Five quality candidates that Indiana should consider
Forget The Family. That's the first thing Indiana University needs to do in searching for the guy who will replace Kelvin Sampson as its basketball coach.
There are a lot of people who will tell you that spurning the Bob Knight family tree is what got the Hoosiers into this mess to begin with. That's a provincial outlook. Sampson proved to be a bad hire, but not simply because he had no prior connection to Indiana or Knight. Falling back on the familiar this time around wouldn't solve the problems IU faces. It might make the fans feel warm and nostalgic for a few weeks, but there are no slam-dunk options among the usual suspects.
Steve Alford didn't do enough at Iowa to prove he can win at the highest level in the Big Ten. Dane Fife, now at IPFW, isn't ready. Randy Wittman (72-132 career record), Isiah Thomas (180-202) and Mike Woodson (90-207) all are pro guys without any track record of significant coaching success. Lawrence Frank has done better than those guys (203-189) but hasn't coached in college since Kevin O'Neill was at Marquette and current recruits still had most of their baby teeth.
As for Knight his own self? No. Remember, he was fired by the school for abusive behavior, and his glory days are long gone anyway. He's been to one Sweet 16 in the past 14 years. It's not 1987 anymore.
IU needs to expand its vision, but with a dose of realism. I don't believe Rick Barnes would leave Texas for Indiana. I don't believe John Calipari is a good fit at Indiana. I don't believe any of the glamour coaches who already own championship rings (Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo, etc.) are interested in abandoning their fiefdoms.
So where will IU turn? Here are five quality candidates, in order of preference and reality, whom the Hoosiers should consider:• Tony Bennett, Washington State. He's been a fabulous winner at a place where it's not very easy to win. The Cougars were 11-17 in the final season under Tony's dad, Dick, and the upgrade has been emphatic and immediate. Washington State went 26-8 last season and is now 19-5, having spent the entire season in the Top 25.
There's more to recommend Bennett: He's got Midwestern roots, having grown up playing his college ball in Wisconsin; his sister, Kathi, once coached the Indiana women's basketball team; and his preferred style of play fits the Big Ten. Not only that, his dad is tight with Knight. It would undoubtedly make Indiana fans feel better to have someone who comes with The General's stamp of approval.
And this is the year for Bennett to move. His top two scorers are seniors and he has five seniors on the roster.
• Sean Miller, Xavier. The school has been a proven springboard for coaches to prime-time leagues, from Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta. Miller is the next in that long line of winners. His Musketeers have won 20 games for the third straight season, and Miller has never had a losing record (overall or in league play) in four years as a head coach.
This season has been Xavier's best since David West and Romain Sato were in uniform. The Musketeers look like a legit Sweet 16 team and a dark horse Final Four candidate. If that happens, Miller's name will be red hot on the job market.
• Brad Brownell, Wright State. Under-the-radar candidate is an Indiana native who grew up admiring Knight and played high school ball with Calbert Cheaney in Evansville. He'd understand IU better than anyone else on this list.
But what really recommends him for the job is his record.
Last season, his first at Wright State, the Raiders compiled their first 20-win season since 1992-93, winning the regular-season and conference tournament titles over the more highly touted Butler Bulldogs. This season, they're on the verge of doing it again, sitting at 18-6 and second to Butler in the Horizon League. In the four years prior to Brownell's arrival, Wright State was 50-61.
Prior to Wright State, Brownell compiled a 61-22 record in Colonial Athletic Association play while at North Carolina-Wilmington, twice winning the CAA Coach of the Year.
• Mark Few, Gonzaga. His credentials are established. He's won big and won consistently in Spokane, and he has recruited incredibly well at a West Coast Conference school.
The question is whether he'd leave Gonzaga for Indiana. Most folks believe Few had a chance to leave two years ago, when the Hoosiers hired Sampson, but backed away. Would he say no a second time? Might be worth it to IU to find out.
• Thad Matta, Ohio State. Would he leave one really good job for another in the same league? Maybe not. But the main reason nobody thought Matta would leave the Buckeyes two years ago was Greg Oden, and he's not around anymore.
Matta is a phenomenal recruiter with a Final Four on his résumé and strong ties in the state of Indiana. He also has a track record of moving around, albeit for jobs that made plenty of sense (Butler to Xavier to Ohio State in short order). Maybe working at a basketball-first school would make sense to a guy toiling in the shadow of king football in Columbus.
(Backup list: Lon Kruger, UNLV; Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt; Scott Drew, Baylor; Keno Davis, Drake; Chris Lowery, Southern Illinois.)
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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