Texas basketball always has seemed like an ideal job for someone seeking to coach Division I men’s basketball. There are high-major prospects in seemingly every neighborhood. There appears to be more money than contained in Citibank.
The pressure to win exists, it just does not overwhelm, because football still commands most of the fans’ attention. Oh, and Austin is such a lovely town.
It hasn’t ever really worked all the way, though. Rick Barnes reached 16 NCAA Tournaments in 17 years, but only a single Final Four. Tom Penders reached eight NCAA Tournaments in 10 years, but never advanced beyond the Elite Eight. Shaka Smart reached three NCAA Tournaments in five seasons, with a possible fourth bid wiped out in his other season by the COVID pandemic, and did not win an NCAA game.
So is Texas basketball the Eden so many presume it to be?
That may be what decides who the Longhorns can land to replace Smart now that he has accepted the job as the next Marquette head coach. UT’s surest bet would be to convince some coach on a similar level that the great job he holds now, that has been the site of so much success, may be terrific but isn’t Texas.
Will one of the top coaches in the country be able to resist Texas’ charms?
Texas basketball coaching candidates
Chris Beard, Texas Tech.
The Longhorns have seen him at work, close up. Since his arrival in Lubbock for the 2016-17 season, he owns an 8-5 record against UT. They’ve seen him in the Final Four and national championship game. They certainly can top the six-year, $26.75 million contract he received from the Raiders after the team’s appearance in the 2019 NCAA championship game.
Is it worth the trouble to move, though? Perhaps. He just completed a season in which he had no big guy like Jericho Sims or Kai Jones. The Longhorns had four of them, including elite freshman Greg Brown and useful veteran Royce Hamm. The ability to attract that level of talent may be irresistible.
John Beilein, BTN analyst
After leaving his position as Michigan head coach to take over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and after coaching at the NBA level did not go well, Beilein has been analyzing the sport in the studio and on game telecasts. He is considered one of the best offensive minds in the sport and led Michigan to the NCAA title game in 2013 and 2018 and to Big Ten Tournament titles in 2017 and 2018. At 68, he has coached in the NCAA Tournament at Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan. There is little doubt that he has turned down other opportunities waiting for the right one to re-enter coaching. This would be a situation he could not decline.
Dana Altman, Oregon
One of the most accomplished coaches in college basketball, Altman built a mid-major power at Creighton, remained there for 16 years despite many offers — he even accepted the Arkansas job, went through a press conference and then changed his mind — and ultimately accepted the chance to coach at Oregon in 2010. He has made eight NCAA Tournaments there and reached the 2017 Final Four. There are few better pure coaches, and his personality would work well in a place where the basketball coach mostly draws attention if he loses too often. But would he leave behind the close association to Phil Knight?
Scott Drew, Baylor
Two decades ago, the choice between Baylor and UT would have been laughable. Baylor had made only four NCAA Tournament appearances when Drew arrived in 2003. They’ve been to nine since, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2010 and this year’s No. 1 seed and (so far) trip to the Sweet 16. Another certain tournament trip — that, too, at the No. 1 seed level — was removed by the pandemic last March. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, the leading media authority on Big 12 basketball, has called Drew’s work at Baylor possibly the greatest rebuilding job in the history of the sport. Would Drew want to abandon what he’s built at Baylor? He is 50 now, and he could be to the Bears what Jay Wright has become at Villanova, or Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. If he is going to leave, it probably will be this year — either to Indiana or to Austin. Staying in Waco seems like an option that will be hard to beat.
Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State
The school that once lost Brad Underwood to Illinois because of his less impressive salary has gotten another bargain in Boynton, who did a tremendous job with the Cowboys this season. He got the most out of uber-freshman Cade Cunningham and built a versatile, dynamic, connected team around him. His contract is for six years, $11.5 million — nice work if you can get it, but what if you can get more? If Texas wants him, Boynton could get much more.
Royal Ivey, Brooklyn Nets assistant
Because of the success of Juwan Howard at Michigan, reaching into the NBA for a former star seems less of a gamble than it had been previously. Ivey played 10 seasons in the league and since has worked on the staffs of the Thunder, Knicks and Nets. Ivey started for Texas’ 2003 Final Four team as backcourt partner for All-American T.J. Ford and topped 1,000 career points.
Eric Musselman, Arkansas
There hasn’t been much of a rivalry between the Longhorns and Razorbacks since Arkansas departed the Southwest Conference for the SEC in 1991, but this could heat it up. Musselman has been a smash hit at Arkansas and has the team in the Sweet 16 in his second season, but he might find the allure of Austin difficult to decline. Musselman has an NBA background and has reached the past four NCAA Tournaments, the first three at Nevada, and has two Sweet 16 appearances in that stretch. A Final Four is in reach, though, and if the Hogs pull that off, it might be difficult to walk away from that degree of success.
Kelvin Sampson, Houston
Kelvin’s work at Houston has made many forget the difficult departure at Indiana. He’s one of college basketball’s best coaches, and he has the Cougars in the Sweet 16. But they love him at Houston; his family is intertwined throughout the program. It seems like a strange time to move.
Jerome Tang, Baylor associate head coach
Tang has been with Drew at Baylor from the beginning and has been an integral part of the Bears’ success. And, frankly, it is astounding that someone so bright, talented, accomplished and appealing still could be waiting for his first head coaching job. It may not be Texas’ plan to hire a first-time head coach. But he would do a heck of a job.
Grant McCasland, North Texas
McCasland led the Mean Green to the Conference USA Tournament title and a first-round upset of Purdue with innovative defensive schemes that slowed down Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey and the Boilermakers’ Trevion Williams. He is a former Baylor assistant and spent one year at Arkansas State before taking the UNT job, where his first three teams won 20 games and his fourth, this season, advanced to the NCAA round of 32.