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Thursday, March 28, 2013
Updated: April 3, 3:18 PM ET
Andy Enfield has options

By Johnette Howard
ESPN.com

They had just upset San Diego State the same way they had shocked No. 2 seed Georgetown last weekend. Now it was great, even extraordinary, how Florida Gulf Coast University's players were bobbing in place during their delirious locker-room celebration and shouting "Andy! Andy! Andy!" as they drenched head coach Andy Enfield with water. Maybe too great.

Back in Fort Myers, Fla., school officials were already wondering how they were going keep the hottest new commodity in college coaching by scraping together enough donations to perhaps double Enfield's $157,000 salary. (The 16-year-old university doesn't even have a local radio contract; it streams its men's basketball games live over the internet. ) Even by Wednesday, when the Eagles left for their never-imagined Sweet 16 game on Friday in Arlington, Texas, athletic director Ken Kavanagh didn't know what lay ahead.

Was this going to be the last 72 hours the school had Enfield, its second-year head coach? Or would the Eagles run and dunk past third-seeded Florida the same as they have everyone else in their maiden NCAA tournament run, and make more history as the first No. 15 seed to get this far?

Andy Enfield
Andy Enfield and Florida Gulf Coast University are soaking up the adulation this March.

Would the burgeoning cult of personality around Andy! Andy! Andy! -- "It is almost like a mini-cult right now," Kavanagh allowed with a laugh -- get another improbable boost if Enfield and his roster of claiming horses and misfit toys outwit Gators coach Billy Donovan, a two-time NCAA champ who recruits only thoroughbreds? The contrast couldn't be greater. FGCU's team throws off unbridled joy; the set-jawed, razor-creased, slicked-back Donovan looks as serious as a heart attack.

Might Enfield be left feeling he has everything he needs right at FGCU and there's no need to trampoline to a better job?

Quick. Somebody arrange a phone chat between Andy and Butler homebody Brad Stevens, the king of the mid-major loyalists. Get Enfield a brainwashing round of golf with Shaka Smart so Smart can detail --- what's that? Smart reportedly just had his salary bumped to $1.5 million a year at VCU through 2023 rather than pursue the recently vacated job at UCLA? And that $300K salary that FGCU boosters have mentioned as their best target offer for Enfield -- that barely exceeds one of the bonus clauses in departed Ben Howland's Bruins contract?

A little HELP here, please!

"I'm sure the people there in the community respect the job that he's done, and I'm sure they will respond appropriately," Enfield's last boss, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, says of FGCU. "But I would suggest that they might want to hurry."

Skeptics say it's the hype around Enfield that's moving too fast. They say the Cult of Andy is just a new variation of an old March Madness story they've seen before. He's the flavor of the month.

But whether Enfield stays at FGCU or goes, the cynics would be smart to consider a few things as they're handicapping his chances of landing a bigger job and succeeding once he gets there.

Enfield's career trajectory has always gone sharply up, up, up no matter what new or even quixotic pursuit he's tried -- which suggests he is not a fluke at all. And he is not likely to be revealed as some flash-in-the-pan creation of the 24/7 media furnace that needs more coal shoveled into it all the time.

This is not March Madness meets Linsanity-by-the-Everglades.

The 43-year-old Enfield always made accomplishing the unusual look routine.

In fact, there is something so arresting and faith-inspiring about Enfield, even his mentors -- hard-to-impress men, men far more accomplished than he is -- inevitably rave about him, often despite themselves. It's not just those impressionable kids who could've shouted "Eagles" or the team's other nickname ("Dunk City") in the bedlam after their first two NCAA upsets but wound up making FGCU's run about "Andy! Andy!" instead.

"I know," says Hamilton, who won the 2012 ACC tournament title with a team Enfield helped him put together as an assistant from 2006 to 2011. "And I'm still waiting for someone down there [at Florida Gulf Coast] to say, 'Coach Ham. You were right.' Because they had a few reservations at first. I told them this would happen if they hired him. And now I want my pat on the back."

By the time Hamilton could finally offer Enfield a job, he'd long known how Enfield parlayed his playing career as a guard for Johns Hopkins, where he was an academic All-American and the NCAA's career free throw shooting percentage leader, into stays as a shot doctor/skills development coach with Rick Pitino's Celtics and Mike Dunleavy's Milwaukee Bucks -- starting at age 26. Who does that?

And when Kavanagh called Alonzo Mourning, nobody's idea of Mr. Congeniality as a player, after Enfield applied for the FGCU job, Mourning raved about how he had hired Enfield to coach him three summers and went on to have the three best offensive seasons of his NBA career. Kavanagh now admits, "I was impressed. I mean, here were Mourning and these other great NBA and college players listening to Andy, a guy who had played Division III basketball? Why?"

