HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 02: Head coach Brad Stevens (L) of the Butler Bulldogs shakes hands with head coach Shaka Smart of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the National Semifinal game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at Reliant Stadium on April 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
With SMU still looking for their next basketball coach, a look at which two jobs the two biggest dominoes on the board (Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens) are holding out for.
Amidst the post season flurry of firings in college basketball, the landscape has changed at some noteworthy schools, while others continue to search for their new direction. While Illinois made a questionable gamble and TCU made a fair hire with Trent Johnson, Dallas/Ft. Worth's other notable school (SMU) remains coach-less.
In the meantime, the intentions of the nations most highly sought after coaches -- Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens -- have become clear.
When Smart was offered the keys to the Illinois basketball, he turned down control of a top 15-20 college program. Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, UCLA, Duke, North Carolina it is not. But VCU is no Illinois. In reality, Smart can't build VCU into a college basketball powerhouse, nor will he attempt to. But his window to make a move is small, despite his consistent recent success.
First, Smart will face the issue of recruiting players who know he's a flight risk. Since he's already recruiting second and third tier players, the effect will be significant. Added to that is the fact that the CAA is becoming increasingly competitive, especially with an adept recruiter in Paul Hewitt arriving at George Mason.
With those things working against his continued success, it is clear Smart will have to make a move fairly soon -- after all, coaching is a profession where hot commodities cool fast. So what job is it he's waiting on? U.C.L.A.
If you're going to turn down an opening like the one in Champagne, you're waiting for one of the aforementioned Big 6. And after yet another year of producing underwhelming results with overwhelming talent, Ben Howland's grip on one of them is slipping. He should have been out at UCLA after this year -- even without the recent news of his inability to control a program or my personal distaste for his soul-crushing brand of basketball.
Two Final Four teams loaded with NBA talent shouldn't justify keeping around a coach who can't get the most (or even a little) out of his players. Howland's system stifles his players' talent and he's loyal to less talented upperclassmen -- so a resurgence this year behind yet another top 10 recruiting class is unlikely.
Westwood needs to shake things up. Replacing a hands off coach with a coach who's the exact opposite would do just that. Smart will bring energy and excitement to the program and the basketball court, something sorely lacking with the Howland edition Bruins.
With the rest of the big time jobs under firm control, you may wonder why Brad Stevens has remained at Butler after Smart passed on the Illini. While he certainly seems attached to the Bulldog program, the fact is that he's facing an even more immediate talent void at Butler than Smart is at VCU. He's pinning his team's hopes next year to Rotnei Clarke, a 6 foot transfer from Arkansas who can shoot and ... well, not much else.
Coming off a disappointing year for the program and facing the same obstacles as Smart, Stevens also has to be looking to make a move soon. After Illinois and UCLA, there is only one other elite level job close to coming open. The smart money is on UConn to pull Stevens to the Big East.
WIth Jim Calhoun nearing the end of his storied career in Storrs, the program will be seeking stability -- something lacking in recent years with Coach Calhoun's health issues. Someone like Brad Stevens would be ideal to take the torch.
He's young, can coach his ass off, and would be a good representative of the program as they deal with postseason eligibility issues. In short, he's a good young coach with a reputable name. And considering what he's done with the talent he's had at Butler, he shouldn't have trouble delivering the results Huskies fans expect.
The mere hiring of Stevens or Smart would be enough to bring a program to life, and therein lies the power of a coaching hire. Going after a name like Larry Brown will do wonders for a school. Doing what Illinois did and handing the program to the first person to accept it could doom a program for years. Let's hope the decision makers on the Hilltop appreciate the power of a hire and make a move to match their leap into a big time basketball conferences.