Should college coaches turn down NBA?

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
4:47
PM ET
In the coming days, college standouts will announce that they’re either going to the NBA or returning to school for another year. This is a critical time for college players. Their futures could be altered -- for better or worse -- based on their decisions.

Some coaches are in similar positions. In their case, most would be wise to stay in school.

That doesn’t stop the speculation, though.

[+] EnlargeBilly Donovan
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackFlorida coach Billy Donovan had a change of heart in 2007 when he accepted the job to coach the Orlando Magic and then returned to the Gators.
John Calipari has tried to kill recent rumors that he'll leave Kentucky to take a Lakers job that isn't even vacant. There has also been some buzz about Kevin Ollie’s future now that the former NBA journeyman has won an NCAA title as Connecticut’s coach.

More rumors about college coaches potentially turning pro emerged Monday when Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman announced his retirement. Various reports have pegged Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, Florida's Billy Donovan and Michigan State's Tom Izzo as possible targets.

ESPN NBA reporter Marc Stein tweeted earlier today: “Been discussing Izzo/Hoiberg for some time as candidates to replace Adelman, but here's a new name I'm told interests Wolves: Billy Donovan.”

That’s not surprising.

All three coaches have been tied to the NBA in the past. Izzo famously rejected the Cleveland Cavaliers’ offer a few years back following an extensive courtship. Before Hoiberg returned to lead his alma mater, he was an executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves and an NBA veteran. Donovan accepted the Orlando Magic job a few years ago, and then he changed his mind days later.

They’re all intriguing candidates who may or may not have any interest in the opening. Being “pursued” doesn't mean you're really “linked” to a job; you might ask Kate Upton out, but that doesn't mean you're dating her.

But there’s certainly interest from Minnesota.

Per Stein:

The challenge, of course, in pursuing any of those three is convincing one of them to leave their veritable college kingdoms to take over an NBA team whose franchise player has only a year to go on his contract.

The coach Minnesota ultimately hires is supposed to help the Wolves sway Kevin Love to stay. But how do you convince the likes of Donovan to leave Florida -- or a full-fledged emperor like Izzo at Michigan State -- to make the jump to the NBA without assurances that Love will stick around for the long haul?

Wolves president of basketball operations and minority owner Flip Saunders and Izzo are tight. Hoiberg is a former Wolves player and executive. They will surely listen when the call comes. And so, too, will Donovan. They will give the Wolves an opportunity, at the very least, to make a determined pitch.


It’s OK to say no, especially since the grass is often greener in college.

Sure, this Minnesota job -- and any NBA opening -- will come with perks. There’s a chance Love will stay in Minnesota and give the next coach a chance to build around him. Plus, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor just bought one of America’s largest newspapers because he felt like it. What will he spend on his next coach?

But Donovan, Izzo and Hoiberg -- and other college coaches like them -- enjoy something that’s rarely replicated in the NBA: long-lasting appreciation.

In the NBA, they love you and then they leave you. Calipari and Louisville's Rick Pitino know that. Two years ago, Mike Woodson led the New York Knicks to the playoffs after a 54-win season. On Monday, new team president Phil Jackson fired him.

Former Butler coach Brad Stevens could turn things around in Boston. But the Celtics will need a bunch of young players and future draft picks to develop so he can build off a 25-57 record in his first season. And if things don't change in the next two or three years, Stevens will be on the hot seat, too.

College basketball isn't immune to that attitude, either. This is a multibillion-dollar business. Administrators want to win. Now.

But there are more jobs that provide legitimate security, although they might not pay as well. Some college coaches are still living off achievements from a decade ago.

Once you're on a perch in college basketball, you can stay there as long as you'd like.

You can't say that about every college team. There are enough leaders in the game, however, who won't leave their posts until they want to leave.

The three coaches mentioned as possible targets for the Timberwolves job are in the aforementioned group.

[+] EnlargeFred Hoiberg
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsIowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has ties to the Minnesota Timberwolves as a player and executive.
Hoiberg signed a 10-year deal to stay in Ames last year, and Iowa State recently boosted his annual pay to $2.6 million per season. He’s also “The Mayor” of Ames. And if you ever travel to Ames, Iowa, you’ll realize that this isn’t just some nickname. If Hoiberg wanted to be carried to his seat on the bench by a chariot each night at Hilton Coliseum, then that’s exactly what he’d get.

Izzo complained about a lack of appreciation in East Lansing, Mich., when he danced with the Cavs. But when he announced his return, he was surrounded by players, fans, administrators and boosters at an elaborate press conference that felt like a wedding. How many times have you seen that kind of “Welcome Back” ceremony in the NBA?

Donovan must deal with the gravitational pull of Florida football each season. He has won multiple national titles and guided the Gators to the Elite Eight four consecutive seasons. But Gainesville will always be a football town, so maybe he’ll think about the Minnesota gig if it’s offered to him.

But the No. 2 slot in a sports-crazed community is much better than being fourth or fifth in a major market that features four pro teams and Division I basketball/football.

In the NBA, you can be forgotten. Quickly. Or just relentlessly ridiculed. See: the Knicks in 2013-14.

If you’re good, you can become a legend. There are more casualties than heroes, though. Many college coaches who’ve chased NBA cash or prestige have failed and lost the success and comfort they’d previously enjoyed in college.

Yes, there’s often more green in the NBA.

And there’s a lot of blue for the coaches who make the wrong decisions, too.

Sometimes it’s best to just stick with a good thing. The NBA isn’t always a good thing.

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