HUNTINGTON — When Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said he was going silent on his men’s basketball coaching search after the day he announced former coach Tom Herrion’s resignation, he kept his word.
He’s kept his quest for the new leader of Marshall’s hoops team so close to the vest that even those who had been intimately involved in prior searches have been moved to the periphery. Hamrick’s protectiveness of the search is understandable. These are sensitive times for Marshall’s basketball program, which just suffered 41 losses over the previous two seasons, a program worst.
For a team that hasn’t reached an NCAA tournament since 1987 and only slid backwards from that goal in the past two seasons, Hamrick needs to strike gold on this hire in order to, as he put it, re-energize the fan base.
And while we haven’t found the specific path Hamrick is taking to get to this hire, we’ve heard enough to get an idea where he might be headed.
Let’s first address the elephant in the room: There’s fire to the smoke around the Mike D’Antoni rumors. Yet for Hamrick to stand beside D’Antoni and announce him as Marshall’s new coach, plenty of stars would have to align. First, he’d have to be fired as Los Angeles Lakers coach. He signed a four-year deal when hired, reportedly worth $12 million total. Next season’s money is guaranteed, so that’s probably around $3 million he’d leave on the table if he quit and came to Huntington.
And while rumors have D’Antoni out as Lakers coach at season’s end, it’s no guarantee. Also, Los Angeles’ season ends April 16. Is Hamrick willing to wait another two weeks to see whether D’Antoni is even available? And if he is, is he ready to enter a college basketball coaching world — filled with recruiting trips and donor functions — that he’s never before experienced? And remember, he’s spent the last six years working in New York and Los Angeles. Huntington is a much different kind of town.
So am I completely ruling out D’Antoni to Marshall? Not a chance. Do I think it’s a long shot? Yup.
As far as the other candidates go, the idea of a power-conference assistant taking the job fades with each day. Coaches like Oklahoma assistant Steve Henson, Florida assistant John Pelphrey and Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals are disappearing from the list.
Former head coaches are a possibility as well, but it would depend on the interest from either side. Current North Carolina State assistant Bobby Lutz, the former Charlotte head coach, was a candidate last time around, but he tweeted Friday that he was pulling out of the Appalachian State coaching search and was excited for the future of N.C. State hoops. Sources said those weren’t hollow words. Former Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor could get a push for consideration, but that would depend on how receptive Hamrick would be to listening.
That leaves one avenue, the successful small-school head coach, and there’s a lot of chatter surrounding that direction. ESPN.com reported that North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton will interview with both Marshall and Florida Atlantic. While we don’t know whether Eastern Kentucky coach Jeff Neubauer has interviewed or will interview, no one has eliminated him as a possibility as they have other contenders. Mercer coach Bob Hoffman, Wofford coach Mike Young and Virginia Military Institute coach Duggar Baucom could fit that bill, too.
In fact, they all fit the bill. Each of those coaches won at least 20 games last season. All five reached the postseason. Moton , Hoffman, Young and Neubauer coached in the NCAA tournament, with Hoffman leading the Bears to an upset of Duke.
Baucom’s Keydets play tonight in the Collegeinsider.com tournament semifinals. And they all have proven they can win without the big budgets of the power conferences. Marshall likely would be a step up in funding for all of them.
If Marshall went that direction, hiring the up-and-comer over the established name, there likely will be a portion of the Herd fan base that frowns. They’re not among the flashy contenders. They don’t guide programs in the spotlight.
Yet that doesn’t mean the idea wouldn’t work. Marshall fans have experience with that.
The University of Florida plucked Billy Donovan out of Huntington after just two seasons guiding the then-Southern Conference program to a 35-20 record. Since arriving in Gainesville, he’s won four SEC tournaments, reached eight Sweet 16s, seven Elite Eights, four Final Fours (including this season’s), and three national title games with a pair of NCAA championships.
Hamrick’s lips are staying zipped until he strides into a press conference with his new basketball coach in tow. Marshall fans shouldn’t dismiss that coach if they have to search the Internet for his biography.