- Andy Katz, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Of all the college coaches rumored to be in line for a job in the NBA, the only one who's actually interviewed for one this spring is New Mexico State's Reggie Theus.
Theus interviewed Tuesday with the Charlotte Bobcats brass, including Michael Jordan and Bernie Bickerstaff. Theus was the face of the Chicago Bulls prior to Jordan, leaving the season before the Bulls drafted Jordan out of North Carolina.
Theus said he has heard that the Indiana Pacers are also interested in possibly talking. The Sacramento Kings may also have some interest, which is not surprising considering that Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have supported his New Mexico State program. Theus has a long history with the Kings, having been traded to the team from Chicago when the franchise was in Kansas City.
"It's not something I'm pursuing," said Theus, who coached the Aggies to a 25-9 record and their first NCAA Tournament since 1999. "I'm very loyal to my job but at the same time Mac [NMSU athletic director McKinley Boston] understands I'm an NBA guy."
"I know I can get it done," Theus, a former NBA All Star, said of coaching in the NBA. "I can have the same relationships with NBA players. I understand it. I've walked in their shoes. I understand the good and the bad of the NBA. I understand the attitude and what players expect."
"The difference in college and the NBA is that in college you don't have to want them to like you, but in the NBA, it's a players' game. I understand the difference between the two. I know what it's like," Theus said. "I have no doubt in my mind that I can communicate and I can play the style of play that wins. I can do this."
NMSU had back-to-back winning records in Theus' first two seasons. He was hired after the Aggies went 6-24 in 2004-05.
According to reports out of Charlotte, Theus is one of five candidates the Bobcats have interviewed. The Associated Press reported that Theus, former Cavs coach Paul Silas, former NBA player and assistant Mario Elie, Grizzlies assistant Lionel Hollins and former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy were also interviewed.
Theus said the trend of hiring former players fits him, as well. He said the Bobcats wanted to guage his interest so he flew to Charlotte and met with two people he considers peers in Jordan and Bickerstaff.
"It was just three guys sitting down talking basketball who are all from the same era," said Theus, 49. "I told Michael that I missed him by 15 minutes since I was traded to Kansas City 15 minutes before the trading deadline and then they drafted him."
Theus said the NBA players want instant credibility -- and he can deliver it.
"I haven't been inundated into the college game, I'm not regimented into the college game," Theus said. "I'm the perfect candidate to marry the two together. I can marry the great things about the college and the NBA game. I understand zone. And the core of their team [the Bobcats] is young. They're just a few years older than the guys I coach. I become an interesting candidate."
Theus said he expects to hear soon from the Bobcats about their level of interest.
"I'm as ready to coach at a high-major program as I am in the NBA," Theus said. "I don't see any difference in philosophy."
The Associated Press reported that Boston said Theus earns $325,000 to $350,000 a year and that Theus is in negotiations for a raise. New Mexico State did officially give Bickerstaff permission to talk to Theus, although that is somewhat of a professional courtesy and it isn't necessarily a must when an NBA team is seeking out a college coach.
In March, Theus indicated that he wanted to be paid more money to stay at New Mexico State. Athletic director McKinley Boston said he has been talking with Theus' agent about a new contract that would increase Theus' salary.
"We hope to have a press conference next week to talk about a
new contract,'' Boston told the AP. "It's safe to say it would involve
Theus' meteoric rise in the coaching profession shouldn't come as a shock. He has been a broadcaster and an actor, including his three-year stint as coach Bill Fuller in "Hang Time," an NBC show in the same vein as "Saved by the Bell."
Theus, who played for UNLV from 1976-78, went to the NBA for 13 seasons where he averaged 20 points a game in four of the seasons, including averaging 23.8 ppg for the Bulls in 1983. He ended his NBA career with the Nets in 1991 before playing in Europe until 1993.
But credit Theus for seeking out a coaching career. He coached as a volunteer at Cal State-Los Angeles as well as coaching the Southern California All-Stars, collection of 17-and-under players. He also spent time as a summer league coach for the Sixers and the Nuggets. He coached the ABA's Las Vegas Slam in the spring of 2002.
That's when he reached out to Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Well, he actually called Louisville assistant athletic director Kenny Klein since he couldn't reach Pitino.
"He wanted to tell me that he was interested," Klein said Friday. "I threw it out to coach and it intrigued him. He saw in him a person who had the passion and wanted to coach. It was evident by his work ethic."
Theus coached with Pitino for two seasons, including helping the Cardinals' staff coach them to the 2005 Final Four. He drew the Aggies' interest while the Cardinals were playing in the Elite Eight in Albuquerque and was essentially hired on the spot.
"In terms of visibility and credibility, people look at my career that I've had and whether it's announcing or playing basketball you can see how they're waiting for me to realize the potential," Theus said. "There were a lot of haters out there when I first got my job and those guys have to say maybe they were wrong, maybe he is legit."
Senior writer Andy Katz covers college basketball for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reggie Theus could be a phone call away from returning to the NBA, this time as a coach.