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The Coaching Search Begins

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Who are the leading candidates to be the next Husky Men’s Basketball Coach?

NCAA Basketball: Cal St. Fullerton at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Jen Cohen mercifully ended the should she/shouldn’t she debate that UW basketball fans have been having for months if not years on Wednesday afternoon by relieving Coach Lorenzo Romar of his duties. Whether you agree with the firing or not, the Huskies will have a new coach next year and it’s time to turn our attention to who that may be. I want to preface the meat of the article by stating that I have no inside information whatsoever about who the Dawgs are targeting. I’m going to throw out names that have been floated around in the Twitter-sphere and point out their qualifications and why it may or may not make sense.

A couple of other points before we get into it. Part of the argument against firing Romar was that after the $3.2 million buyout it wasn’t thought that UW would have the finances to go after a premium coach. Romar was making $1.7 million which was well below that of recent Pac-12 hires. As I mentioned in my profile of the Romar situation last month, UCLA, Utah, and Oregon all pay their head coaches at least $2 million. It was unclear whether UW had that kind of money to pay but Percy Allen reported this morning that Jen Cohen is prepared to offer between $2 and $3 million annually for the new coach.

Finally, I’m not including Brandon Roy on this list. The 1% chance that the Huskies could move on from Romar and still keep the Porters has slipped away. In my mind, it never made sense to turn the keys over to Roy whose only coaching experience was just one year of essentially leading an all-star team to a state title at Nathan Hale. Yes, Roy is a Husky legend and he was an amazing player but coaching and playing are different skill sets and Cohen simply can’t gamble that Roy will be an amazing coach without any evidence. If the new coach decides not to retain Will Conroy I would be ok with them bringing on Roy as an assistant but he and Conroy play the same role of local alumni who could appeal to recruits.

The Pipe Dreams

Gregg Marshall

Record: 454-172 (.725)

Best NCAA Tourney Finish: Final Four

Head Coaching Jobs: Current- Wichita State, Winthrop

Marshall has taken over the title from Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart before him of the most coveted mid-major coach in the country. He’s turned the Shockers into one of the elite programs in the country, winning at least 25 games in each of the past 8 seasons. There are several reasons why this isn’t going to happen. The first is that Marshall already makes more ($3.3 million) then the Huskies could possibly offer him and he isn’t taking a pay cut to move to Seattle. Second is that the Koch brothers (some of the richest people in America) are the Phil Knight of Wichita State and will offer Marshall a blank check to keep him there. Securing Marshall would cause me to change my opinion on the firing but it isn’t happening.

NCAA Basketball: Dayton at VCU Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Archie Miller

Record: 140-62 (.693)

Best NCAA Tourney Finish: Elite Eight

Head Coaching Jobs: Current- Dayton

It would add incredible fire to the UW-Arizona rivalry if the Huskies could somehow lure Archie to Seattle to go up against his older brother Sean. He has familiarity with the Pac-12 from his time serving as an assistant at both ASU and Arizona. Unlike Marshall, Archie would see a significant raise by joining the Huskies as he makes just $1.1 million at Dayton currently. Miller will be sought after by every program with a job opening including Indiana which means the ensuing bidding war will likely drive him out of UW’s price range.

The Washington Connection

Will Conroy

Record: 0-0 (.000)

Best NCAA Tourney Finish: None

Head Coaching Jobs: None

If everything had went according to plan for Lorenzo Romar, Conroy might have taken over for him after his contract ran out in 2020. But it feels like it would be way too soon to hand over the reins to Conroy. Everything I said about Brandon Roy above applies here. Except rather than Roy being bait for the Porters, there’s a chance that Conroy might play a similar role for Davis, Nowell, and anyone on the current team considering transferring. Cohen named Conroy as the point person until a hire is made but that isn’t the same as an interim tag.

