By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - Now that the decision has been made and the University of Minnesota has opted to part ways with former Head Coach Tubby Smith, the search for is replacement can officially begin. Or as Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague said yesterday, it is already "ongoing."
Teague and his staff have reportedly been in contact with a handful of candidates that have already made the University's short-list for head coach. Teague even went as far as to tip his hand a little bit saying, that the University "will be talking to a variety of candidates, both locally and nationally" (presumably the only local candidate is Flip Saunders). While we don't officially know who sits atop Teague's short-list, we can speculate. The one thing that we do know is that Teague and his staff plan to act swiftly.
But before we get started, I want to explain this "Villa 7" thing that you may have been hearing tossed around the past day or so as I will reference it below. Founded in 2004, the Villa 7 is "a forum where athletic directors could share ideas and meet with the country’s elite assistant basketball coaches." In layman's terms, it's a coaching conference where ADs and "elite" assistant coaches get together and bounce ideas off of each other (aka talk about future job opportunities). The conference was founded by Mike Ellis, formerly of VCU and current Associate Athletic Director at the University of Minnesota. Since it's founding in 2004, more than 80 assistant coaches have landed head coaching jobs at mid-major schools including Shaka Smart (VCU), Anthony Grant (Alabama) and Buzz Williams (Marquette). Needless to say, there's a good chance that Mike Ellis has a decent relationship with coaches that have gone through the Villa 7 program.
Ok, so for the time being, here is a list of candidates that could potentially be found on Norwood Teague's short-list for Men's Basketball Head Coach including one man's opinion on how likely it is that the candidate will land in the Gopher State...
Shaka Smart (Current Head Coach at Virginia Commonwealth University) - 25% chance of landing the job:
If ever there were a fashionable name to top the "short-list", Shaka Smart is the guy. The combination of Norwood Teague and Mike Ellis was the party responsible for bringing Shaka Smart (a candidate from the Villa 7) to VCU in 2009. Smart and Teague have remained close and in contact since Teague's move to the University of Minnesota making Shaka the obvious first choice. Smart will likely be courted by other schools including UCLA and the University of Southern California whose coaching vacancies and warm weather may make for a desirable landing spot. That said, Shaka originates from Madison, Wisconsin so cold weather and Big Ten basketball are in his blood. Still, if Smart lands in Minnesota, it will be solely because of his previous relationship with Teague and Ellis, a benefit for the University of Minnesota.
Flip Saunders (Former Minnesota Timberwolves/Washington Wizards head coach) - 30% chance :
The more I analyze the situation, the more it appears to me that Flip Saunders may want the Gopher job. An alum of the University and former player for the Gophers in the mid-seventies, Flip is a likeable candidate. He comes with coaching experience at the NBA level (Timberwolves/Pistons/Wizards) but this would be his first crack at the college game. That said, Flip has the passion and dedication to succeed at the Division-1 level and has been seen fairly regularly at the high school basketball games of Gopher (and national) recruit Tyus Jones. At this point in time, Flip's ties to the University and coaching acumen put him as the most likely candidate on my short-list.
Brad Stevens (Current Head Coach at Butler University) - 5% chance:
There really is only one reason that Brad Stevens is included on this list. Coaching at a smaller school (Butler) and having annual success has pinned him as one of the fashionable candidates for every Division-1 job that opens up each season. In five years at Butler, Stevens has been to the NCAA Tournament four times including back-to-back appearances in the National Championship game ('09 & '10). Despite the recent success, Stevens has apparently not let the fame go to his head. After the second championship game run, Stevens extended his contract at Butler through the 2021-2022 season. We all know that doesn't mean much as he is not bound to the deal, but that sort of dedication shows that Stevens may be more interested in developing Butler into a perennial power house rather than jumping ship to a bigger, better school.
