.