When a high-profile college basketball coaching job comes open, an athletic director has to have a mapped-out plan.
Who is my first call?
Who are the men I have to FORCE to say no?
Who is my most likely and attainable target, my true Plan A, and what do I need to do to get him?
Who is my best Plan B — not the guy I talk to after I talk to the men who are expected to say no, but the guy I talk to if my Plan A, my most realistic target, turns me down?
Who is my Plan C?
Let’s go through these candidates for the UCLA Bruins head coaching job now that Steve Alford is reportedly out.
The first call should be Tony Bennett. No, he will very probably choose to stay at Virginia, but UCLA has to force Bennett to say no. Yes, Bennett wouldn’t create sexy basketball in Los Angeles, but who cares? He would win 30 games per season quite a lot and be on the doorstep of the Final Four in most years.
Anyone who doubts the compatibility of Bennett in Westwood needs to remember that Ben Howland was hardly a stylistic fit, either. He coached a style of basketball which was similarly boring and bolted to the ground. He made three straight Final Fours. Yes, Howland didn’t sustain what he developed, but Bennett would be much more likely to do that. If he makes multiple Final Fours, he will hit the mark.
But again… Bennett is almost certain to say no, so that point will PROBABLY become moot.
Is there anyone else the UCLA Bruins must force to say no before moving to its true Plan A?
Gregg Marshall of Wichita State. Marshall’s wife, Lynn, has displayed erratic behavior in the past, but probably not to the point that Marshall should be deemed off limits. He is a luminous coaching talent who has to be considered. I am not convinced he would leave a job where he is very highly compensated and faces comparatively little pressure… but UCLA should force him to make a decision.
Then we move to Plan A.
The best, most realistic candidate for the UCLA job — the best coach in the best position to say yes — is probably Eric Musselman of Nevada.
The man has recruited extremely well at a Western program. He has NBA experience. He took Nevada to the Sweet 16 and has the Wolf Pack in place to contend for the 2019 Final Four. He checks so many boxes and would not be saddled with the stylistic baggage many people care about regarding Tony Bennett. He would satisfy the widest possible range of constituencies at UCLA. All in all, this is likely his job to turn down. If I had to identify the industry consensus on the favorite for the job, Musselman is it.
Now, the Plan B:
If Musselman does say no (but I don’t think he would), UCLA would need to pivot to another option.
Mick Cronin thought about going to UNLV a few years ago, so as a fallback plan in the event of Musselman saying no, one could do much worse.
Plan C — last resorts and not first or second choices? UCLA could also go for the hotshot Coach K protege trying to climb the ladder. Chris Collins of Northwestern or Steve Wojciechowski would bring energy and recruiting skills to the job, and have shown at least some glimpses of coaching acumen.
Other names will surely be tossed around for this job, so this is not meant to be a fully exhaustive list, but if I sat in the athletic director’s chair, this would be a good first draft of my thoughts and considerations.
Let the carousel spin in Westwood for a decision the UCLA Bruins simply can’t afford to whiff on.
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