Thursday, April 2, 2009

Memphis' next basketball coach: Sean Miller

For those of us in who reside in the Memphis area, it's been an adventuresome last few days. The local media has been camped outside and hovering over John Calipari's house as he made the blatantly obvious choice to leave the Tiger program for the Big Blue Nation in Lexington. Despite the vitriol that's being spewed by many fans today, the choice is a no-brainer: Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, Indiana, and Kansas are college basketball royalty; Memphis isn't.

The list of coaches being batted around by Memphis fans is impressive, but I just wonder why any of them would come to Memphis. Here's a breakdown as I see it.

Mike Anderson, Mizzou: Already off the market. Signed a nice extension with Mizzou

Tim Floyd, USC: His Southern connections would've made him the best choice, but it appears he's taking over for former Ole Miss assistant Russ Pennell at Arizona

Bruce Pearl, Tennessee: Now it starts getting interesting. Sure, the Memphis job would be a step up in profile from Tennessee, but there was a genuine disdain between Calipari and Pearl. Pearl is working to build a Vols program, and quite frankly, unless something crazy happens and John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Xavier Henry are Tigers next season, Memphis is going to be significantly worse next season than they were last. I don't see the appeal to Pearl unless it's strictly about the cash.

Rick Pitino, Louisville: Now it starts to get delusional. The rumor is that Pitino would be hired, coach a few seasons, and then retire and Memphis would promote his son to be the coach. Pitino is not going anywhere. If he left this year, it would be viewed as running from Calipari, who he will now get to face yearly. Also, part of his success there would always be viewed as partially attributable to Calipari's doing there, and neither Pitino nor Pearl want that.

Bobby Knight, ESPN: There aren't even words to describe this. This is the dumbest idea since an mid-afternoon fireworks show. Not gonna happen.

That brings us to the non-"WOW" candidates Memphis AD RC Johnson has promised. Xavier's Sean Miller and our very own Andy Kennedy.

Sean Miller seems to be the right choice here. He's at a non-BCS school and has been a very good coach at Xavier in his tenure there, going 120-47. His Musketeers actually beat the Tigers early in the 2008-09 season. He's been to the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 the last two seasons and appears to be a young coaching star.

Which brings us to AK. From an unbiased point of view, why would Memphis want to hire a coach which pending legal issues and one that has failed to reach the NCAA tournament in four seasons as a head coach. I'll grant you that the legal issues are more than likely bogus and that he's done a very good job in all four seasons as a head coach, but is that really the profile of a coach that Memphis wants to replace Calipari with?

This may be a harsh lesson in reality for Memphis fans. While their program is certainly one of the best in the country, it's very tough to win consistently at a non-BCS school like Calipari has the last several seasons. If Memphis fans remember, Calipari didn't start putting up the gaudy numbers they've become accustomed to until CUSA was gutted by the Big East and the other legitimate basketball teams left. Calipari is a tough act to follow and 2009-10 will be a rebuilding season with Tyreke Evans declaring and a handful of other players joining Cal in Lexington, which is a trash move by Calipari, but that's another story.

Regardless of who is hired, the program will take a step back from the national spotlight. While Pitino and Pearl would both be very visible, high-profile leaders of the program, neither one is going to take the job. I just hope that Tiger fans will welcome Sean Miller. He's a very good coach who will win at Memphis if given the chance. While he may not be a high-profile as Calipari is - and who is - he'll be a very good fit, and that's what the Tigers need.

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