It’s never satisfying to root for a man to get fired when that man has put his heart and soul into his job. Everyone that follows athletics knows that the coaching industry is different. If you don’t do your job well coaching a high-profile college basketball program, you get fired. Other than a few low-level major conference teams (i.e. Northwestern, Baylor) you don’t get to keep your job by being average. So, Tommy Amaker is gone. I find myself engaging in a bit of a semantics battle with myself. On one hand, I am thrilled that Michigan basketball will have a chance to return to glory. On the other hand, I’m remorseful that a man who put UM first for six years is out of a job. To clear up any misconceptions as to which wins out in my mind, though, it’s 98/2 in favor of being thrilled.
In the two days since Amaker was fired, writers around the country have thrown out virtually every name imaginable as a possible replacement. Last month, I posted a list of the top 26 candidates for the Michigan job should Amaker be fired. Most of the names on that list are being bandied about now among others. I did not include coaches in their first year with their perspective programs (i.e. Tony Bennett WSU, Anthony Grant VCU) since coaches rarely coach at a school for one season. Bennett and Grant would have been in the top ten had I not excluded first-year coaches. Hopefully, Bill Martin has enough foresight to consider them and likewise, hopefully either would be willing to leave their current program after one season.
My preference for the hire would be a coach that is unique in his abilities (someone who has immediately influenced a program) and a coach that is relatively young. Mike Montgomery, Lon Kruger and Rick Majerus could probably come to Michigan and get the program running again. The problem is that fairly soon into their tenure, Michigan will have to go through another coaching hire when those coaches inevitably retire. The problem with hiring a young coach is the “Amaker Factor.” There weren’t many people back in 2001 that didn’t think Amaker could get things done. However, if you look at things more closely now, the Amaker hire was more of a prayer than it was a solid basketball hire. Amaker hadn’t accomplished much in his career. His big asset was his tutelage under Coach K.
If Michigan is going to hire another young coach, it has to look at what the coach accomplished on his own. In year one at VCU, Anthony Grant led his team to the best finish any school has ever had in the Colonial Conference as well as a first round win over Duke in the NCAA Tournament. In year one at Washington State, Tony Bennett led his team to a 26-8 record and a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Washington State went 11-17 last year. There is a huge difference between hiring a young coach with a good pedigree and hiring a coach with sound accomplishments. Hopefully, Bill Martin has seen the impact of choosing the wrong one.
This would be my short list of candidates:
The Fat and Happy:
Billy Gillispie Texas A&M
Gillispie is from the south. He’s already created a powerhouse at Texas A&M. I can’t imagine he’d be interested in leaving that to inherit another underachieving program up north.
Tom Crean Marquette
Crean has a good thing going at Marquette. I would not be surprised if he felt Marquette was a better gig than Michigan. However, I don’t believe there is any doubt as to which program has the higher ceiling.
Gregg Marshall Winthrop
Marshall has been quietly running a fantastic mid-major program at Winthrop for some time now. His first round upset of Notre Dame validated his credentials even more.
Todd Lickliter Butler
Lickliter has Butler in the Sweet Sixteen with victories over Indiana, Purdue, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Gonzaga, and Maryland. He will undoubtedly be near the top of Bill Martin’s list.
Chris Lowery S. Illinois
Lowery is a young coach with a reputation for being a very good recruiter. He has S. Illinois in the Sweet Sixteen after storming through the Missouri Valley Conference during the regular season.
Anthony Grant VCU
I don’t think Grant and Amaker are comparable. When Michigan hired Amaker, he was a “name.” Grant revitalized the VCU program in just one season with an athletic pressing defense. He may not be the next Coach K but I don’t think there is any doubt that his abilities extend beyond pedigree.
Tony Bennett Washington State
Bennett did one of the more impressive coaching jobs I have ever seen in college basketball. Washington State was 11-17 in 2005-06. Bennett led WSU to a 27-8 record this season in his first year. I’m sure there were some other factors involved (i.e. the return of injured players and the maturation of players) but what he did was impressive no matter how you spin it.
Like any hire, you want to get it right the first time. Any coach that I mentioned in my post last month could probably get the job done. This is a “shoot for the Moon and if you miss you still be among stars” scenario. Michigan has nothing to lose in terms of looking at every conceivable lead. I’m just thrilled that Michigan Basketball will be heading in a new direction. This is the point at which the possibilities for success are endless. I remember feeling this way six years ago. Hopefully, this will turn out a bit different.