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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This is a terribly difficult post to write with any degree of certainty. Coaches lie constantly up until the moment they take another job. Bill Martin has no motive to disclose the serious candidates, either. The basketball program's resident message board insiders are so pissed at the state of the program and the departure of Amaker that they spin everything to make the athletic department look terrible and can't be considered reliable. As an example of the latter, the hot rumor currently being promulgated on the boards is that Memphis' John Calipari approached Michigan and Martin "turned him down," cue outrage etc. Even assuming there is a nugget of truth somewhere in that statement, the same insiders have been declaring Michigan's program to be such a joke that no serious candidate would take on the massive challenge posed by not having a practice facility. So either you believe the latter and Calipari's only response to the idea of coaching at Michigan would be an imperious laugh or you believe the former, in which case you have conclusive proof that these insiders' perception of the program is hopelessly warped, with the inescapable rider that whatever information you wish to extract from their OMG insiderz reports has to be adjusted for derangement.

So take all of this lightly. A brief survey of my personal opinion developed from reading everything available follows.

Beilein is probably the first choice. This is the easiest and most sensible explanation for the lack of movement in the search. Beilein has reached the NIT final on an improbable buzzer-beater... any potential overtures have to wait until after the final Thursday night. We know that Beilein is -- or at least was -- very much willing to move. He was almost signed, sealed and delivered to go to NC State last year (some reports even had him paying half of his own buyout) until the deal fell through at the last moment. In the wake of the buyout fiasco, Beilein dumped his agent. Unless a strong run in the NIT with a bunch of freshmen convinces him to stay, Beilein's ready to move on to a greener pasture.

Further evidence re: Beilein: we haven't even bothered to interview any of the hot mid-major candidates:

"We haven't been asked for permission," said Tom Weber , Southern Illinois athletics representative, regarding Lowery, the Missouri Valley Conference's coach of the year.

"I haven't been contacted at all regarding coach Stallings," said David Williams , Vanderbilt's vice chancellor for university affairs and general counsel.

"We haven't been contacted," said Barry Collier , Butler's athletic director.

(Stallings, by the way, is a new name that's come up, usually accompanied by a resounding "meh.")

Meanwhile, Rosenberg endorses the idea:
Do you have any (wrong) ideas about Michigan's next coach?

Michigan has not contacted West Virginia's John Beilein, unless you count the flower arrangements disguised as my columns. But that could be because Beilein's team is still playing in the NIT. If this drags on two more days, that could mean Michigan is waiting for Beilein -- which would be good news for U-M fans.

This is your third push for Beilein. What are you, his agent?

No. But if I were, I would respond to this silliness that he can't recruit and that his modified Princeton offense won't work with the athletes in Michigan.

First, the offense: West Virginia averaged 69.7 points in Big East play this year. That was more than Jim Calhoun's team, Jay Wright's team, John Thompson III's team or Jamie Dixon's team. It was 0.3 points less than Rick Pitino's team. And those guys all had more talent in the same league.

As for recruiting: HE COACHES IN MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA. Put him in Ann Arbor. His recruiting will improve dramatically.

What about Beilein's $2.5-million buyout?

That is entirely up to athletic director Bill Martin. Martin does not have to consult with the school's regents to write that kind of check.

He is also totally ganking my schtick. I wave my fist impotently at thee, Rosenberg!

Meanwhile, Wojo expresses concern about Beilein's upside:
But there is cause for caution. Beilein never has recruited well, earning him the teasing label -- he "does more with less." Is "doing more with less" the plan U-M is ready to embrace? In five seasons at West Virginia, Beilein has made the NCAA Tournament twice. I get nervous about coaching geniuses who built their reputations on smaller stages and haven't had the opportunity to prove their system works elsewhere.

Yes, West Virginia is in the Big East, and Beilein has proven something there. But it's fair to wonder if he has the energy, charisma and connections to compete on the recruiting trail with the Big Ten's best. I do think Amaker's outsider status hurt him.
In retrospect I don't know if it was so much Amaker's "outsider" status that hurt him. My theory: it was his status as one of the most privileged black guys on the planet that was damaging. He grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, a Washington DC suburb that's 3% black with a median household income of almost $75k and am median family income of almost $95k. He went to friggin' Duke. He married a woman who was so good at being an academic she was widely cited by dumb Detroit columnists as a reason Amaker wouldn't get canned. His resemblance to Condoleeza Rice goes much deeper than just the (striking) physical aspects. He has as much in common with hardscrabble Detroit ballers as she does, for instance. On the other hand, Beilein is a real boostrap kind of mofo, coaching at a community college before hitting the big time at, uh, Nazareth, LeMoyne, and Canisus. If you look beyond relative levels of melanin, it's Beilein who can relate to people who've struggled for everything they've ever gotten.

