Chris Beard replacements at Texas? Austin’s power to attract a ‘big name’ college coach may be overstated

By | January 12, 2023

So you say the University of Texas is looking for a big name to hire as its next men’s basketball coach. OK, here are some big names that might be available: Beto O’Rourke (lost another Texas election); J.J. Watt (recently retired after a dozen years in the NFL); Idris Elba (looking obvious he won’t be the next James Bond) or Gregg Berhalter (currently not under contract with U.S. Soccer).

Oh, you mean a big name in the world of basketball? Well, OK: How about Bill Walton or Shaquille O’Neal or Kevin Garnett? They’re big names and big guys. That’s got to be better, somehow.

No? You want a big name who also happens to be an active head coach at the college game’s highest level?

Ha, well good luck with that.

Texas is an attractive job for rising college basketball coaches, but those compiling most “candidates” lists in the media since Chris Beard officially was fired by the university have ignored something fundamental about the college coaching carousel: successful Power 5 head coaches aren’t riding it. They don’t want on. Unless they are completely miserable where they are – and you have to work hard to be dissatisfied when you’re making well more than $5 million a year — they stay in place.

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Think about it: Who were you told would be candidates immediately after the Beard decision? Nate Oates of Alabama, Bruce Pearl of Auburn, Eric Musselman of Arkansas, John Calipari of Kentucky, Chris Holtmann of Ohio State, a few others of that sort.

Here’s what you weren’t told:

That sort of thing basically doesn’t happen any longer.

In the past five years, there have been 32 head coaching jobs open in Power 5 conferences. Only three of those were filled by a sitting Power 5 head coach. And each of those three constituted something of an extraordinary circumstance: Mike White left Florida for Georgia as his job with the Gators became less secure; Beard left Texas Tech for Texas, his alma mater; Buzz Williams left Virginia Tech for Texas A&M, where he worked as an assistant coach and earned a Master’s degree (and which could afford to nearly double his salary).

You’re just as likely to see an out-of-work coach hired to fill a Power 5 position and more likely to see an NBA assistant.

In college hoops, the Big East is usually considered a ‘Power’ conference along with the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, but those football conferences have game-changing money when it comes to paying coaches, which is why Big East coaches often are available to make these moves.

There’s just not much reason for an extremely successful coach who’s already making a ton of money to go someplace else and work for people he doesn’t know in a place where he’ll have to reconstruct the same sort of apparatus he already has in place. They are delighted, though, to use this sort of attention to improve their current positions, as Bruce Pearl did at Auburn when the Louisville position came open last winter.

Such prominent positions as Duke, North Carolina, and Indiana were filled, as well, without any one of them choosing to or being able to land an active P5 coach. That does not mean they did not hire significant coaches, just that the names tossed about in these circumstances almost never come to fruition. 

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Whether or not UT athletic director Chris Del Conte wants a big name – remember, when he went after a football coach, he wound up with Alabama assistant Steve Sarkisian — you’re much more likely to see the next Texas coach be a current Division I assistant coach (eight of the 32 jobs) or mid-major coach (also eight). Six of the openings went to coaches from major programs that were just below the P5 level, such as Mick Cronin leaving Cincinnati for UCLA.
So if we’re being realistic, that’s where to look for candidates to become the next Texas Longhorns coach.

1. Rodney Terry, interim head coach, Texas. Since taking over on emergency basis when Beard was suspended following his arrest on domestic violence charges, and then being named the interim coach for the remainder of the season after Beard was fired, Terry has led the Longhorns to a 7-1 record that includes victories over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and an impressive comeback against TCU on Wednesday. There still are plenty of difficult opponents remaining in the Big 12, including two games against Kansas, but if the Horns continue to do well, Terry would fit nicely.

He has 10 seasons of head coaching experience, and never before in ideal circumstances. Fresno State and UTEP are not easy jobs, but he improved both programs, getting Fresno to the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and to three consecutive 20-win seasons, and then the Miners from 8 wins to 17 in a single season. He also fills the obvious need for a high-character individual.

2. Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls. OK, he’s a heck of a big name, with two NCAA titles, eight years of NBA experience and the perfect demeanor and personality. He could have had any college job he wanted since leaving Florida in 2015, though.

When the Bulls were 11-18 in mid-December, things were a little different relative to Donovan’s potential availability. They’ve since recovered to 19-23. If they were to continue at their present pace, they will approach last season’s win total. So his position could be more secure than it previously appeared.

3. Ed Cooley, Providence. Cooley is the reigning Coach of the Year for The Sporting News. He led Providence to the Big East regular season title last season and has them again in first place after losing a significant portion of his rotation. Ed is as good as it gets. At age 53, though, he has spent his entire life – and, indeed, his entire coaching career – in New England. There would be more money in Texas, to be sure. Would that be sufficient to move him from his hometown?

4. Jerome Tang, Kansas State. This is the one active Power 5 coach who might be available, because he’s only been with the Wildcats a year. But would he want to leave the program that at last gave him a shot as a high-major head coach after two decades of waiting for the opportunity?

Or might he use interest from UT in the way so many have before him with different jobs: to significantly increase his security at his present job, in terms of salary or contract years or both?

His appeal to Texas would be dependent on the Wildcats continuing their success in the Big 12 – 15-1 to start – and possibly succeeding in the NCAAs, as well.

5. Royal Ivey,  assistant coach, Brooklyn Nets. Ivey was a four-year starter and two-time member of the Big 12 all-defensive team for the Longhorns from 2000-04, not an elite recruit but key part of the Longhorns’ most recent Final Four team, in 2003. He has been coaching in the professional game since 2014 following nearly a decade playing in the NBA. Ivey has some head coaching experience in international basketball with the team from South Sudan.

6. Joe Golding, UTEP.  Golding became one of the darlings of the 2021 tournament when he led Abilene Christian to an NCAA Tournament victory over (don’t tell anyone) the Texas Longhorns. His teams made two March appearances in three seasons before he left to take over the program at UTEP. There, after taking over for Terry, he won 20 games in his first season. The Miners had been a .500 team in Terry’s last season.

Abilene has been a Division I program only since 2013, and Golding saw the program through the elevation from D-II and eventually success in the Southland Conference.

7. Grant McCasland, North Texas. The man can flat coach. He has been a head coach for nine seasons, from Midwestern State at the Division II level to Arkansas State and now six seasons with the Mean Green, and every single team he’s run has won at least 20 games. Except one: this season’s squad has played only 16, of which they won 13, so he hasn’t quite had the time. He’ll get there. And if Texas hires him, he’ll win there, beyond doubt.

His biggest obstacle likely would be style of play. McCasland’s teams play at an extremely controlled pace. Now, they win playing like that – win big – and Texas fans tend to be mostly interested in that, but his squad is 363rd in pace out of 363 Division I teams. You know what, though? When Virginia won the 2019 NCAA title, the Cavaliers were 353 out of 353. Maybe there’s some magic in that.