The chase takes coaches on wild ride
Dayo Lanier excused herself from the phone to answer the door. A deliveryman was there, hardly a unique experience these days at the Lanier household, where boxes are starting to outnumber furniture pieces.
"Oh my goodness, roses," Dayo Lanier exclaimed as she opened the door.
The welcome visitor held a dozen red roses in his arms, a gift from Dayo's husband, Rob.
The Laniers celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary Monday. Or maybe "commemorated" would be more accurate, since "celebrated" implies time together, and geography made being together impossible for the Laniers.
On Monday, Rob was in Austin, Texas, beginning his new life as Rick Barnes' associate head coach at the University of Texas, and Dayo (pronounced Die-oh) was in Gainesville, Fla., packing up Rob's old life as Billy Donovan's assistant at the University of Florida.
Dayo took the solo anniversary day in stride. She's used to it. In 13 years of marriage, the woman who is a doctor by trade has become an expert in relocation. Austin will be Rob's eighth coaching stop, his sixth since he's been married to Dayo.
"I didn't understand it at all at first," Dayo said. "My thing was, 'Well, I'm a doctor. You have to work here.' Rob did a very good job of educating me early on about what this was like, and he's never sprung it on me. Every decision we've made, we made together. We're always on the same page."
Seats on the coaching carousel typically are reserved for head coaches. The reality is, the assistant coaches' merry-go-round makes the head-coaching carousel look like a kiddie ride. Sometimes collateral damage in the hiring and firing of their bosses, sometimes movers and shakers by choice, they crisscross the nation and pull up stakes at a head-spinning rate, all in search of
In search of what, exactly?
The answer starts out the same -- chasing a head-coaching job, of course. But as the years tick by and landing a job as the boss remains either short-termed or eternally elusive, the path of the chase shifts. Marriage changes a course even more, and children alter it almost entirely.
ESPN.com caught up with three of the most well-traveled assistants in the game: Lanier, Glynn Cyprien and Scott Duncan. All three switched jobs again this offseason, and all for the same reason -- to reunite with a head coach whom they consider a good friend -- but the decision to move and the shakeups those decisions caused were hardly that simple.
Their stories are unique to them but certainly not unique to their profession.
Kai Lanier has made her position known, thank you very much.
Kai may have been born in Albany, N.Y., but she has grown up in Gainesville, and once a Gator, always a Gator.
"When we told her we were moving, she just said, 'Well, if you guys play the Gators, I will not be rooting for you," Rob Lanier said.
He laughed as he recalled the fierce passions behind an 8-year-old's loyalties, but he winced a little too.
Back when he was getting started, this was easy. Rob jumped from Niagara to his alma mater, St. Bonaventure. He met his wife -- she was home from Cornell for the summer -- and she was a good sport when they moved first to Rutgers and then to Texas, where she could do her residency, and back to New York, when Rob was named head coach at Siena.
When those four years at Siena only resulted in one NCAA tournament berth and Rob was fired, the young family -- son Emory, born in Texas, was 4 by then, and Kai was 2 -- moved to Virginia, where Rob became an assistant to good friend Dave Leitao. It was easy. The kids were little and Leitao was like a brother to Rob.
"When he decided to leave DePaul for Virginia, he said it was a really hard decision but it would be a lot easier if I could come with him," Rob said. "I made the decision to go with Dave for Dave."
A persistent Billy Donovan convinced Rob to move again. After turning down Donovan once (right after the Gators won their first national title), Rob couldn't figure out a way to say no again (after the Gators won their second) and in 2007, the Laniers moved to Gainesville.
By then Emory was 6 and beginning his own life, meeting school friends and finding his niche, and Kai a happy, toddling 4. Dayo opted to stop practicing medicine and instead turned her focus on her kids.
"We left for Florida just after Emory finished kindergarten," Dayo said. "I thought that was hard. But it just gets harder the older they get."
Kids are the pawns on the chessboard, movable parts who are welcome to voice their opinions in all this packing and repacking, but who don't really get a vote.
Which is why, when Rick Barnes called to offer Rob a job on his Texas staff, Rob's first inclination was to decline.
"I didn't want to move," he said. "It's not that I didn't want to come to the University of Texas. It was the actual move, the packing up, the change for the kids. I wasn't ready for that again. They're affected but they don't get a say, and that really hit me."
But Barnes found a surprising ally right in the Lanier household.
Dayo was the one who convinced Rob to return to Austin. She has fond memories and good friends from their initial run there and she also is working on a new career, writing children's music. Austin's music-centric vibe is just what she needs.
The decision, she's convinced, is the right one -- but it wasn't the easy one.
