You're Bill Battle for a month, have surveyed the Bama hoops program and done a needs assessment of sorts. What are the strengths of the program that you could use to sell to a potential coaching candidate?
Brent Taylor: The first and foremost pitch I would try to sell would be the University, not the basketball program itself. I would talk about the success of pretty much every other athletic program at Alabama, and how Men's Basketball is the one area that needs improvement. I would sell the fact that the athletic department has oodles of money to support any endeavors, and that the fan base is passionate, and attendance will spike with a more successful program.
Lucas Rhoden: This is not a rebuilding situation. The roster is talented with Ricky Tarrant, Retin Obasohan, Jimmie Taylor and Justin Coleman returning. The right coach can come in and immediately take this team to the NCAA Tournament. Fans clamored for a coaching change and they got one. They will be ready to support a new coach. The facilities are good, there is no traditional power in the state and the talent pool in Alabama is above average. Also, this program made money with declining attendance and a mediocre on-court product. This is the most attractive open head coaching job in the country right now.
John Saxon: Most of the strengths of the program are technically strengths of any program in the SEC, a major conference with major conference exposure. Almost every game will be televised on a channel people actually get thanks to the SEC Network. Alabama lies squarely in the middle of a fertile athletic talent landscape in the South, which produces plenty of good basketball players alongside the football players. Kentucky/Duke/Kansas will always get first choice, but there's plenty left over for the next tier(s) down.
Related, what is/are the biggest obstacle/s you'd have to overcome?
LR: The biggest obstacle is recruiting the current players. Many of them were non-committal about their future at Alabama after Anthony Grant was fired. If the new coach does not build relationships with the veteran players, many could transfer and their first season could be a long one.
JS: Current level of interest in the program, which may be at an all-time low. The only games Coleman looked even remotely full were Kentucky and Auburn, and the rest revealed a mostly empty arena. An empty arena negates the home court advantage, and that's not going to lead to success. The negative recruiting going on at Auburn, which has dedicated basketball facilities and a high-profile, high-energy coach, is not helping matters. There's also the small matter of the football team. Alabama only got Bear Bryant as a coach because Adolph Rupp wouldn't play nice at Kentucky, and while Nick Saban isn't the jerk Rupp was, a similar dynamic exists here. Alabama will always be a football school first, and a prospective coach is going to have to accept being second fiddle.
BT: The biggest obstacle would be the tradition of mediocrity and lack of respect here, as that directly influences the recruiting field. There is not a huge amount of talent to work with already on campus, and the state of Alabama isn't known for great basketball recruits.
Given the state of the program, the conference competition, etc what qualities do you look for in the next hire?
BT: The top quality I'm looking for in a coach is someone with a strong personality who can get the fans excited for the program. I think with some excitement and energy infused into the atmosphere, everything else will fall into place.
JS: Three things stand out for me. One is success in recruiting. Kentucky and Florida will have great classes every year; there's nothing that can be done to change that. But there's no reason Alabama can't be third in the conference from that standpoint, and with Bruce Pearl entrenched at Auburn the next coach will need to be on his game. The SEC is a better basketball conference than folks think, and you need talent to compete at a high level here.
Second is an emphasis on offense. The Tide faithful have been treated to 30 seconds of pounding the ball on the perimeter followed by hasty jump shots, and while the teams have been excellent defensively that kind of offense doesn't put butts in the seats. The 30 second shot clock is coming, and the Tide will need an attack that can put points on the board in that environment.
Lastly is personal integrity. A lot of folks were upset that Grant was not canned last year and a serious run made at Bruce Pearl, but that's not the kind of person you want running your program. The one area where Anthony Grant was unimpeachable was his character and the character of his players, and that's not something that should be abandoned with a coaching change if it can be avoided.
LR: Name Recognition - This program needs a face, a leader who will increase exposure. National Recruiter - Someone who can recruit not only the state, but talent rich areas across the country. Players' coach - Someone who will build strong relationships with his players and recruits and have their backs at all times. Salesman- Someone who can promote the program to recruits and boosters to increase the program's national popularity. Offensive minded- Speaks for itself. An offensive oriented coach who will install a new and efficient offense.
Name an improbable home run hire that may be more realistic than it seems at first blush.
JS: Gregg Marshall. He's had unbelievable success at Wichita State, and that's exactly why he needs to leave. That program has peaked; they are never going to be able to compete at that level year in and year out. The path to the Tournament is easier from Wichita, but a championship isn't going to happen there. Alabama can offer more money, more exposure, access to better talent, and a realistic opportunity to contend for a national championship.