Between his NBA and FSU coaching gigs, Enfield put the MBA degree he picked up from the University of Maryland to good use by taking a job as vice president for TractManager, a start-up software company, and buying in for a small slice of ownership. When his ex-boss there, Thomas Rizk, was asked this week, he raved to USA Today about Enfield's ability to conceptualize ideas, manage projects, and connect with people -- and challenged "inaccurate" reports that TractManger is now valued at $100 million. He claims it's actually significantly more than that.

Which made the topic of just how stinking rich Enfield may be -- and whether he can thus "afford" to stay at FGCU at a hometown discount -- a roiling topic this week.

"I still need to work," Enfield finally told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi.

And so, to recap, this is what Kavanagh and the school's boosters are up against if they hope to keep Enfield: Fans, recruits and ADs who do the hiring around the rest of the country have now seen how remarkable Enfield is, too.

As a student, he was an academic success at one of most rigorous universities in America. He's worked at the NBA and NCAA level for some of the best in the business. He's excelled as a bench coach, recruiter, talent evaluator, project manager, start-up leader and troubleshooter who can remake players' entire games or diagnose their subtlest problems. He powerfully connects with people. And now that he's taken over a team that lost 20 games before he arrived to the Sweet 16 in just his second season, he's a turnaround artist and magician, too.

We haven't even mentioned the 2011 story about how he's so driven to succeed, he was making recruiting calls for his new FGCU job from the same hospital room where preparations were under way to do a C-section on his wife. (And by the way, she has a real-life name, Amanda, though you wouldn't always know it from how she's often only referred to as "an ex-supermodel for Victoria's Secret and Maxim.") And get this -- Amanda has said she didn't mind even though she had to bark at her husband to put down the phone because their third child was about to arrive.

Andy! Andy! Andy!

Who else gets away with that? What is it about this guy?

Andy Enfield
Brett Comer confers with coach Andy Enfield during the NCAA tournament.

Kavanagh knows he has to be prepared to give Enfield the university's very best pitch the moment the season ends. When asked directly whether some large booster has already stepped up to cut a lucrative check, Kavanagh says, "We're such a young university, the average age of our oldest alumni class is about 37. Even being a Division I program [for two years] feels new. But people in the community have been starting to 'get' the urgency as this week has gone on. & These things happen fast. And if you don't get it done, the train has already left the station."

Kavanagh plans to sell Enfield on FGCU becoming the Atlantic Sun conference's equivalent of Gonzaga. He plans to underscore how mid-major coaches don't always prosper when they move up a rung. He'll play the contentment angle, harping on how happy Enfield is living with his family in Fort Myers and working on FGCU's quirky 760-acre campus that not only has wild boars and alligators running around the more pastoral parts of the grounds but also boasts its own beach and spa (run by FGCU's school of hospitality).

"When friends up north tell me how cold it is there," Kavanagh, a native of Greenwich, Conn., says laughing, "I sometimes tell them I'm about to go out and clean the sunshine off my windshield."

The 53-year-old Kavanagh is an energetic, upbeat, can-do sort. But even he eventually concedes there is a challenging limit to what FGCU can do.

Of all the other, bigger jobs that recently opened up -- UCLA, Minnesota, Texas Tech and Northwestern -- Northwestern seemed like it should've been at least at little intrigued in Enfield, don't you think? Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament. The program is yearning for a miracle worker but has none of the post-Wooden era baggage that infects chronically self-impressed UCLA. Northwestern sits in the talent hotbed of Chicago and plays in the Big Ten, college basketball's best conference this year.

But the Wildcats hired someone with a safer pedigree: Duke assistant Chris Collins, son of Doug Collins and a protégé of Mike Krzyzewski.

Would UCLA have the guts to take a flier on Enfield? Could this drag on for weeks if other schools come calling on him? The offseason is always a game of musical chairs for coaches.

"My gut is he's with us," FGCU booster Brian Rasnick told the Naples (Fla.) News in the last week.

"There's no way that school is going to be able to keep Andy there," a former basketball co-worker of Enfield's disagrees.

"He could stay there," Hamilton says. "And I will still be waiting for my pat on the back."

Enfield has already chosen love over money once by leaving his business-world job. He told his family he felt basketball is "in his blood."

The Cult of Andy is likely to continue whether FGCU beats Florida on Friday or not. The only question is what ZIP code it will keep happening in.

Enfield has already proved his magic travels.