"I definitely wish Rob was in town for that little bundle of joy," Dayo said of the day she told her children. "But it was starting to hit the news and I didn't want them to hear from anyone else, so I sat them down. They started crying immediately, and I let them. I know they aren't thrilled with it, but I think eventually they will be."
Eventually comes on Tuesday. On Thursday -- Emory's 10th birthday -- Rob flew back to Gainesville. The family will attend Kai's recital Saturday and three days later, the five (their black Lab mix, Sandy, is coming too) will begin the 15-hour drive to Austin.
The kids aren't exactly all-in yet -- Emory didn't want to get out of the car when his dad took him to see his new school, and "That just broke my heart," Rob said -- but they're excited about a bigger city, and Kai has come to her own compromise.
She will root for the Longhorns as long as they never play the Gators.
Rob isn't ready to promise that he's done moving. He still holds out hope for a shot at another head-coaching gig and says thoughtfully, "I may have one more move in me," but his plan -- or at least his hope -- is that Austin will be home for the foreseeable future.
"You always talk about chasing the dream," Rob said. "The dream we're chasing right now is stability. I want my kids to go to middle school and high school in the same place. They deserve that. That's really my dream."
After two years of renting a home in Memphis, Monique Cyprien was ready to take the leap and buy.
It was a huge step for a woman turned cautious by the reality of her husband's nomadic life. Twice in the past five years the Cypriens bought a new home -- first when Glynn Cyprien took a job as an assistant at Arkansas and then when he came to Kentucky in the same position. The Arkansas gig lasted just one season and Glynn's time with Billy Gillispie in Lexington only two -- and both times the couple lost money when they sold their homes.
So in Memphis, Monique dug in her heels. She wouldn't buy right away, afraid that her supposed permanent address would instead prove just to be temporary.
"Finally three Sundays ago, we were meeting with a realtor, looking to buy a house," Glynn said. "And then Billy called."
That would be Billy Kennedy, Glynn's friend since the two were teenagers. Recently named the new head coach at Texas A&M, Kennedy wanted to bring Glynn in as his associate head coach.
Glynn couldn't say no. So the house-buying plans in Memphis have been scuttled. Instead, Glynn is now in College Station and Monique and the couple's daughters -- Asia, 17, and Karter, 8 -- will join him in August.
If Glynn is not the most well-traveled assistant coach in big-time college basketball, he certainly ranks among the top 10 gypsies in the profession. In 24 years in the business, the 44-year-old has lived in nine states, covered more than 8,000 miles and never stayed at a job longer than five years (sometimes by his choice, others by his administrators).
He can name all of the stops in order -- Texas-San Antonio, Lamar, Jacksonville, Western Kentucky, UNLV, Oklahoma State, Louisiana-Lafayette, New Mexico State, Arkansas, Kentucky, Memphis and now A&M.
But he can also name his oldest daughter's school stops, too, a poignant reminder of the real collateral damage in the coaching carousel.
When Asia enrolls at a high school in College Station for her senior year, she will be walking through her seventh pair of school doors, her educational odyssey coinciding with her dad's basketball quest -- first through fourth grades in Stillwater, Okla.; fifth in Las Vegas; sixth in Las Cruces, N.M., seventh in Fayetteville, Ark.; eighth and ninth in Lexington, Ky.; and 10th and 11th in Memphis.
"What the family deals with and goes through, not enough people understand that," Glynn said. "We can pack up, move the next day and meet with our new staff, players. They have to start over."
Since 2005, Glynn has brought additional travelers with him, too. A native of New Orleans, he watched his city drown at the hands of Hurricane Katrina. The storm destroyed his parents' home, and ever since, James and Janice haven't felt comfortable enough to return. So wherever Glynn goes, they go, setting up shop in a separate -- but nearby -- house with their three adopted children. That means the extended Cyprien clan has moved from New Mexico to Arkansas to Kentucky to Tennessee and now to Texas.
Each move has had a purpose, but Glynn can't help wondering whether the cycle may have stopped earlier in his career. In 2004, he was named head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, reaching the brass ring at a school just two hours from his New Orleans stomping grounds.
But the school fired him after it discovered Glynn had not received his degree from Texas-San Antonio, but instead from an online university. The school claimed he had submitted a falsified résumé, but Glynn contends he hand-delivered the appropriate résumé after a wrong one was inadvertently submitted and filled out his paperwork appropriately. He tried to sue the university for defamation, but a judge wouldn't allow the case to go forward.
Regardless, the gaffe cost him the job and put him back on the assistant-coaching path.
