Search Firm: Predicting UCLA’s Next Head Basketball Coach

Now that Steve Alford’s time has run out at UCLA, it’s time to look at the task that athletic director Dan Guerrero will have to find a replacement. With that in mind, I’ve come up with my list of coaching candidates as I put myself in the role of Guerrero. We’ll do this for all the major job openings going forward.

Remember, check the bottom for who I WOULD HIRE and who I think UCLA will wind up hiring.

 

FIRST: THE JOB OVERVIEW

First, let’s agree that UCLA isn’t UCLA — that this is no longer a blueblood program. It was different back in the 1960’s and 1970’s when the Bruins won 10 of their 11 national championships. But there hasn’t been a Final Four appearance in more than a decade, and Arizona has been the more successful program in the Pac-12 over that span. It’s still got plenty of positives — including an upgrade in facilities, tradition and no shortage of recruits in close proximity, but there are a couple factors that make it difficult to lure another big-time college coach:

1) The salary and cost of living
2) The fact that UCLA doesn’t charter to most of its games.
3) Expectations – They aren’t what they were, but are still a little out of whack.

 

THE FRONTRUNNER

Fred Hoiberg – The 46-year-old was fired earlier this season by the Chicago Bulls. He was hired by the Bulls after five seasons as the head coach at Iowa State — where he took the Cyclones to the NCAA tourney in each of his final four seasons. He’s also repped by Debbie Spander of the Wasserman Group. Casey Wasserman, who runs the Wasserman Group, is a UCLA grad and helped with the school’s recent football search. I’m not sure it would be an ideal fit, but Hoiberg would give UCLA some sizzle.

NEXT TIER

Earl Watson – Played at UCLA from 1997-2001, and in the NBA for more than a decade. Was elevated from an assistant to the head spot with the Phoenix Suns, and was fired after just three games last season with a 33-85 career mark. I’ve been told he went back to get his degree, and wants the job. The question is whether UCLA wants him …

Jamie Dixon, TCU – He’s done a nice job at his alma mater, and he’s from Los Angeles — but the 53-year-old may not have quite enough sizzle for the UCLA job. Plus, he’s a former Howland assistant — and that won’t help matters for both sides.

 

LONG SHOTS

Luke Walton, Los Angeles Lakers – Obviously, this one only works if a couple things happen. 1) Walton doesn’t make it through the season with the Lakers 2) UCLA holds off long enough to hire him. Sure, he’s an Arizona guy — but his dad is a UCLA legend. He also had a brief stint as an assistant in college at Memphis with former Arizona teammate Josh Pastner. This one is intriguing, but a longshot.

Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder – I just can’t see the former two-time national champion coach at Florida leaving his current gig with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder for this one. Plus, he’s got OKC third in the western conference and recently got a contract extension. The timing just won’t work — and I’m not sure this would be the job he’d jump back into college for, anyway. I’d expect Donovan, if he returned to college, to come back for a North Carolina or Kentucky.

Jay Wright, Villanova – Make the phone call because you have to … but it’s not gonna happen.

Mike Brey, Notre Dame – I’ve been told that it’s a “longshot” that the 59-year-old Brey ever leaves South Bend. The Irish have struggled lately, but he’s a guy who would fit the Bruins program in terms of style of play and personality. However, it’s unlikely that UCLA could pluck him from Notre Dame.

Tony Bennett, Virginia – He’s an elite coach, but it would be an even greater long shot than Brey. If Bennett leaves for anywhere, it would likely to go back to the midwest. He’s spurned several attempts to get him over the last couple years, and the other aspect that doesn’t exactly make it an ideal fit is the playing style. Ben Howland was run out of Westwood — partially due to his low-scoring offense.

Eric Musselman, Nevada – Muss has it rolling out in Nevada right now, but I’ve been told that he’s down the list of candidates for UCLA – if he’s even on the list at all. Musselman has bounced around and reinvented himself recently in the college ranks, but he’s done it with primarily transfers — and that, along with his intense personality, have some worried that it’s not the right fit at UCLA.

 

WILD CARD

Bobby Hurley, Arizona State – I’m not sure he has any buzz yet … but he should. UCLA would win the news conference and also games. The 47-year-old former Duke star has made Arizona State relevant and could provide some of the energy that’s been needed in Westwood for years. He’d also be able to recruit anywhere with his cache.

 

CAN’T GO THERE … YET

Rick Pitino, Greece – He’s a Hall of Famer who would bring immediate interest to the program and a guy who can obviously coach. He’d also play a style that would be welcomed at UCLA, but the issue here is whether UCLA could do it from a public relations perspective. Plus, Louisville isn’t completely in the clear with the NCAA from the Brian Bowen situation, so it would be a risk for any program to hire Pitino until everything is in the rear view.

 

OTHERS WHO COULD BE IN PLAY IF THEY SWING AND MISS …

Kevin Keatts, NC State – I’ve heard his name from a couple people associated with the UCLA program, and it makes some sense. The 46-year-old is a proven coach, and could really recruit just about anywhere. He’s done it at the prep school level, at UNC Wilmington (2 NCAA tournaments in three years) — but is only in his second season at NC State. Might be too much of a reach for the Bruins brass.

Mick Cronin, Cincinnati – The 47-year-old’s resume is impressive – eight consecutive NCAA tourney appearances. He doesn’t have west coast ties, but a lot of guys on this list don’t.

Chris Beard, Texas Tech – Terrific coach, but just don’t know if he and his style fit in Westwood. Far better suited for Lubbock, but Beard has done an incredible job.

Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech – See Chris Beard, but just replace Lubbock with Blacksburg.

 

MY PICK

Bobby Hurley – You’d win the press conference and games since he’s a former Duke star who won a couple of national titles, and has also taken Arizona State to the NCAA tourney and appears primed to do it again this season. He’s a guy who you can get, who is willing to work, already has west coast connections and can both coach and recruit. UCLA fans would love his intensity and passion — and this would also hurt a program that has been on the rise within the league.

 

WHO I THINK THEY WILL WIND UP HIRING

Fred Hoiberg – I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it, either. He’s a proven winner in college at Iowa State, looks the part, is easygoing and humble and would help you win the press conference to some degree. But he can’t play the transfer game like he did to succeed in Ames and he’s admitted he doesn’t like recruiting. He’d have to hire a staff that gets after it — as was the case at Iowa State. His connection to Wasserman will also help.