Before we start going in-depth with our examinations of Auburn basketball’s coaching candidates–or alleged candidates, at this early stage–I figured it would be worth asking first: What kind of candidate are we looking for? You can’t judge without criteria to judge with, right?
So here’s the official WBE criteria for the coaching search, from most critical to least:
1. A history of (clean) program building. For yours truly, nothing’s more important for Auburn than finding a coach who’s going to put together the program the same way the new arena’s been built: ground up, bottom-to-top, strong as concrete and steel. We’ve had coaches–Cliff Ellis–who tried it the quick-and-easy way with transfers and JUCOS, and while we got some incredible times out of that approach, we also got probation and a program that collapsed like a house of cards in his final season. We’ve also had coaches–Tommy Joe Eagles, Jeff Lebo–who tried to do things the right way and just failed. Even our program’s G.O.A.T., Sonny Smith, saw probation coming and bolted for a freaking Colonial school.
I’m tired of all that. If Auburn can, it’s time to find someone who’s both in it for the long haul and has proven he can make that long haul worth it and will stay clean throughout said haul. The arena doesn’t have anyone’s name on it as of yet; might as well shoot for finding someone whose name we could see Auburn slapping up on the side of the building 20 years from now, right?
Easier said than done, of course, but that’s what Jacobs has to aim for. So I’d also look at coaches with …
2. Success at more than one location, over more than one season. It’s one thing to turn the trick at one school; it’s another to prove yourself competent by doing it at multiple schools. Auburn is not like mid-major jobs, not like NBA jobs, not even like other SEC jobs; it is its own job, and the more flexibility and more adaptability a coach has on his resume, the more likely it becomes that he can adapt and succeed at Auburn, too.
This is what’s gotten Arkansas in trouble; Stan Heath and John Pelphrey both had dynamite tenures at Kent State and South Alabama, respectively, but neither had held a second head coaching position until they got to Fayetteville … and it was/is that second head coaching that’s proven to be the tougher one. Same goes for Dennis Felton at Georgia. Jan Van Breda Kolff at Vandy. Even Buzz Peterson at Tennessee, since his Tulsa tenure lasted all of one year. The point: more than one successful stop dramatically reduces the odds that Auburn’s hiring a lemon.
3. Postseason success. Maybe some other factor should rank this highly instead, given that the postseason represents such a small chunk of the overall season and that team-building has to come before you even think about March. But I think there’s two reasons to nonetheless consider postseason achievements an absolute must-have for the next coach:
1. This strikes me as a quality way to differentiate the good mid-major coach from the great one. Jeff Lebo had a terrific run at Tennessee Tech … except for the part where the Golden Eagles twice kicked away No. 1 seeds in the Ohio Valley tourney and settled for an NIT bid. (Admittedly, Lebo did make the SoCon finals in back-to-back years at Chattanooga.) Pelphrey had some issues at the Sun Belt tourney with USA, too.
2. No point in beating around the bush on this one: small part of the season it may be, it’s far, far and away the most important part of it. Some coaches–John Beilein, Jay Wright, Mike Anderson, Rick Stansbury (SEC tourney only)–have that postseason magic touch, and some–Oliver Purnell, Mark Few, Dino Gaudio, John Chaney–simply do not. If Auburn could find someone who can pay off a solid regular season with some big wins at the SEC tourney and the NIT/NCAAs, all the better.
4. Charisma and energy. Basketball coaches age better than their football brethren, so if Auburn was a firmly-established program with an already enthusiastic fanbase, I’d sign off on a low-key, experienced coach in his 50s.
But Auburn’s not that program. Trite as it sounds, Jacobs really does need a coach who can sell the program, who can connect with Auburn’s dormant fans and turn a Tiger basketball game into an event again. Winning would do wonders, of course, but the right coach could use the boost from the arena opening to fuel a level of excitement that would make winning more likely to begin with; think of the way Bruce Pearl re-energized the Vols and turned Thompson-Boling into an arena to be feared again virtually overnight. There’s only one Bruce Pearl, unfortunately, but regardless this is not the time for a “Dave Odom at South Carolina” type of hire.
5. Krootin’. Duh. If you can’t recruit, you can’t win. Sort of a subset of criterion No. 1 here, I guess, but also important enough that it deserves its own entry.
That’s the list, or at least the first five entries on it. We’ll start breaking down the candidates soon.