If you were an Auburn fan still on the fence as to the wisdom of dismissing Jeff Lebo, I think the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament action–unequivocally the best one since 2006 and quite possibly my favorite one of all time–should tell you why this was the right move. This thing is just too much fun, too big a deal, too good to not have Auburn involved. Auburn’s men’s basketball program should be able to regularly compete for NCAA Tournament berths* and if it’s not, it’s time to look elsewhere.
Like, say, the frozen North …
Tubby Smith: we say hello, you say goodbye. It’s a shame the entire Tubby Smith news cycle–from “they’re looking at Tubby Smith” to “hey Dennis Dodd says this could happen” to “Everyone take this thing seriously NOW” to “oops, guess he’s not coming after all“–took place before I could get back to my keyboard. Seeing outlandish candidates’ names get tossed into the air and spending a few precious hours (or days) fantasizing about them saying Yes is the best, most fun part of a coaching search. At least I missed it for a good reason.
As for my reaction, it was always going to be a huge pain to extract Smith from a fairly cushy situation at Minnesota; unless Jay Jacobs recently found a bag of gold under his front step, coming to Auburn would have meant both 1. abandoning a program he’d already built from near-scratch into a Tournament team for a program he’d have to build from near-scratch again, at the age of 58 2. doing so for less or similar money. Maybe Smith’s bothered by the raise freeze and lack of a practice facility, but man, he’d have to be way past bothered and to the point of “secretly foaming at the mouth” to take on the Auburn job. Smith-to-Auburn wasn’t totally crazy–like, say, Billy Donovan leaving the SEC’s richest contract behind to go to St. John’s is–but it was mostly crazy.
Still, it was good news for Auburn; if Jacobs was willing to chase Smith, it makes it a little more likely that he’s secretly chasing after other high-profile names. Like, you know, that guy whose season just wrapped up at Missouri. Of course, according to Jay G. Tate the first two names on Jacobs’ list weren’t Smith and Anderson but Smith and …
Chuck Person. The Rifleman got some pretty rousing endorsements from his NBA contemporaries via a Kevin Scarbinsky story from yesterday’s B’ham News. Current Mavs coach Rick Carlisle:
“He would get the job done. I don’t have any question. There’s no one out there that would outwork him. There’s no one out there that has his ties to the university and his career credentials that would even compare.”
Now, Carlisle is obligated to say nice things about his former teammate, just as the other NBA execs with ties to Person are never going to tell Scarbinsky Person’s not ready for the job. But I’ll admit that their endorsements are more enthusiastic than I would have expected, and I didn’t know Person had made the finalist stage for that Bulls job. (Then again, he lost that job to the ever-unreliable Vinny Del Negro, so I’m not certain that’s a plus on his resume.)
As I’ve said before: I don’t think Auburn ought to hire a coach with no head coaching experience at any level and no coaching experience, period, in college basketball. But if Person really is on the cusp of earning an NBA head coaching position, it won’t be the worst thing in the world for Auburn to roll the dice with him.
One thing that does cause me pause: Charles Barkley is also familiar with Person from their shared days at Auburn and in the NBA, and with an opportunity this week to throw his support behind Person’s candidacy he passed. Maybe he’s just trying to stay out of Jacobs’ way, but I also have to think that if Barkley really thought highly of Person, he would have taken the chance to say so.
Brownell? Jay Coulter tossed out the name of Wright St. coach Brad Brownell as one to watch, with the predictable “Who? Where?” reaction. Brownell’s done a solid job at his two stops, first maintaining the UNC-Wilmington program Jerry Wainright built (including winning an automatic bid out of a loaded Colonial in 2006) before making the surprising lateral move to Dayton. The Raiders have improved dramatically under Brownell’s watch and are consistently one of the best defensive teams in the Horizon.
