Billy Donovan's departure for the Oklahoma City Thunder leaves Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley somewhere he's only been in once before: On the hunt to find a men's basketball coach.
The first time around, Foley tabbed Donovan to replace Lon Kruger, the only man to lead Florida to a Final Four. Who will Foley pursue this time, while trying to replace the only coach with consecutive national championships this century? We run down a preliminary list of candidates.
Make him say "No"
Archie Miller, Dayton head coach
Overview: It's the official position of Alligator Army that Miller, 36, is far and away the best candidate for the job, for his success at his young age, and I explained his credentials extensively in that piece. The two major drawbacks on Miller? That age means his sample size as a head coach, while wildly impressive, is small — and he bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Will Muschamp.
Viability: Miller's signed two contract extensions with Dayton over the last two years, and is under contract to be the Flyers' coach through the 2021-22 season. Surely, he's set to make more over the term of that deal than the mere $652,049 the 2014-15 NCAA Tournament coaches salary database compiled by USA TODAY Sports suggests he made last season — though that could be a figure reflective of his salary prior to his first extension, and certainly doesn't reflect his second one. But how much more is unclear. If Florida can offer a deal paying him significantly north of $2 million a year, which is well within the realm of reason for a program aspiring to national championships, Miller would almost certainly be getting a major raise.
Another factor to consider is that Dayton's pull is strong. Miller is at a mid-major, yes, but one with extraordinarily passionate fans, and uncommon resources. Florida will have to impress him for him to leave, especially because he could simply bide his time and wait to see if a "better" job opens — though not many exist.
Gut feeling: Miller's appeared on too many early lists for him not to at least be one of Jeremy Foley's considerations, and he makes a lot of sense. I would be surprised if Florida does not at least gauge his interest — and a bit disappointed, too.
The next best choice
Chris Mack, Xavier head coach
Overview: Mack, 45, hasn't been to the Elite Eight at Xavier, as Miller did with Dayton in 2014. But he's been to three Sweet Sixteens in six years at Xavier — a program that has been to the Elite Eight twice, once under Thad Matta, another under Sean Miller. Xavier has also been a cradle for coaches — its last five are Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Matta, Miller, and Mack, and only Mack hasn't held a power conference head coach position, while only Prosser didn't make a Sweet Sixteen with the Musketeers.
Viability: SB Nation's Xavier blog, Banners on the Parkway, isn't particularly concerned about Mack as a flight risk:
The only thing that I think could lure Mack from Xavier to Florida is an ungodly sum of money. I guess that's theoretically possible, but I feel like it would take a less ungodly sum of money for Florida to get someone like Archie Miller. We'll keep an eye on this as it develops, but I'm not super concerned at this point.
But per that database, Mack's salary is just over $1.1 million at Xavier. Florida could double that with little issue, and I'd have a hard time calling that anything other than "ungodly."
Gut feeling: Mack's a fine candidate, but about a decade older than Miller, and hasn't been able to get as far in March as Miller has despite working from a better foundation (left by Miller's older brother), playing in a better league, and having better talent. He's a clear No. 2.
The familiar faces
John Pelphrey, Florida assistant coach
Overview: Pelphrey, 46, is the obvious choice if Florida wants to keep continuity with Donovan's tenure above all else. He's spent 10 years as a Donovan assistant over his time at Marshall and two stints at Florida, and is the longest-tenured Donovan assistant currently on staff. He's also been lauded for his work with big men, and has already been a head coach in the SEC.
The problem is how his time at Arkansas went: After getting hired from his job at South Alabama to replace Stan Heath in Fayetteville in 2007, Pelphrey struggled to resurrect the Hogs, and failed as a recruiter, going 23-12 in 2007-08 with Heath's players, then never cracking 20 wins again over the next three years, and ultimately being fired in 2011.
Viability: Pelphrey would obviously take the job as Florida's head coach, and Florida might be interested in hiring him; had Donovan stayed in Gainesville for significantly longer, he might have been able to set up a succession plan for "Pel," and Kevin Brockway reports that Donovan's agitating for him anyway.
But the chances of Florida making a clean break from Donovan went up with the relative abruptness of his departure, and Pelphrey's tenure at Arkansas is likely a disqualifying factor if that is the case.
Gut feeling: Pelphrey's name is tossed around as a potential replacement, but he is ultimately never truly considered for the position.
Anthony Grant, Florida assistant coach
Overview: Grant is 49, just a year and a month younger than Donovan, and was widely regarded as his most promising assistant coach prior to Shaka Smart's one year in Gainesville. And Grant built the pipeline for Smart to VCU, succeeding Jeff Capel with the Rams before leaving for Alabama and allowing Smart to build on his Richmond fiefdom.
At Alabama, though, Grant made one NCAA Tournament in six years, won 25 games once, and never won more than 12 games in the SEC. He dealt with significant bad luck, but Grant's Donovan Lite style, with lesser talent and disciplined defense, also exasperated Alabama fans who generally don't care much about basketball.
