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Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Big East schools likely after McCaffery


Fran McCaffery has had quite a run of late, taking Siena to three straight NCAA tournaments, including two upsets in the first round.

The Saints are a trendy pick to win a third straight first-round game as No. 13 Siena goes up against No. 4 Purdue in Spokane on Friday.

Whenever McCaffery is done coaching this month, he'll have a decision to make.

Does he stay at Siena, where he has recently ruled the MAAC, or chase a bigger payday in a tougher conference?

Two years ago, he could have been a major player for the Providence job that Drake's Keno Davis ended up taking. McCaffery, however, was smart to stay put and not push for the job.

Now, McCaffery is definitely high up on the lists at Seton Hall and DePaul. If Norm Roberts isn't able to survive at St. John's, he could be in play there as well. McCaffery has the pedigree of someone who would be marketable to these Catholic schools. He was an assistant at Notre Dame under Digger Phelps. He is coaching at a similar institution now, though it is smaller and in a less rigorous conference. He has strong ties in the New York metro area, and there are no NCAA violations or any behavioral issues on his record. It would also make sense for Charlotte to look at him since he was once at UNC-Greensboro.

Still, he has to balance what would be a big payday with the assurance that it's the absolute right job he's taking.

He's a winner. But this is an intriguing situation for someone like McCaffery. There always seems to be the assumption that you have to go where the money and the league says you should. But do you?

I've covered the game for 20 years now, and I've seen plenty of questionable moves. The most recognizable ones came out of Butler. Few coaches have realized just how good a gig they've had in Indianapolis. Todd Lickliter left for Iowa and was fired three years later. Lickliter believed he could turn the Hawkeyes around. Barry Collier left for Nebraska. He was fired and ended up back at Butler as the athletic director.

McCaffery has to be careful here. He must make the right decision at a critical point in his career. Does also he look at Iowa, where he could be a fit since he was at Notre Dame and knows the Midwest?

The same could be true of someone like UTEP's Tony Barbee, who is a strong candidate at Auburn and DePaul. Barbee has the Miners in the NCAA tournament as a 12-seed and regular-season champions of Conference USA.

UTEP should be just as good next season, assuming the NBA doesn't grab Derrick Caracter and/or Randy Culpepper as early entrants. Barbee could be even hotter as a candidate with another successful season in El Paso. Another strong season could really improve his position in the market; he might not have to take a job at the bottom of a league that doesn't present much of an opportunity to move up in the standings quickly.

The most intriguing development Wednesday was Rutgers' announcement that it was sticking with Fred Hill. That news came to light hours after it was reported by the Newark Star-Ledger that Bobby Gonzalez was out at Seton Hall. Hill's contract situation didn't help Rutgers make a move -- he's reportedly owed over $1 million. But while Hill has had some attrition lately, such as losing big man Greg Echenique, he didn't draw attention to himself like Gonzo.

Gonzo's antics didn't help him. That fact was clear Wednesday. The lack of decorum of his Second Chance U. players -- from Keon Lawrence's wrong-way driving in the fall to Herb Pope's punch in the groin Tuesday night in the NIT loss to Texas Tech -- the Hall's appearance was not appealing.

Seton Hall should try to woo someone like McCaffery or Davidson's Bob McKillop, but the school is also smart enough to know that both coaches are in good situations. McKillop loves his life in the Davidson community north of Charlotte. Why would someone want to leave what makes sense for the craziness of the bottom of the Big East in the competitive New York metro area?

Still, the Hall will have to go with someone who has had no trouble in his past. Likewise, Fordham is trying to do that in looking for a replacement for Dereck Whittenburg. The Rams are looking to make a splash with the hire, but instead they need to ensure it is someone who makes sense, who wants to rebuild and doesn't mind grinding. That's why someone like Rhode Island's Jim Baron -- who might have overstayed his situation at URI after failing to make the NCAAs -- would be an interesting call. But why not look at a coach at a school that can't compete financially, like Northeastern's Bill Coen? There are coaches out there who need to take a gamble to move up rather than leave a comfortable situation. That's why places like Fordham and Seton Hall should also consider Tom Herrion, the top assistant at Pitt, or Hofstra's Tom Pecora. These might be jobs at which NCAA tournament appearances or success isn't the issue, but character and personality fit are more likely the answers. Pitt promoted Jamie Dixon as an assistant and that worked, right? Robert Morris' Mike Rice worked at Fordham, where he is an alum.

Some other quick hitters

• Hawaii already interviewed Gib Arnold, the former USC assistant, and Saint Mary's Kyle Smith. Arnold and Smith have strong ties to Honolulu. UH officials were on the mainland in Los Angeles on Wednesday talking to Gonzaga assistant and former Utah and Eastern Washington head coach Ray Giacoletti, Colorado assistant and former Wyoming coach Steve McClain and Southern Miss assistant and former San Jose State coach Steve Barnes. The Warriors couldn't go wrong with any of these choices. All have a sense of the difficulties of the job at Hawaii. I still contend it is a quality job.

• Charlotte is lurking as a quality gig for someone who can move quickly up the A-10 ladder. What will be interesting is whether former Charlotte assistant Dalonte Hill, now at Kansas State, can get a serious look after he left the 49ers and took committed player Michael Beasley with him to Manhattan. I would think the 49ers would get a lot of hits from head coaches.

• Oregon will wait until Gonzaga's Mark Few finishes the season before an official push. After that, expect the Oregon program to look long and hard at coaches with Nike ties who have been at a national-championship level. That's why Minnesota's Tubby Smith will be dangled as a candidate.

• Would Providence's Keno Davis go back to Iowa to coach the Hawkeyes after his father Tom was pushed out? I would say yes. Would they hire him? I think it would be hard after the way the Friars' season ended.

• I find it hard to believe that Trent Johnson would leave LSU and head back home to Boise State. Coaches are squawking about this occurring. I would be surprised if Johnson left an SEC job for the WAC. This was one bad year at LSU after winning the SEC West the previous season, but give him time.

• I'm not just shilling for a fellow colleague. I do love the knowledge Fran Fraschilla and Tim Welsh share with me on the game. They both were and should coach again if they feel it's right for them and their families. One coach just started with us and I wouldn't be surprised if he got a call this spring: former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. He won with the Tide and reached the Elite Eight but had a number of injuries that derailed him late in his tenure. Gottfried deserves another shot.

• Was the Ernie Kent firing the longest, most drawn-out process recently? Why didn't Oregon just make it official when Mike Bellotti informed Kent? It made no sense to wait.