When Tulsa head coach Danny Manning left the NBA nearly a decade ago, he decided to pursue a coaching career at the collegiate level. It’s not an uncommon transition.
But Manning wasn’t just looking for a way to stay connected to the game. He’d grown tired of the uncertainty attached to playing for seven teams during his 15-year pro career. Coaching offered more stability for him, his wife and two children.
“A lot of it came down to my family. My son was in fourth grade. [The kids] had not been in the same school for a year,” Manning told ESPN.com. “They would always come out at the semester. It just got to a point where me and my wife wanted to provide more stability for our kids. In the back of my mind was always to go after a job -- the job -- once he finished high school. We’re very fortunate and blessed for that to happen, to land at a place as good as Tulsa. This is a great opportunity.”
A nine-year stint at Kansas -- where he led the Jayhawks to the 1988 national title under Larry Brown -- became the lab for Manning’s current position. Manning earned a strong reputation for his development of Kansas post players. Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Cole Aldrich, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey all matured under his care.
But Manning grew, too.
Bill Self, Manning said, prepared him for the challenges he’s now facing in his first year with Tulsa.
“I learned so much from Bill Self and his interaction with people, how he pushed his teams, how he challenges his team, the work ethic needed, the types of drills that can help your team bond, the different play calls and the different mindset of the staff,” Manning said. “All those things come into play [now].”
That experience helped Manning remain focused when Tulsa’s top guards -- Jordan Clarkson (16.5 ppg) and Eric McClellan (8.5 ppg) -- announced they were transferring shortly after he arrived. Scottie Haralson (11.1 ppg) is back, but Manning will clearly need time to reload. That, he said, is his focus, not the departures.
“I knew there would be other things on my plate in terms of the young men who wanted to be a part of the program,” Manning said. “If they don’t want to be there, it’s kind of good riddance, good luck. Let’s just concentrate on the young men that want to be there.”
Manning replaces Doug Wojcik, who never led the Golden Hurricane to the NCAA tournament. Wojcik, who’s now leading the College of Charleston, recorded the most wins in the school’s history, one that includes stints with Self, Nolan Richardson and Tubby Smith.
Manning said he’s received a stream of support from the school’s administration, fans and alumni since his arrival. But he also recognizes that he has to accrue victories to maintain the positive vibe that’s around the program.
“You can’t ignore the fact that [Wojcik] had success here. You can’t ignore the fact that he was the all-time winningest coach,” said Manning, who has stayed in touch with Wojcik. “He’s been a great resource for me. Even before him, Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith, Bill Self. Tulsa’s has always had good basketball.”
Tulsa produced six straight winning seasons under Wojcik. But his postseason struggles, perennial losses against Conference USA powerhouse Memphis and declining ticket sales resulted in his firing.
Manning is a reputable face for a program that needs one. But he’s not counting on his status as a former NBA all-star to fix his team’s problems. Although, it will help, especially in recruiting.
“It moreso helps with the parents and the coaches. That’s probably the age group that remembers me in terms of a player,” Manning said. “I do think [recruits] knowing the history of the last nine years at Kansas, where I’ve been on staff and helped develop men to get to that next level [will help]. … That’s something I’m very proud of.”
But Manning clearly isn’t in Kansas anymore.
Last season, Manning ended the year with the Jayhawks at the Final Four. Current projections suggest that Tulsa could spend its first year under Manning in the Bottom Four of Conference USA.
Manning doesn’t subscribe to that theory -- “We want to win now” -- but he knows he could see more obstacles than rainbows in his first season as a head coach.
And that’s what he expected. As much as Manning craved that consistency that the NBA failed to deliver toward the end of his career, he also wanted to achieve it without shortcuts.
Coaching under Self, he said, forced him to absorb aspects of the job that he would have missed had he taken on a head coaching position too soon.
“I’ve always wanted to be a head coach, but it was also something where I wanted to experience the process,” he said. “I wanted to go through all of the steps that were necessary to get into that position and be prepared for it.”