But even speaking as the guy driving the “hire a proven mid-major coach” bus, I can’t get too excited about Brownell. He’d be solid–Auburn would get better, I have zero doubt about that–but as someone who fervently believes you need some postseason success to mark yourself as an elite coaching prospect, I’d also worry we’d be getting a second “OK, not great” Lebo-type. Brownell upset Butler to take the Horizon tourney on his first attempt, but hasn’t been able to replicate the feat since; most recently, Wright advanced to the Horizon finals only to get annihilated by the top-seeded Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse, 70-45. Brownell won the Colonial twice, but he got a big head start thanks to Wainright’s work and went 0-2 in the NCAAs. (I should note that that first loss came on Drew Nicholas’s miracle shot; UNCW actually played a great game that night.)
Overall, it’s a nice resume, made all the moreso by the fact that Brownell has been a head coach for this long ans is still just 42. But do I think it’s as impressive a resume as Gregg Marshall’s or Billy Kennedy’s or another half-dozen coaches who’d probably take the job? No, I don’t. I’d be pleased with the hire of Brownell, but excited? Eh, not really.
(One note before we move on from Brownell: can Auburn fans please dispense with the painful “never heard of ’em” condescension that inevitably greets mention of a team like Wright State or a coach like Brownell? First of all, it’s a joke that beyond tired; second, it strikes me as unbelievably smug to talk smack about teams with far, far better basketball programs than ours has been; and third, if you haven’t heard of Team X or Coach Y, it’s not because they’re not important [or good], it’s because you don’t know enough about college basketball. I bet if you’d asked Kansas fans ahead of the tourney about Northern Iowa and Ben Jacobson, they’d have said “Where? Who?” too. Knock it off.)
Elsewhere … checking in on how various potential Auburn candidates fared this first week of the NCAA postseason:
Mike Anderson: I know, I know, he’s probably not coming. But for the record, Anderson once again proved himself one of the best NCAA Tournament coaches in the country by engineering a first-round win over Clemson. Anderson has taken five teams to the NCAAs and has now 1. won five games as the lower-seeded team, including 9-over-1, 11-over-6, and 3-over-2 upsets 2. has never lost as the higher-seeded team.
Tony Barbee: Not a great outing for Barbee as his UTEP team was unable to put their massive athletic advantage over Butler to use in the second half of their Thursday NCAA game, losing 77-59 after holding a six-point halftime lead. It wasn’t much of a postseason overall for Barbee, truth be told. After dominating the C-USA regular season they nearly missed the NCAAs entirely after losing to a lesser Houston team in the tourney finals, then followed that up with the collapse against a Butler team a ton of people (myself included) expected them to shove around.
Gregg Marshall: I was hoping for a big NIT run to give the candidacy of my second-favorite candidate a boost, but Marshall’s Wichita St. Shockers lost at home to Nevada, 74-70. Oh well; they’ll still enter 2010-2011 as the Valley favorites.
Billy Kennedy: I swear it feels like I’m the only person who seems to have even considered Kennedy for the Auburn job, despite the fact he’s now put together dominant teams in two conferences, taken two teams to the Dance, and that the most recent one provided us with the single most awesome moment of the Tournament so far. His team did a hell of a lot more against Butler than Barbee’s did, too. (Or Brownell’s, while we’re at it.)
Mike Davis: Because it has to be noted, UAB blew N.C. State out of the gym this weekend in the NIT. Don’t think it’ll help Davis all that much, but there you go.
And lastly … you’ve no doubt heard that Lebo has done one hell of a backflip, landing East Carolina’s perpetual dead-end job. I wish him the best luck, because at ECU? He’ll need it.
*Especially if they expand to 96 teams for no reason.
Agreed on the “never heard of him” group. I think these are the same people that never go to games anyway. To hell with them.
Jacobson jumped way up on my list. It’s not just admiring the job he’s done at Northern Iowa. He looks like he could be Gene Chizik’s brother. LOOK:
I admire what Jacobson’s done a ton, but a) I’m not sure UNI’s style would translate to the SEC on a night-in night-out basis b) he doesn’t have much program-building on his resume. He was an assistant at UNI before getting the Panther job and hasn’t had to start from scratch the way eh would at Auburn. The guy who DID make UNI into what it is, Bill McDermott, is struggling at Nebraska. I think Auburn could do worse, but I also think they should look elsewhere.
