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Saturday, May 14, 2011
Source: Billy Kennedy in lead

By Andy Katz

Texas A&M plucked Mark Turgeon from the Missouri Valley Conference to replace Billy Gillispie as coach four years ago, and it appears the Aggies may be heading in a similar direction in its search to replace Turgeon.

Murray State's Billy Kennedy is the latest to emerge as a favorite. A source with knowledge of the situation told on Saturday afternoon that Kennedy could be offered the Texas A&M job by the end of the weekend.

However, this has been a fluid situation, as assistant coach Scott Spinelli also was a fallback candidate earlier in the day.

After interviewing Kennedy, Texas A&M officials flew to Fargo, N.D., to meet with Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson, a source with knowledge of the search said.

Murray State won the Ohio Valley Conference regular season title in March with a 14-4 record. The No. 1 seed in the OVC tournament, the Racers were upset by Tennessee Tech. Murray State then played Missouri State in the first round of the NIT and lost on the road to finish 23-9.

In 2010, Murray State won 31 games (17-1 OVC) and knocked off Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national runner-up Butler in the second round.

Kennedy took over for Mick Cronin in 2006 when Cronin left for Cincinnati. Kennedy has worked in various capacities at Southeastern Louisiana, New Orleans, Wyoming, Northwestern State (La.), Tulane, Texas A&M for one season, Creighton, Cal, Centenary and Miami (Fla.) before Murray State.

Kennedy was coach at Centenary and Southeastern Louisiana and worked for Frank Haith at Miami, who is now at Missouri. Kennedy is from Metairie, La., just outside New Orleans.

According to a source, Kennedy didn't believe he would get a call when Turgeon left for Maryland. Kennedy received a one-year contract extension after this past season, which takes him through 2014-15. His salary reportedly went from a base of $146,000 to $225,000, and with incentives could reach $275,000 a year. The sum is believed to be the highest in the OVC, but would pale in comparison to a potential $1 million deal from Texas A&M.

According to multiple sources, the Aggies had been looking at three candidates, in addition to considering current assistant Scott Spinelli.

But by Saturday morning, the Aggies were down to two choices outside of Spinelli, after Wichita State's Gregg Marshall rebuffed their interview request.

That left Northern Iowa's Jacobson and Kennedy to interview during the weekend, according to multiple sources.

Marshall was approached Friday and was told he was one of three candidates, according to a source.

Marshall also has a seven-year rollover contract until 2013, meaning it would be difficult to pry him away from Wichita. Marshall, who came from Winthrop to replace Turgeon at Wichita State, makes a little more than $1 million a year. Texas A&M was offering between $1.3 million and $1.5 million a year, a source said.

Wichita State won the NIT title in March, is the favorite to win the Missouri Valley in 2012 and should be a borderline top 25 team to start the season.

When Turgeon left 10 days ago, Jacobson didn't expect to get a call. According to a source, Jacobson is comfortable at Northern Iowa, where he just finished his fifth season. UNI athletic director Troy Dannen told The Associated Press on Saturday he had spoken to Jacobson about the job and given his coach permission to speak to Texas A&M.

Northern Iowa reached the Sweet 16 two seasons ago after a victory over top-ranked Kansas in the second round, after which Jacobson signed a 10-year extension. The Panthers finished 10-8 in the MVC in 2010, tied for fifth place, 20-14 overall and lost to SMU in the CollegeInsider Tournament.

Jacobson played and coached at North Dakota before becoming Gregg McDermott's assistant at Northern Iowa. He replaced McDermott when he went to Iowa State in 2006.

The Aggies have attempted to lure Buzz Williams of Marquette, Josh Pastner of Memphis, Tad Boyle of Colorado -- a close friend and former teammate of Turgeon -- and then ESPN analyst and former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, to no avail.

Spinelli is the only coach on Turgeon's former staff who has a chance if Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne were to hire from within. Byrne is being advised by former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler in the search.

The Aggies should have a top 25 team with the return of David Loubeau to go along with rising star Khris Middleton.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.