March 7, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, IL - 1. There is no shortage of opinions among Saluki fans regarding who should be the next head coach. The SalukiTalk message board has started a list. A guy just walked in my door and shouted, "Bobby Knight!" My e-mail in-box is full of suggestions. Just so you know, I'm not on the search committee and have no say in the decision.
2. There are essentially two camps within the fan base -- one side says SIU should hire from within the family tree. The other side says Southern needs a clean break from the past. Both sides are wrong, in my opinion. Southern Illinois needs to hire the best coach.
3. The last three men's basketball coaching searches produced Bruce Weber, Matt Painter and Chris Lowery. Say those names today, and everyone knows and respects that group's accomplishments. Yet at the time they were hired, none were hot coaching prospects.
4. Weber was a 42-year-old assistant coach at Purdue who had been passed over for other jobs. He was not even the first choice of some members of the search committee, because he had never played college basketball and there were questions about whether he could recruit outside of the Big Ten. The decision to hire Gene Keady's right-hand-man set into motion Southern's Decade of Dominance.
5. Prior to SIU, Painter's career took him far off the beaten path, with stops at Washington & Jefferson, Barton College and Eastern Illinois. Weber knew Paint from Purdue and brought him on staff in 1998. Athletic Director Paul Kowalcyzk saw Painter's potential and hired him for a bargain price in 2003. There was no bidding war for the services of a little-known assistant at SIU. Painter parlayed a 25-5 season in 2004 into the head coaching job at Purdue.
7. I had one person tell me SIU should hire Rick Pitino's assistant. I asked him which one, and he said it didn't matter -- he must know what he's doing if he works for Pitino. That's like going to the car lot and saying I can't afford the Lexus, so I'll take whatever is parked next to it.
8. When I was the basketball SID at Marshall from 1993-95, we actually did hire a Pitino assistant. His name was Billy Donovan. You might have heard of him. He went on to become a fabulously successful head coach -- but not at Marshall. He spent two years with the Thundering Herd, learned some valuable lessons while posting a respectable 35-20 record, then bolted for Florida where he ultimately won back-to-back National Championships.
9. Finding the next Billy Donovan or Matt Painter is an intriguing possibility. The toughest job for the search committee will be to thoroughly vet the candidates it doesn't know personally. A year ago, ESPN produced a list of the top 10 assistant coaches in college basketball. No. 3 on the list was Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine. There are plenty of great assistant coaches out there. Beware of the lemons.
10. You can't write a column about the head coaching search at SIU without mentioning the elephants in the room. Illinois head coach Bruce Weber and Southern Indiana head coach Rodney Watson both have diehard supporters. As Mario Moccia reminded everyone during his press conference last week, both are still coaching their current teams.
11. The search committee needs to walk a fine line with any member of the SIU family that might want the job. They should ask the tough questions. It's a search, not a coronation. On the other hand, no one should be dismissed due to their familiarity or because well-intentioned fans are overtly lobbying for them.
12. People keep telling me the next head coach needs to be a great recruiter. They have visions of a guy with slicked-back hair sweet-talking 5-star recruits into signing with Southern. It doesn't work that way here, never has and never will. Recruiting is critical, of course, but let's not forget how Southern obtained its best players during the past decade.
13. Saluki stars like Darren Brooks, Randal Falker and Tony Young were marginal prospects coming out of high school. All three of them needed to redshirt and be nurtured in the weight room and by the coaching staff. In the 11 years I've been at Southern, I can count on one hand the number of signees that had a star next to his name by the recruiting services. Only two of them (Jamaal Tatum and Bryan Mullins) panned out. The so-called best recruiting class -- the 2008 group that featured star prospects Kevin Dillard and Anthony Booker -- was a disaster.
14. None of this is to say that recruiting doesn't matter or is just blind luck. Quite the contrary. It took a sharp eye to project how a skinny Darren Brooks could become a two-time Player of the Year. The next head coach must have the ability to discern which guys can be developed, and the patience and teaching ability to groom them.
15. Part of the reason Donovan had a so-so record at Marshall was because the roster he inherited couldn't play his fast-paced system. Those kind of athletes are hard to find at the mid-major level. Southern thought it had cracked that nut in 2008 when it brought in the nationally ranked class of Dillard, Booker, Torres Roundtree, Ryan Hare and Justin Bocot. Saluki Athletics invited hundreds of donors to watch the unveiling of that class. That class cost the last head coach his job.