Kevin Ollie seems to be on his way out as UConn Men’s Basketball head coach, marking a sad ending to a tenure which began with so much promise.
When considering possible candidates for his replacement, it makes sense to take stock in certain aspects relating to and surrounding the job.
First, because UConn is attempting to fire Ollie for cause, the belief is that the school won’t owe the $10+ million buyout owed to Ollie and his staff. This would be a huge boon because it also means that there’s a larger budget to hire a replacement. That is good, as we don’t want a bargain-bin replacement.
However, this also means that there may be a regulatory cloud such as scholarship reductions or something else hindering the next head coach in his first few years at the helm. In the (very lucrative) business of Division I basketball coaching, there will always be a healthy pool of people looking to upgrade their job, but this is something that will knock UConn down a peg if they’re competing with, say, Pittsburgh for a coaching candidate.
Then we have to consider if the school and program truly offer an upgrade for a candidate, which, at this moment in time, may present a rude awakening for Husky fans who have any specific coaches in mind.
Here is our not-at-all informed short list of possible candidates.
Steve Pikiell - Rutgers
A former UConn player and assistant coach, Pikiell has done well at Rutgers, bringing them up from the dregs of the Big Ten to... slightly less crappy but still at the bottom of the Big Ten. This is a huge development for Rutgers basketball, and while things seem to be on the rise there, UConn is still a much better starting point even with the lower conference affiliation. We are comparing one of the most successful basketball programs of the modern era to one of the worst.
Before Rutgers, Pikiell spent 11 seasons as head coach at Stony Brook. He played for Jim Calhoun from 1987-91 and was on his staff from 1991-92. If the pull of the alma mater and opportunity to restore a basketball power that he helped build, in his home state, are attractive to him, the Bristol, Connecticut native could be up next.
Him being a “UConn guy” has a lot less to do with his being on this list than his success as a head coach at two Division I schools in UConn’s’ region of influence.
Danny Hurley - Rhode Island
Pikiell and Hurley are going to be the most commonly thrown-out names for this opening and for good reason. Pikiell has a history with UConn and has been praised widely for the job he has done at Rutgers, and Hurley is one of the hottest names in coaching nationwide who may have numerous options once this season is over with Rhode Island. The sixth-year Rams head coach has been rumored to have interest in the UConn job and there are reports that the feelings are mutual. URI is currently playing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and will also be playing in the NCAA Tournament, so it may be hard to get a read on this possibility until the season is over.
Hurley would do amazing recruiting the area, especially with his deep ties to New Jersey as a former longtime head coach at prep power St. Benedict’s. This would be a dream hire for many Husky fans, and it’s definitely a possibility.
John Becker - Vermont
As a Connecticut native with vast experience who has turned Vermont into a consistent winner since taking over as head coach in 2011, Becker is a solid option.
Chris Mack - Xavier
I’m sure some Musketeers fan is going to find this and then find me and burn down my house, but Mack may want a new challenge after basically hitting the ceiling for what one can accomplish at Xavier. Also, the joke’s on you, angry Xavier fan, I don’t even have a house.
Tom Crean - ESPN, most recently fired by Indiana
He’s a super meme-able guy whose hire may illicit some jokes, but Crean’s also a pretty solid basketball coach. Though probably not an ideal choice for any Husky fan, UConn could do a lot worse than Tom Crean.
Rick Pitino - not employed, most recently fired by Louisville
Personally, I would find this choice to be abhorrent and would stop watching and supporting the program and/or school, but Pitino is available and UConn may want to go ahead and take the very good basketball coach available on discount, morality be damned.
The past few years have taught us that the collegiate athletics justice system believes that winning is the only thing that matters. Maybe UConn’s leadership eats the pill, grows evil-twin goatees and makes the coldest, most self-serving decision.
Eric Musselman - Nevada
Musselman is well-traveled in parts that don’t really make a lot of sense for him to be the hire at UConn, but he has NBA experience and has done great at Nevada, where he runs one of the highest-performing offenses in the country. He’s a wildcard choice for sure but could also be the off-the-radar, less expensive, willing-to-innovate candidate that works out for David Benedict.
Steve Wojciechowski - Marquette
We’re really getting into the deep tracks here, and I’m obviously completely guessing, but “Hey Steve Wojciechowski, lose the zero and get with a hero,” just might work. He’s done well at Marquette, may be seeing the ceiling there as well, and want something better. The only downside would be hiring a Duke grad and former Duke assistant and potentially being the temporary stopover for a guy who might eventually be Coach K’s successor there. Ew.
One of the ways to combat the challenges of a coaching transition is to make an exciting hire, one that stirs up the fanbase and also makes a statement on the recruiting trail. UConn has a chance to do that with Pikiell or Hurley, but it won’t be easy given the circumstances.
Don’t get things twisted, though, UConn is in very good shape for this search and is still in a top tier of head coaching jobs in college basketball, even if its stock is not as high as it was a few years ago.