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Thursday, March 22, 2007
Updated: March 23, 4:04 PM ET
Coaching moves make Sweet 16 into job auditions

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- Was it a Sweet 16 game or a job audition? A South Regional matchup between Memphis' John Calipari and Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie, or a CareerBuilder.com moment between two guys looking for greener (translation: cha-ching!) hoops pastures? You never know these days, as the coaching concussion bombs keep exploding all around March Madness.

Billy Gillispie
After losing to Memphis, Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie is headed back to College Station, but for how long?

Tubby Smith is ditching Kentucky for -- and you might want to take your nitroglycerin pills if you haven't heard the news -- Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes and nine Gopher wins.

Steve Alford, child of Indiana and the Big Ten, is leaving Iowa for New Mexico. Sure, of course. After all, who wouldn't want to coach in the Mountain West Conference?

UNLV's Lon Kruger supposedly is looking to rotate out of Vegas. Michigan anyone?

Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery is being romanced by someone. Has to be. No one stays in Carbondale on purpose, do they? Some bigfoot program (paging, Iowa?) will drop its share of zeroes and commas on the guy and he's gone, right?

Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik is rumored to be headed to Colorado. Winthrop's Gregg Marshall and South Florida might be doing an employment dance. And Northwestern coach Bill Carmody's name continues to percolate on the Ivy League hot stove now that his old job at Princeton is suddenly available (though Northwestern officials said Carmody isn't going anywhere).

And then there's Calipari and Gillispie, the two coaches who were on opposite ends of the Alamodome sidelines Thursday evening. You don't think either one of these guys wouldn't belly-crawl over shards of glass for the Kentucky job? In half a heartbeat. You're going to hear about 100 different names for that job.

Forget about the NCAA Tournament. The real Madness is what happened Wednesday with Alford and the Iowa divorce, Thursday with Smith and the mind-boggling move to Minnesota, and what will happen today, tomorrow or the day after that. The only question is, which coach will go where?

The next time a coach starts with the lecture series about commitment and "being family," I'm going to remind them of this week. I'm going to ask them why the "student-athletes" (as the NCAA insists we call them during the postseason) at Kentucky, Iowa, Princeton and possibly SIU, UNLV, Winthrop, Air Force and Northwestern should believe a word a coach says anymore.

A week ago I wrote that Smith ought to walk away from Kentucky before Kentucky walked away from him. But I didn't think he'd actually do it. And if he did walk, I figured it would be to Ann Arbor, not Minneapolis.

Last Sunday evening, not long after Kansas eliminated the Wildcats from the tournament, Smith was asked about his future in Lexington. His answer: "I expect to be back." Four days later, he's gone.

I'm not saying Smith lied. Maybe Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart issued an ultimatum, saying Smith had to can two of his assistant coaches or else. Maybe Smith decided it was time to make a stand. Both men save face. Barnhart can say he wanted to keep Smith; Smith can say he couldn't stay under those conditions. It's just one scenario. By the way, Kentucky announced it will honor the $1.5 million incentive bonus due Smith on April 3. Going-away present or gentlemen's agreement?

Coaches have always been the rock stars of college basketball. The players come and go, but the coaches stay. Not in one place usually, but they stay.

John Calipari
Memphis' John Calipari is a name you'll hear now that the Kentucky job is available.

Meanwhile, we wonder if Ohio State's Greg Oden, who played here Thursday night against Tennessee, should leave for the NBA after a single season. Or if Texas' Kevin Durant should do the one-and-done thing. Why wouldn't they bolt? To stay because they don't feel they're pro ready, or because they actually like living their age ... now those are reasons to become sophomores. But to return for another season of Joe College out of loyalty to the coaching staff would be ridiculous. Noble, but ridiculous.

This is Thad Matta's third year in Columbus. What would he do if Kentucky money-whipped him? And can Texas' Rick Barnes really say he wouldn't at least take Kentucky's phone call?

So, sadly, you have to ask the question: Sweet 16 games or job auditions? That's what it's come to. Too bad, because three of Thursday night's regional semis were absolute keepers. Lowery's SIU team had the ball and the last shot at tying No. 1 seed Kansas. The 3-pointer missed, which means the Jayhawks advanced. So will Lowery, if he chooses to leave the program.

Meanwhile, at the Alamodome, Ohio State squeezed by Tennessee 85-84 in a game that won't be forgotten soon in Columbus. Or Knoxville. That was preceded by a wire-taut A&M-Memphis game that also came down to last-second makes and misses. Somehow "Captain Clutch" -- that's what they call A&M's star guard Acie Law IV -- yakked on a layup with 47 seconds remaining and the Aggies ahead by one point. Then Memphis guard Antonio Anderson, a 64.4 percent free-throw shooter for the season who was 1-for-4 from the line in the game (up to that point), calmly sank what turned out to be the two game-winning foul shots. Then A&M's Dominique Kirk missed the half-courter at the buzzer.

It was a hyperintense game, coached passionately by both Gillispie and Calipari. Today, Calipari is the hoops genius (his second-half adjustments against A&M's low-post game were textbook stuff), and Gillispie is headed back home to College Station.

But that can change in a minute's time. All it takes is a phone call.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.