Viability: Prior to Smart becoming Billy Donovan's Future Successor, Grant was seen as the man to take up his mantle in Gainesville, and there's still residual goodwill for him in a way that doesn't exist for Pelphrey. And Donovan has repeatedly praised Grant as a coach and a man, and re-hired him as an assistant just over two weeks ago.
As with Pelphrey, there's little doubt Grant would accept a promotion. But as with Pelphrey, the memories of failure as a head coach in the SEC seem likely to trump his history with Donovan if Florida opts for a clean break. He's a better candidate than Pelphrey, but neither is a particularly good one at this stage.
Gut feeling: Grant is a favorite among diehards, but never becomes a serious candidate.
Richard Pitino, Minnesota head coach
Overview: Pitino, just 32, is only two years older than Donovan was at the time of his hiring in 1996, and he's spent his last two seasons at Minnesota, a bigger and better job than Donovan had with Marshall. He's also a former Florida assistant, having spent two years with Donovan from 2009 to 2011 after spending two years on his father Rick's Louisville staff.
But more importantly, he has spent the last four years strapped to a rocket: He was a Louisville associate head coach for the Cardinals' 2012 Final Four run, the Florida International head coach in 2012-13 (where he led the Golden Panthers from the ashes of Isiah Thomas's disastrous tenure to an 18-14 record and the best conference record in school history), and Minnesota's head coach over the last two years, succeeding Tubby Smith, the man who succeeded his father at Kentucky.
Pitino would certainly be seen as a bold move, but his C.V. truly lacks only NCAA Tournament success as a head coach.
Viability: Pitino can be sold as a continuation of the wise plucking from his father's coaching tree or as tabbing a bright former Florida assistant, so there's no worry the Gators wouldn't be able to make hiring him look like a win if they must. And one must think Pitino would at least strongly consider leaving Minnesota, a program that had its only Final Four berth vacated after sweeping academic fraud, for Florida.
But there are simply better candidates in Pitino's own "young and flashy" vein available, most notably Miller. Florida could well hire him, but it should do due diligence on coaches further along their paths to success first.
Gut feeling: Pitino is a back-up, and never becomes a serious candidate, sparing us all terrible jokes about Louisville now literally being Florida's daddy.
Jeff Capel, Duke assistant coach
Overview: Capel is 40, which makes his one full pass through the cycle that Pelphrey and Grant have gone through remarkable: As a Duke guard, he made his bones under Mike Krzyzewski, and was a wunderkind as an assistant coach before ascending to the big chair at VCU in 2002, at the ripe old age of 27. Capel got the Rams turned in the right direction before leaving for Oklahoma in 2006, building the foundation for what Grant (and, later, Smart) were able to do in Richmond.
His time in Oklahoma was less stellar. Capel had to overcome key departures (Scottie Reynolds and Damion James) from Kelvin Sampson's final recruiting class, but he eventually landed Blake Griffin, and led the Sooners to a 30-6 record and the Elite Eight in 2008-09 with Griffin in the post. Over the next two years, though, Oklahoma won 27 total games, with the 2010-11 season being played with a limited roster after the resignation of assistant Orlando Taliaferro (later proven to have committed NCAA violations) and a slew of transfers.
Capel retreated to Duke, where he joined Krzyzewski's staff, and he has been instrumental in the recruitments of many of Duke's freshmen stars in recent years.
Viability: Capel is going to be a head coach again somewhere and at some point. But he's also a Dukie who is married to a Dukie; the proud parents named their daughter Cameron. Capel didn't leave Duke for the head coaching job at Arizona State earlier this offseason, which opened the door for Bobby Hurley to take that job, and it's reasonable to assume he might be angling to be Coach K's ultimate successor.
Florida's a level or two above Arizona State, to be sure, and genuine interest from the Gators might get Capel's attention. But the sense is that Arizona State got burned by pursuing him blindly, and Florida would have to be careful not to do that.
Gut feeling: Capel never becomes a candidate.
Michael White, Louisiana Tech head coach
Overview: White, 38, has been off the beaten path in his basketball career. He was born in Florida, but moved around with his family; his father, Kevin, is the current Duke athletic director, and has held the same job at Notre Dame, Arizona State, and Tulane, which is why the younger White graduated from high school in New Orleans.
White played college ball at Mississippi, and then played in the short-lived International Basketball League, which you are learning was a thing mere hours after I did, and in England. Upon his return to the States, White took a job as an assistant at Jacksonville State.
The Gamecocks have only been at the Division I level since 1995-96, and have zero NCAA Tournament appearances, and just one 20-win season ... but it came during White's time as an assistant. From there, he headed back to Mississippi, where he worked under both his college head coach Rod Barnes and, later, Andy Kennedy. After developing a reputation as one of the best assistant coaches in the sport, White left for the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech in 2011.
And he has been great in Ruston. White inherited the remains of predecessor Kerry Rupp's program, and won 18 games in 2011-12. In each of their last three seasons, the Bulldogs have won at least 27 games, and finished in the KenPom top 100; those are three of the five such finishes for the program in the 14-year KenPom era. While he's failed to win a conference tournament, and get the automatic bid he would definitely need for an NCAA Tournament foray at Louisiana Tech, White went over 100 career wins in the 2015 NIT, and his name is sure to bubble up for bigger jobs in the very near future.
