Good, forward-thinking, risk-averse athletic directors have lists, according to good, forward-thinking, risk-averse athletic directors. They have rainy-day lists of head-coaching candidates in the event of a forced or voluntary head-coaching search.
Who's on Jeff Long's men's basketball list? Who sits atop one of the most revered lists in American sports? Who would replace Bill Self as Kansas head coach?
This question pops into my head monthly. Okay, fine: Weekly….maybe daily. I'm constantly pondering that question for my alma mater, along with "Who would replace Nick Saban?" or "Who would replace John Calipari tomorrow?" and dozens of others. Maybe it's an obsession with coaching changes, candidate lists and major life changes. That obsession went into overdrive this week when The Athletic's Sam Amick and John Hollinger wrote this:
"As of now, a source said [Gregg] Popovich has given no indication to the organization that he won’t be back next season. Yet whenever he steps away, whether it’s after he coaches Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics this summer or sometime thereafter, there’s one name that continues to come up from league sources as a possible replacement: Bill Self, the longtime Kansas coach and close friend of Spurs general manager R.C. Buford."
If "league sources" are correct and Self does leave Kansas for the San Antonio Spurs, who would Jeff Long hire as Bill Self's replacement?
It Won't Be…
It won't be an in-house hire (e.g. Kurtis Townsend, Norm Roberts), nor should it be. It won't be a former assistant (e.g. Joe Dooley, Danny Manning, Kyle Keller, Tim Jankovich), nor should it be. It won't be one of the several Kansas alums in college basketball (e.g. Jerod Haase, Tad Boyle, Mark Turgeon), nor should it be. And it won't be anyone without Division-I head-coaching experience (e.g. Tommy Lloyd, Ryan Pedon, Chris Crutchfield, Rashon Burno), nor should it be.
Take Your Shot
Like Self's 2017-18 Final Four team that attempted nearly 1,000 three-pointers, Long, carrying one of the best jobs in college sports, must take his shot. He must call Brad Stevens, Tony Bennett, and Jay Wright.
Stevens is making NBA money, though most NBA money is in the same ballpark as top college basketball money. He was brilliant at Butler and rebuilt the Boston Celtics into a title contender in only three seasons. Wright has rejected NBA offers (and UCLA's gigantic offer) and repeatedly said he has no intention of leaving Villanova, where's he's been since 2001. And Bennett has made it clear how much he loves Virginia and doesn't need a lucrative raise.
Still, you're Kansas basketball. You call them.
If They Say No…
You call Chris Mack, Chris Holtmann, and Mark Few.
Mack and Holtmann are both in their late 40s and could lead Kansas for 20 years. They've won a combined 400 games over the last decade and are among the best talent evaluators and developers in college basketball. Mark Few, meanwhile, lures four-star recruits and top transfers to remote Spokane. He's a brilliant in-game coach with one of the best staffs in college basketball. Imagine Mark Few with Kansas resources.
Down the List…
Kansas shouldn't get this far. If they do, they're still looking at high-level coaches like Chris Beard, Kevin Willard, Gregg Marshall, Buzz Williams, and Matt Painter.
Beard would generate serious buzz because of his remarkable turnaround at Texas Tech and familiarity with the Big 12, though he's still an inexperienced coach by blue-blood standards. Even with Marshall's run at Wichita State, he might be a tough sell for bitter and entitled (often rightfully so) Kansas fans, as could an east-coast guy in Kevin Willard who's barely above .500 in the Big East over the last three years. That's if Jeff Long cares about the sell.
Who would Kansas hire tomorrow if Bill Self leaves for the NBA?