Jay Wright (Current Head Coach at Villanova University) - 15% chance:
Known as one of the "best dressed coaches" in the NCAA, Wright fits the bill as one of smaller school coaches ready to move on to a bigger job. Wright has spent the last 12 seasons coaching Villanova and has made a run to the NCAA Tournament eight of the last nine years. Coaching 'Nova to a 257–144 record, Wright seems to have plateaued in Pennsylvania and may be ready for a change of scenery. At 51 years of age, Wright doesn't exactly fit the bill of the young, hip coach Teague may be looking for to aid in recruiting. Still, he is no dinosaur rotting away.
Fred Hoiberg (Current Head Coach at Iowa State) - .01% chance:
As one of the more favorable names on the "short-list", the odds that the University lands Hoiberg to coach the Gophers are slim to none. Hoiberg is rightfully included as one of the fastest rising coaches in college basketball, but as far as he may be concerned, he's already landed his dream job. Named "Mr. Basketball" in the state of Iowa, Hoiberg went on to star for the Iowa State Cyclones in college earning him the nickname of "The Mayor" around Ames and most of the state of Iowa. Hoiberg went on to play in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves and briefly held and executive job with the same team before "returning to office" and taking the job as the Iowa State head coach in 2010. Hoiberg is more than a local celebrity in Ames and has already succeeded in making the Cyclones relevant again. Honestly, the state of the Iowa State basketball team is in better shape than The University of Minnesota at the present moment. Unless the President of the United States comes knocking at Hoiberg's door, it's unlikely that he ever leaves Ames and the Iowa State job.
Buzz Williams (Current Head Coach at Marquette University) - 10% chance (and dropping):
Buzz Williams also stems from the esteemed Villa 7 coaching tree that Associate AD Mark Ellis founded so he will clearly be in contact with Norwood Teague and the University of Minnesota. That said, he does have a good thing going with Marquette in the NCAA Tournament and the deeper that the Golden Eagles take this run, the more unlikely it is that Williams will be interested in any sort of change. With, five straight NCAA Tournament appearances and three straight runs to the Sweet Sixteen, coming to coach the Gophers may in fact be a step down to Williams but the Big Ten is still the Big Ten.
Andy Enfield (Current Head Coach at Florida Gulf Coast University) - 10% chance:
This year's Cinderella Darling is clearly Florida Gulf Coast University and their unprecedented run to the Sweet Sixteen. Heading up the crew from Fort Myers, and most likely to become the newest best candidate for a new coaching opportunity is FGCU Head Coach Andy Enfield. A self-made entrepreneur millionaire, married to a super model and now rolling with FGCU to the Sweet Sixteen, Enfield has found success in every direction he has turned. His fast-paced, run-and-gun style of play is very appealing to the younger generation of recruits who grew up worshiping alley-oops and stop-and-pop play, all of which makes him a good candidate for Minnesota. Enfield is fairly new to the public eye and nobody really knows how he'll react after the honeymoon of this year's tournament is over. Still, for the time being, he's earned the right to be included on every school's short-list.
Tim Miles (Current Head Coach at the University of Nebraska) - 5% chance:
A day late and a dollar short means that timing may have been one year away from keeping Tim Miles from landing one of his dream jobs. Gaining fame at SW Minnesota State through the early 2000s, Miles landed the head job at North Dakota State, turned that into the top spot at Colorado State and five years later wound up in the Big Ten with The University of Nebraska before the 2012-13 season began. Miles has many ties to the Twin Cities and the University of Minnesota but may have by happenstance landed in a better position with the Cornhuskers. Not much to speak of now, Nebraska opened a brand new, state of the art practice facility in 2011 that is equipped with 24 hour player access, state of the art training rooms and most importantly flat screen TVs & iPads in the bathroom stalls. All things that will draw recruits to play for The University of Nebraska. Meanwhile, the Gophers have 80-year old Williams Arena...yep that's about it.
Aj Mansour covers the Twins, Vikings, & Gopher Football for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions on this post or others in the designated comment box below. For Golden Gopher updates and breaking news follow Aj on Twitter @AjKFAN