He’s also from North Dakota, currently coaches at UNI, and has spent his entire basketball life in that area of the country. In other words, he has no ties to the SEC or southern recruiting. This doesn’t necessarily hurt his abilities to be a head coach in the SEC, but it certainly doesn’t help them. I’m with Jerry.
(Hire Tony Barbee!)
I don’t think ties to the area are as important for basketball recruiting. It’s not like you need 10 kids from your home state every year. Shoot we barely get one every year.
I just listened to that Charles Barkley interview (It’s still on the Roundtable’s website), and he said a lot of interesting things.
It seemed to me like he was really just holding out on throwing his full support behind Person, because he was planning on talking to Phil Jackson about him later that day. He said he had already talked to Larry Bird about him, who knows Person from his time with the Pacers, but he wanted to hear something “more up-to-date”.
Man, how great is it to have somebody like Sir Charles in our corner? I mean, people can say what they will about him, but what other programs in the country have access to a contact list as long as his? Plus, he’s 100% loyal to the program and the university, but still keeps his distance. He has all the interest in the world in Auburn, but has no interest at all in meddling with or controlling Auburn. I can’t imagine having a better friend of the program.
And here’s the best quote from the interview, half of which Jay G. Tate somehow left off in that piece you linked;
“Me and Jay have always been cool. Even though I disagreed with him on the Chizik over Turner Gill, there was never anything personal. And I think Jay knows I’m gonna always be myself. I mean I ain’t never gonna be no kiss ass brother. I’m my own man. I don’t sit around and listen to Punk Finebaum and Kevin Scarbinsky. They don’t know anything about sports that I don’t know. Don’t confuse it. I’m not one of these Alabama guys that listen to Finebaum and Scarbinsky. I understand how the thing works.”
I don’t know what’s more awesome; him coming on Bammerham airwaves and dropping the name “Punk Finebaum”, or his general implication that Finebaum and Scarbinsky, and anyone that listens to either of them, don’t know how things actually work.
P.S. Good luck to Lebo at ECU. Glad it didn’t take him long to find work.
P.P.S. (or is it P.S.S.?) Smith is obviously still my first choice if that can still somehow happen, but if not I think I’m full on the Person bandwagon. I mean, we want someone that’ll bring excitement to the program, and I think he’ll do just that. I mean sure, it’s a gamble, but why not. Let’s try something different. Something that nobody else is doing.
And if we can’t land him then… well my list ends there. I’ll leave the rest up to you guys.
Barkley not thinking highly of Person tells me one thing —— HIRE PERSON!
Tom Penders resigned from Houston today. DEAR GOD NOOOO!
Jonesy, I agree that recruiting ties aren’t as pivotal as in football, but the Midwestern/MVC style of play is very, very different from the SEC’s and that’s all Jacobson has known. Same issues I have with Brad Stevens. They’re great coaches, but I’d really worry about their ability to adapt to Auburn.
AO, I totally agree with your assessment of Barkley. The people who were (and are) dogging him about the Gill remarks I think miss the fact that he was basically right–Gill did have the better resume. The secret reason Chizik got hired ended up being “He was going to hire Gus Malzahn” rather than “He’s white,” but still.
It’s p.p.s.–p.s. stands for “postscript,” so a p.p.s. is a post-postscript.
No freaking way we hire Penders. Not possible.
Chuck Person is black. We all know how Sir Charles supports black coaching candidates (supports may not be a strong enough word). In my opinion, if Barkley isn’t yelling his name from the mountaintop to anyone who will listen (like he did with Gill), then I think he may think Person may be a bad hire, and I’ll trust his judgment.
I always heard Barkley and Person didn’t really like each other, because each wanted to be the man in Auburn. Plus they were always competing while in the NBA. It was cool when Wesley went to Phoenix while Charles was there, and they should have beaten Houston in the Western Conference Finals one of the year’s Houston went on the win the title. I remember the Suns could have won the series in Game 5 or 6 when the ball was kicked out to an open Stick who missed the shot. I thought Phoenix would still take the series, but The Dream pulled out the game and Charles best chance to win a title — without Jordan in the league — was done.
Don’t know if y’all have seen this…Charles Barkley interviews Chuck Person on the NBA website fromlast summer.
