Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Advice for How to Fill Marquette's Coaching Vacancy

Marquette Warriors head coach Buzz Williams resigned to accept the same job at Virginia Tech.  Seems like a million years ago that I broke down Buzz's last extension at Marquette that he ultimately broke to take the Virginia Tech job.  I've said many times in this space that I have a soft spot in my heart for Virginia Tech given that Sister-In-Law-Cheese will earn her PhD from Tech this spring but not sure giving Buzz a huge contract makes much senses.  Marquette missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Buzz.  In fact, Marquette had such an atrocious season that they even missed the NIT.  Usually coaches move onto new jobs when their program is on the up-swing not following the worst season of their tenure.

Marquette spends the most money per player of any college basketball program besides Duke, which ironically is where Sister-In-Law-Cheese is currently working on her post doctorate fellowship.  There is no argument that Buzz was very successful in his seven years in charge of Marquette.  Buzz coached in the NCAA Tournament every year besides this year, including three consecutive trips to the Sweet 16 and an Elite 8 appearance last year.  Even more impressive is how many NBA players Buzz churned our during his tenure.

Despite Buzz's success and all the money at his disposal at Marquette, there has long been tension between Buzz and the administrators.  Apparently there was a $2 million buyout clause in Buzz's contract that was reduced to $100,000 if there was no permanent athletic director in place.  Given that Bill Cords is serving as the Interim Vice President and Director of Athletics following the departure of Larry Williams, the window for Buzz to move was open.

Marquette is a basketball only school while Virginia Tech is a football school that happens to play basketball in the ACC.  Maybe Buzz will be able to make his model of supplementing big recruits with junior college transfers work at Tech but when you add it all up, I see Virginia Tech as a worse job than Marquette.  I have no inside knowledge but my only worry for Marquette is that Buzz left some potential NCAA violations behind in Milwaukee.  Whether that is true or not, I see three options for how Marquette can replace Buzz.

Early reports linked Marquette with former Pittsburgh and UCLA head coach Ben Howland and current UW-Green Bay coach Brian Wardle.  Both of those hires make senses for different reason.  Let's not forget that Kevin O'Neill, Tom Crean, and Buzz Williams were far from household names in their first year in charge of Marquette but all of those guys ultimately used the Marquette job as a stepping stone to a bigger program: O'Neill (Tennessee), Crean (Indiana), and Williams (Virginia Tech).

Unlike the guys that Marquette recently hired, Howland would give Marquette a "big name" coach right away.  Howland is 56 years old so this is most likely his last head coaching job but given that he coached at Pittsburgh and UCLA, his services will not come cheap.  The upshot of investing in Howland is that he will be able to land big-time high school recruits on day one.

With all due respect to Steve Novak and Robb Logterman, Wardle was arguably the most lethal shooter even at Marquette.  For those not familiar with the Marquette program, they have an inflated sense of where their program stands in the national landscape so they overvalue their own.  The question is whether that translates to recruiting on a national scale because Marquette's most recent success was due more to plucking useful junior college transfers than landing huge recruits.  Before Marquette hires Wardle they need to determine whether he can use his success on the court at Marquette to attract big-time high school recruits.

Door number three is a younger coach on the rise from a smaller school without a Marquette connection.  Let's leave aside guys like Shaka Smart at VCU because coaches like that could have left their current institutions for better jobs than Marquette in recent years but declined overtures to stay at their current post.  A few attainable names that come to mind are Archie Miller at the University of Dayton, Bryce Drew at Valparaiso University, Michael White at Louisiana Tech University, and Josh Pastner at the University of Memphis.  Given my love for UD because of Father-In-Law-Cheese, I hope Miller stays at UD so I will take him off the list even though he might be the most attractive option of the the four just mentioned.  If any of the other guys mentioned have a strong Roman Catholic faith, I would move them up the list since that will be enticing to Marquette alumni even though that most likely does not appeal to big-time high school recruits.

Did you see how I ended the last three paragraphs by discussing whether each coach could land big-time high school recruits? I know this sounds overly simplistic but given all the money spent on basketball by Marquette, as long as the program doesn't break any NCAA rules, they should be able to land big-time high school recruits even though some might do it sooner rather than later.

I presume Howland would be a better recruiter nationally than any of the younger coaches just discussed in the short-term but given that Marquette's program is currently in good shape, I am not sure how much that matters.  I could see Wardle coaching at Marquette for decades whereas Howland will be looking to retire in less than a decade and some of the younger names just discussed could use Marquette as stepping stone like O'Neil, Crean, and Buzz did previously.  Given that Wardle will have a cheaper price tag with the highest long-term upside, if I was in charge of hiring the next Marquette coach, I would hire Wardle.

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