Viability: I would estimate that fewer than 500 Florida basketball fans know Michael White's name; this isn't a truly basketball-savvy fan base, beyond its intimate knowledge of Donovan's program, and he would be a hard sell for the Florida brass.
But White's a very good coach, and no coach worth his salt (especially one whose father is the athletic director at Duke) is going to stay in the decaying Conference USA for long. If Florida strikes out on top targets, or wants to cheap out and still get a good coach, White fits the bill, though he would need to weather a storm of "Who?" on the recruiting trail.
Gut feeling: White isn't ever needed, as Foley doesn't get this far down on his list.
Steve Prohm, Murray State head coach
Overview: Prohm is 40, has been at Murray State for four seasons, and has won 104 games as a head coach. That's an absurd pace, beyond even White's, and the work Prohm did in recruiting dynamite guards Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne to tiny Murray, Kentucky (population: 17,741) would get him looks at the high-major level even if he hadn't won so many games with them.
But there's a bit of a catch: Murray State was 31-2 in 2011-12, and 29-7 in 2014-15, with top-60 KenPom rankings in each campaign. The Racers were outside the KenPom top 100 in the two intervening years, however; their wins have come largely from a top-heavy Ohio Valley Conference, where the best team in the league has racked up at least 14 conference wins over a 16-game schedule over each of the last four seasons.
Prohm is an Alabama alumnus, and was linked to that job before the Crimson Tide hired Avery Johnson, but he'll end up at a bigger job eventually.
Viability: Prohm would be an even bigger reach for Florida than White.
He's never coached in the SEC, and has spent the last nine years of his life at Murray State; while that certainly means he's got recruiting connections in the Ohio Valley area, including whatever ones he used to land Payne (a future NBA player), they aren't particularly germane to the Florida job. And all the same "Who?" worries would apply to him, too.
Gut feeling: White isn't ever needed, as Foley doesn't get this far down on his list.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State head coach
Overview: It would be a neat bit of symmetry to hire a Marshall after hiring the Marshall head coach, yes, but the Shockers' head man is older than you might think, at 52. Clearly, he's well-qualified, having taken Wichita State to a Final Four and gone undefeated with the Shockers in the regular season in 2013-14 (while Donovan was leading Florida to its best-ever record), but he's also well-entrenched in the Sunflower State, and publicly turned down Alabama earlier this offseason before signing an extension that runs through 2022.
Viability: None. Florida is simply not going to shell out the money to top Marshall's deal with Wichita State, which is set to reportedly earn him an average of $3.3 million per year — not only one of the best salaries in college basketball, but an unprecedented and staggering sum for a "mid-major" program.
Sure, Florida could afford to pony up for Marshall — even if the largesse of billionaire booster Charles Koch is nearly unmatched, and he would certainly fight to keep Marshall, the Gators' rich athletic department could probably make upwards of $5 million per year for a head coach (in either football or men's basketball) work if it felt it had to do so. (Donovan winning a third national title last year might have produced just such a conversation.) But doing so on a coach with no "more" than a Final Four on his resume would be absurd: The only coaches currently making over $4 million per year in college basketball are Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Bill Self, and Tom Izzo, true titans of the game.
Shaka Smart, Texas head coach
Overview: You would be okay if I just put a bunch of sad emojis here, right?
Smart, now 38, was launched to superstardom in the college basketball coaching ranks at 34, by his VCU team's electrifying 2011 Final Four run. And despite no return to the Sweet Sixteen since, his star hasn't cooled much; if anything, his swapping of Ram horns for the Texas Longhorns this offseason was seen as an overdue departure for a bigger school.
But Texas may well have snagged Florida's man: The overwhelming thought among college basketball observers prior to this spring was that one job Smart was holding out for was the head coach role at Florida, and that Foley's interest in hiring Smart was significant. Texas firing Rick Barnes this offseason, also arguably overdue, opened up one of a few other jobs at non-blue-blood programs that could compare to Florida's — and Smart snapped it up.
Viability: While it would be an unforgettably badass bit of legerdemain for Foley to somehow try to lure Smart back to Florida before the end of his first month at Texas, it would also require boldness that goes beyond even Foley's parameters, and a lack of respect for the sanctity of contracts that is well beneath both him and Florida.
Mike Miller, Cavaliers guard/forward
Overview: Miller, 35, is averaging 2.1 points per game in 13.5 minutes per game with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and though his role may actually expand now that Kevin Love is set to miss the rest of the NBA playoffs after separating his shoulder, that has jack squat to do with his coaching ability.
I only include Miller here because Jeff Goodman did in his ESPN piece listing potential candidates ($), and to reiterate a claim made on Twitter:
Viability: None. Do you think Jeremy Foley is completely insane? Miller's only personal (or non-"his brother coaches") association with coaching is a Memphis AAU program he "runs" (Miller has spent seven seasons with the Grizzlies) — and that program hasn't even sent any players to Florida.
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