"Things should have been handled differently," Glynn said. "There's nothing I can do about it now and in the end, things have been better for me. I've been able to turn a bad situation into an unbelievable positive. I think the telltale sign of a person is when they go through stress, where do they come out after?"
The geographical answer to that question remains a work in progress. Glynn hopes Texas A&M will be a long stop.
In fact he's trying to convince his wife to buy a house, arguing that since they leased a furnished house in Memphis, they don't even have to pack. Everything is still in storage.
Monique isn't biting.
"We're in Round 10 of a 12-round bout," he said. "She's gun-shy."
Who can blame her?
The prize has changed for her husband, but the chase is still on.
"What am I chasing? Chasing success, I guess," Glynn said. "Getting a head job, that used to be my trophy. Everybody has to get a head-coaching job, that's what I thought. That's not my trophy anymore. I still would love for it to happen, but I'm looking at it all out of a different pair of glasses. I want success."
Scott Duncan offers the punch line even before you begin the joke.
"From Los Angeles to Laramie, right?" he said. "Who does that?"
Perhaps a man who recognizes that jobs are fleeting and friendships are not?
Duncan may have left the sunshine of UCLA for the snowdrifts of Wyoming, but along the way he reconnected with his best friend, new Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt.
"This may be our last go-around at this thing, so to be able to do it together just sounded like a lot of fun," Duncan said. "For most coaches, it's more about the job than where you're living, and this job was special for me because of Larry."
It is a wisdom culled from both age and experience. Duncan cut his teeth in the coaching profession more than 30 years ago, taking his first coaching job (as a graduate assistant) at Cleveland State in 1978. It was there that he and Shyatt first met, beginning a job-hopping journey that would connect them on benches at New Mexico, Wyoming (twice) and Clemson.
Friendships and relationships have been the guiding force in a career that has taken Duncan from his Ohio roots to the Pacific Northwest, California, the Southwest and the Midwest. In 10 coaching stops, Duncan only once has worked for a coach he didn't know. That was back in 1980, when he joined Gary Colson at New Mexico.
"I swear to God, I couldn't have told you the states that surrounded New Mexico," Duncan said. "I remember I had to call him from the airport -- this, of course, was before cellphones -- and tell him what I was wearing. He didn't know what I looked like."
Ironically, Duncan would log more time there than any of his other stops, spending 10 years in Albuquerque. Shyatt was there for six.
Duncan has never married, making the logistics of the rest of his career considerably less complicated. He spent one season at Fresno State (1990-91) before jumping to Northern Illinois (1991-95) and Washington State (1995-97).
Then, in 1997, Shyatt grabbed the prize first, named head coach at Wyoming. His first hire? His best friend, of course.
But after just one season, Shyatt was offered the head-coaching job at Clemson, and though reluctant to leave so abruptly, he took the job. Again Duncan followed, spending three seasons with Shyatt before moving to Oregon and then to UCLA.
"When you're younger, I think your ego is more involved," Duncan said. "But when you live in small towns like Pullman and Clemson, you learn to appreciate small college towns, where you're part of something that's so important to the community."
The lure of UCLA, though, was something that not even Duncan could turn down. He considers that stint the pinnacle of his coaching profession, and the Bruins program the top in the game's rich history. He certainly enjoyed three NCAA tournament berths and one Final Four appearance alongside Ben Howland.
Yet not even the pull of Westwood and all its magic could top the bait of reconnecting with Shyatt.
When Shyatt returned for his second go-round at Wyoming this spring, Duncan didn't hesitate.
The word "home" remains difficult to define for a transient such as Duncan, but this might be as close as he'll ever come. He is surrounded by familiar faces in Laramie. Along with Shyatt, there is Jeremy Shyatt, Larry's son and assistant coach, whom Duncan remembers as a child. Plus there's Tom Burman, Wyoming's athletic director who was on staff in 1997, when Duncan was there the first time.
It's a cold town, but one made cozier and warmer by long-term relationships.
Duncan is not a man filled with regret -- if he had a do-over, he said, the only thing he might change is to take a job as a head coach at a low-major and climb the ladder that way.
Instead, he is a man filled with insight. In 30 years, the game hasn't changed but the business around it has. Duncan remembers when five-year contracts actually lasted for five years. Now he sees a growing impatience among fan bases and administrations, turning five-year deals into dismissals after year three.
He still clings to the hope of his own head-coaching gig and is, in some ways, still very much chasing that dream.
But in more ways, he's not chasing anything.
He's enjoying contentment.
"If I get to be a head coach, great. If I don't, no regrets," Duncan said. "How many guys have had the sort of career I had? And how many guys can maybe finish it out working alongside their best friend?"
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.
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