T.J Otzelberger

Record: 18-17 (.514)

Best NCAA Tourney Finish: First Round

Head Coaching Jobs: Current- South Dakota State

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits were the 5th seed in the Summit League conference tournament but pulled a series of upsets to make it to the Big Dance in Otzelberger’s first year as a head coach. T.J was an assistant head coach at Washington from 2013-2015 before moving to Iowa State where it was presumed he would take over for Fred Hoiberg. That didn’t happen and he instead ended up in Brookings. The combination of his ties to UW and the Tourney appearance make his name come up but there’s only slightly more to his resume than Conroy’s. The Jackrabbits took a marked step down from last year (albeit while losing 4 seniors) so it’s not as if he took them from 5-23 to the tournament in his only year.

The Stretch Goal Targets

Randy Bennett

Record: 364-157 (.699)

Best NCAA Tourney Finish: Sweet 16

Head Coaching Jobs: Current- Saint Mary’s

Bennett is a 3-time WCC Coach of the Year and has been the hapless underdog to Gonzaga for pretty much his entire time with the Gaels. Bennett has essentially turned Saint Mary’s into the Australia U-22 team as the current roster has 7 Aussies on it. The majority of Bennett’s career has been spent in California so it is probably more likely he ends up at Cal if he decides to leave unless the salary differential UW is offering is substantial. The Huskies are definitely not the favorite to lure Bennett away from the Gaels but it’s not crazy to imagine it happening.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Iowa vs Indiana Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Crean

Record: 356-231 (.606)

Best NCAA Tourney Finish: Final Four

Head Coaching Jobs: Indiana, Marquette

Tom Crean was fired from Indiana one day after Lorenzo Romar was and for many of the same reasons. Indiana is viewed by many as one of the best jobs in the country due to its rich history and Crean wasn’t able to meet those expectations consistently enough. After the 2012-2013 season, which saw the Hoosiers achieve a #1 seed, Indiana brought in the #4 recruiting class in the country. In the 4 years since, Crean hasn’t had a top-20 class and only made the tourney twice. There are a lot of red flags with Crean but he’s a big name and I expect that UW will at least investigate him.

The Realistic Options

Leon Rice

Record: 142-86 (.623)

Best NCAA Tourney Finish: First Four (not Final Four)

Head Coaching Jobs: Current- Boise State

Rice has plenty of experience in the Pacific Northwest as he went to Washington State, served as an assistant at Oregon, and more recently served for more than a decade as an assistant at Gonzaga. He won the 2015 Mountain West Coach of the Year award. Rice isn’t exactly an up and coming rising star and would probably be viewed as a disappointing hire by most. He has made Boise State consistently competitive in the MWC but they’ve been a tier below programs like San Diego State, New Mexico, or...

NCAA Basketball: Colorado State at Nevada Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Musselman

Record: 52-21 (.712)

Best NCAA Tourney Finish: First Round

Head Coaching Jobs: Current- Nevada, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings

Musselman is the only coach on this list with significant experience in the pros as he has been an NBA coach for two different franchises as well as a coach in the D-league. His 2 years in Nevada are his first in college so there are still some concerns about whether he can sustain a program. Still, Nevada was a team that won 36 games in the 3 seasons prior to Musselman’s arrival and has subsequently won 24 and 28 in the last two including a win over Washington this year. Musselman is only a year younger than Rice but the fact that he’s new to the college game means he probably has more upside. The Huskies would be able to give him a significant raise over the 5-year, $2 million dollar deal he signed in 2015. Part of the reason for the gap in his resume between the NBA and now was because of a DUI arrest back in 2006 but he seems to have turned things around.

Ben Howland

Record: 431-240 (.642)

Best NCAA Tourney Finish: NCAA Title Game

Head Coaching Jobs: Current- Mississippi State, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Northern Arizona

In his run-down of coaching candidates this morning, Percy Allen wrote that a source believes Howland would leave the SEC for Washington and a chance to return to the Pac-12. Howland led the most recent dominant UCLA run with three consecutive Final Four appearances from 2006 to 2008. Although the peak was higher than Romar’s, Howland similarly saw a drought of 5 years failing to meet UCLA’s expectations of a Sweet 16 berth and was jettisoned. He took over a struggling Mississippi State team that hasn’t appeared to make much progress in his 2 years there. There aren’t really any indications that Howland would be able to recreate his prior success without the UCLA name behind him to help in recruiting but who knows?