Have to disagree, JD. First, it’s hard to mention ‘Barkley’ and ‘Judgement’ in the same sentence. I personally think Barkley has just become a hot head commentator whose ego hates the idea of some other AU legend overshadowing his own banners at the new arena. Look, I’m the last person to be in on the search committee. There’s no way to know how any hire will work out. I just think a Person hire, if it works out, would create a special kind of excitement. AU legend – The Rifleman – coaching the Tigers in the NCAA. Plus, I don’t think anyone else could sell AU to recruits any better. All opinions, of course.
One side note – I was sitting in a hot tub in Myrtle Beach a couple of years ago with my AU hat on, when someone across the deck yelled “The Rifleman”.
Ok, side note two – Is anything going on with the TWER gang for the Spring Game?
Mitch and JD — somehow I disagree with both of you.
First of all, Charles doesn’t get riled up every time there’s an opening and demand that everybody hire a black coach. He just gets riled up when he feels that his alma mater may be guilty of some wrongdoing. To him, the choice of Chizik over Gill didn’t make any sense at all. I mean, we just have to accept the fact that Charles doesn’t invest as much in the “Auburn Man from SEC country” factor as the rest of us do. (And why should he? He’s lived in Arizona for most of his life now.) So Charles took it upon himself to speak his mind, and it snowballed into a discussion of a legitimate problem — the ratio of black players to black coaches in football.
(And BTW, I just want to point out, I definitely didn’t want anything to do with Turner Gill. In fact, I was the opposite — I wanted Gene, come hell or high water. I was in the minority back then, but I swear, right when we found out Tubs was out I said, “That DC from 2004. The one that went to Texas. The FIRST one that went to Texas. Whats-his-name. I want that guy. Not Muschamp, he sucks. The other one.”)
And Mitch, I seriously doubt Barkley cares whose banner hangs higher in the new arena. Like I said, he cares about Auburn, but from a distance. He’s got bigger things to worry about and do than try to finangle his way into some imaginary position of Auburn’s Undisputed Basketball God.
If you guys would listen to the actual interview, I think you’d get a different idea of what he said. He passed on throwing his full support behind the Person campaign, but he definitely didn’t shoot the idea down or anything like that. It wasn’t bad at all actually.
Patrick — That link is awesome.
You’re probably right AO. I guess I’m just one of those who have had my fill of CB. Must have been all the ‘Governor of Alabama’ talk.
And the Chizik thing, you nailed that one. So, when you first heard of Lebo leaving, what name came to mind?
Unfortunately, that was more luck than genius, I think. And whatever it was, I’m pretty sure it won’t translate over to basketball.
My first idea would’ve been to not build a new arena at all, and give Phil Jackson the $90 million to come down here for a couple years. He could get us a couple of championships, then head back to the Lakers even richer than he was. My second idea was probably Nell Fortner.
Honestly, I’m in the front seat of the Chuck Person bandwagon right now. I’d rather try something new and exciting and different from what everybody else is doing than get any three of these guys being interviewed from these Texas schools, all of whom just scream mediocrity — aka “Jeff Lebo 2.0”.
More Person/NBA.com fun — Here’s a very recent interview, from just 18 days ago;
“Head coaching is what I want to eventually, whether it’s in the NBA or in college.”
Barkley and Person played together at Auburn and were antithisis of each other. Person was a hard working team player and Barkley was a fat and lazy “look at me” kind of player. It’s no surprise that there’s no love lost there.
I wonder if Chuck could get Wesley to come with him?
I’m pretty shocked at the venom some Auburn people have toward Barkley. He’s probably the most famous Auburn alum, and is definitely the most tireless national promoter. He’s a true celebrity and as entertaining as they come. His style is so rare in the world of bland, cliche-driven interviews. And the guy truly loves Auburn.
Barkley a lazy and selfish college basketball player? No way. He was 6’5″ playing center and he led the Conference in rebounding. That doesn’t happen to lazy people. His career assists per game are higher than Persons’, also, in spite of the fact that Chuck had the ball in his hands more.
Now, overweight, I will grant you. But even Bob Knight thought he was a pretty hard-worker and competitor. As I recall, he was the last cut on the 1984 Olympic team.