LR: Most people will tell you Alabama should offer Gregg Marshall the head coaching job. And Alabama should. But Marshall is not going to leave Wichita State unless a blue-blood program comes calling i.e. Kentucky, Kansas, Duke or Indiana. Som after Marshall turns down the Tide's offer, where should Alabama turn? The NBA, specifically Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. At first glance, this seems like a crazy idea, but Thibodeau and the Bulls' front office have had numerous issues since Thibodeau took over as head coach. Multiple media outlets are reporting the Bulls' front office is done with Thibodeau and is targeting Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg to replace him after the season. So Thibodeau could be unemployed soon, but why would he leave for Alabama? One word: control. Thibodeau could be enticed to return to the college ranks where he would have complete control over the team. Given the strife between the Bulls and Thibodeau, coaching in college could offer Thibodeau a welcome respite from the NBA's organizational structure. At Alabama, Thibodeau would not have to deal with a GM undermining his efforts or an owner criticizing him. Thibodeau has been a revelation in the NBA. Under his watch, the Bulls have been a consistent playoff team. He turned Joakim Noah into one of the best post players in the NBA, has turned Jimmy Butler from afterthought to emerging superstar and found European sensation Nikola Mirotic.
BT: Go big or go home on this one, I guess. I'm going to say Louisville's Rick Petino. I think he could take the job for the sheer fact that it would allow him to attack Kentucky from a different angle. Obviously, thats probably not a name that is or ever will even be in discussion, but it would be a grand slam.
What are the minimum program benchmarks you would like to see met over 1, 3 and 5 years to qualify the hire as a success?
BT: In year one, all I would be looking for is potential and excitement for the future to shine throughout, similar to what Bruce Pearl has done in year one over at the little sister school. By year three I want to have reached the NCAA tournament at least once. I want to have reached the NCAA at least three times by year five with a win or two, at the very least.
LR: Year 1: Retain key players like Jimmie Taylor, Justin Coleman, Retin Obasohan and Riley Norris. Win 17+ games. Postseason appearance in NIT or NCAA tournament. Year 3: Minimum of one NCAA tournament appearance. Minimum of two top-25 recruiting classes. Minimum two top-seven SEC finishes. Above .500 against Auburn. BEAT FLORIDA AT LEAST ONCE; GOOD LORD HOW HARD IS IT? Year 5: Minimum of two NCAA appearances, with at least two NIT appearances. Minimum of four top-25 recruiting classes. Graduation rate above SEC average. Minimum of four top-seven SEC finishes. Minimum of two top-five SEC finishes.
JS: At 1 year: an NCAA bid, which is completely reasonable given the returning talent on this team. At 3 years: two NCAA bids, at least one deep SEC tournament run, and a decent showing in the NCAAs. At 5 years: four NCAA bids, a history of competitive postseason play, and an average of about 23 wins a season. I'd like to throw in SEC titles, but with Kentucky and Florida in conference that's maybe a bit much to ask for.
Given Bama basketball's almost-decade long slide to permanent mediocrity, is it fair to say this is the most crucial program hire in the last 40 years?
JS: It's not as crucial as the hiring decision following Wimp Sanderson's departure, which is when the slide to mediocrity really began. But it's number two.
LR: This is probably Alabama's most crucial hire in basketball in the last 40 years. Alabama has a storied basketball program, and has historically dominated the state, but Auburn's hiring of Bruce Pearl shows that the Tigers are finally serious about basketball. If Alabama wants to continue to dominate the state, then this hire needs to be a good one.
BT: I think so. Grant did a good job at keeping the program right at the breaking point, but never actually tanked. The next hire could very well determine which direction the program falls.
Of the names out there, who do you think is the worst fit or who would make you just give up on Alabama basketball?
JS: Steve Prohm. He's won a lot of games at Murray State and four straight conference regular season titles, but that's in the very weak Ohio Valley Conference. Even then, he's piloted the best team in the conference to three straight conference tournament exits, which isn't encouraging. His teams also don't play defense.
LR: STEVE PROHM, PLEASE NO. Prohm has done a good job at Murray State, and he is an Alabama grad. Prohm has compiled an excellent record, but this is a classic case of "ain't played nobody." Murray State won 28 games this season, but missed the NCAA tournament after failing to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Any team that wins 28 games and misses the Big Dance is playing the little sisters of the poor week in and week out. I think Prohm is a good coach, and could be a good hire for the Tide, just not right now. Prohm needs to prove himself against tougher competition and in the tournament before Alabama offers Prohm. I think that Prohm would continue the mediocrity that has plagued Alabama for the last decade.
BT: Shaka Smart, would be my pick here. He's been linked to this coaching search by the internet people due to taking over for Anthony Grant's program at VCU. While I do think he would be a slight upgrade from Grant, I think he would just be more of the same and absolutely nothing would change in the program.
Who do you think Alabama ultimately settles on and why?
LR: I think Alabama hires Tom Crean. My gut-feeling is that Indiana fires Crean after immense pressure from the fanbase. I think Alabama wants to hire a big name coach with a good track record. I think Marshall and Miller both turn the Tide down, so Alabama gets Crean.
JS: Prohm, because I can't shake the feeling that Battle is just going to punt this decision to the next guy. It's frustrating and disappointing, but I think it's going to happen.
BT: Tom Crean would be my best guess just from the sheer quantity of rumors. More than likely though, its gonna end up being some guy I've never even heard of.