Also: it is even possible for anyone to recruit worse than Tommy Amaker? That sounds flip, but I mean it. Is it remotely within the realm of possibility that a competent coach who is likely to build an upper-half Big Ten program with 5'8" point guards from Grosse Pointe, duct-tape, a piece of gum, and some socks -- MacGuyver stizz -- can recruit worse than Tommy Amaker? Before answering please consider that Amaker's recruited two point guards, one of whom is Jerrett Smith, in six years, has offered scholarships to guys like Kendrick Price, Anthony Wright, and Reed Baker, Rainmaker (who ironically enough seems the perfect fit for Beilein's three-mad offense), and coached at a famous name school that's 30 miles away from one of the country's most fabulous talent mines.

To be fair, this isn't Wojo's question. He's does question the potential upside of a Beilein because he's not likely to recruit like Matta:
But how high is the upside? Is Martin even seeking a major upside or hoping to get lucky? In U-M's hunt for a home run, is Beilein a ground-rule double?

Let's be clear on this: Beilein wouldn't be a bad choice. He wouldn't be a cheap choice, and if U-M lands him, the financial commitment would be significant.

He would be a safe choice, which seems to be exactly what U-M wants.

Fair points, but unless we can pry a Jay Wright free -- doubtful -- the alternatives are most certainly not safe, and the reason they have more upside than Beilein is the reason Cheick Samb has more upside than Jason Maxiell: who the hell is Cheick Samb?

For a chilling illustration of this concept, let's check Big Ten Traitorous Bastard Wonk on coaching goings-on past:
No one could be hotter than Steve Alford was eight years ago this month. His 12th-seeded Southwest Missouri State team (since morphed into simply Missouri State) had beaten 4th-seeded Wisconsin and 5th-seeded Tennessee to reach the Sweet 16, before falling to 1-seed Duke.

And Alford's team did it with punishing defense: the score of the Wisconsin game was 43-32. If Alford could do that with the recruits he had in Springfield, MO, the thinking went, just imagine what he could do at a "power"-conference program.

We've since found out what he could do. Not much, and he's now fled the power conferences entirely.
Jumpin' Jebus, that's Chris Lowery except with an annoying Indiana pedigree. (Sort of: should be noted that the Salukis earned a 4-seed this year; Lowery's less of a risk because part of his appeal comes from building a 4-seed worthy team over the course of the regular season, not merely fluking his way to the Sweet 16.) Wonk then lists his number one priority for any new coach: recruiting. Damn! This is where Jalen Rose, assistant coach comes in. We've got it all figured out:

HEAD COACH: John Beilein
UNICORN: Unicorn

Lon Kruger might be lying but probably not. He says he's not interested:
“No contact at all and no thoughts about any other positions,” Kruger said in a national teleconference on Tuesday. “Barb and I decided three years ago to come to Las Vegas based on a couple things: No. 1, people we wanted to work with, we felt good about the people here and their sincerity and establishing the type of program we thought was possible here. No. 2, it was a community in which we wanted to live. We love living in Las Vegas, it’s a great place to live a lot of energy, excitement and a lot of things going on. We’re here, we’ve been thrilled by the three years and haven’t thought at all about living anywhere else.”
Remember, Kruger and his wife are now old and when you're old living in a post-atomic nightmarescape is preferable as long as it doesn't snow. UNLV just experienced the first success it's had in a long time and with the well-heeled boosters (cough Steve Wynn) UNLV has, Michigan can't outbid the Rebels.

Bruce Pearl not interested. Um...
"Iowa and Michigan are both jobs that in a different time and a different place -- like I said, I worked my whole life to be at a place like Tennessee. I was a Hawkeye for a long time. I've recruited Michigan well for years as an assistant at Iowa and a head coach at Southern Indiana, and here and (Wisconsin-) Milwaukee. I've always recruited Michigan. Those are opportunities that you certainly try to get to, but I'm here. I'm in the SEC. I'm at Tennessee. I go to work every day trying to reward Tennessee for bringing me here."
...okay, whatever.