When the Texas job opened a couple of years ago, it was basically a foregone conclusion that Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte would target — and ultimately hire — Chris Beard from Texas Tech.
This time, Del Conte will likely have a much tougher decision which will involve going deeper into his list of candidates.
Can acting coach Rodney Terry get the job? Sure, but he’ll need to do enough to make it a no-brainer for the administration, which likely means at least a top-three finish in the Big 12 and advancing past the first weekend of the NCAA tourney. And that may not be enough.
THE JOB DESCRIPTION
Texas is and always will be a ‘football school’ at its core, but the university has started to invest more resources into hoops. The brand-new Moody Center is a huge upgrade over the Erwin Center, and the men’s basketball program can compete with just about anyone in the NIL arena.
This is a program that hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2003, but Rick Barnes took the Longhorns to the NCAA tourney in 16 of his 17 seasons in Austin, and Shaka Smart went three times in his six seasons. They have money to hire another big-time coach, and Texas will be leaving the Big 12 for the SEC soon.
To me, you don’t just need someone who can coach. You also need someone who can connect with the fan base. That’s something Beard was able to do in his year-plus at the helm.
Del Conte’s hiring resume on the men’s basketball front began in 2008 when as the AD at Rice he hired Ben Braun (63-128). Del Conte made a pair of hires when he was at TCU from 2009-17 in Trent Johnson and Jamie Dixon. Johnson lasted four years and was 50-79, while Dixon is likely en route to a third NCAA tourney appearance in his seventh season. Del Conte came to Texas after Smart was already on board, and was the one who tabbed Beard in 2021.
WHY NOT TRY?
In addition to the two guys mentioned below, you can also make calls to Jay Wright, John Calipari, Scott Drew, Matt Painter and Tony Bennett — but my guess is that those will also be quick convos.
Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls – Obviously, you have to wait and see what happens with Donovan and find out 1.) If he’s available, and 2.) If he has any interest in returning to college. Remember, over his last 10 seasons at Florida, Donovan won two national titles, went to another Final Four and had three more Elite Eight appearances. If he’s on board and locked in, he’s the guy I’m hiring. Period.
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics GM – Stevens, much like Donovan, might have college in his rearview mirror. He is able to spend more time with his family now that he’s not coaching, but my guess is that if he gets back into coaching, it’ll be with another NBA franchise and not a college program. But why not call Brad’s wife, Tracy, just to make sure he doesn’t have the itch.
GET THEM ON THE PHONE
Bruce Pearl, Auburn – Pearl won at Southern Indiana. He won at Milwaukee. He won at Tennessee, and he has taken Auburn from one of the worst Power Five basketball jobs to a program that’s been nationally relevant, making the Final Four in 2019. He’s ideal because he’s a terrific coach, motivator and salesman. Just imagine what he could do in Austin after watching what he’s done with the Auburn program.
Nate Oats, Alabama – A midwest guy who won at Buffalo and has made Alabama nationally relevant – so he could go anywhere. Oats can coach, recruit and bring energy and a fast-paced style.
Eric Musselman, Arkansas – Musselman won at Nevada, and has gotten the Razorbacks to consecutive Elite Eight appearances. He’s a terrific coach who would have to be in the mix.
Jerome Tang, Kansas State – This one almost makes too much sense. Tang knows the area and the league as well as anyone. He helped Scott Drew build the program at Baylor for the past 20 years, and while it’s a small sample size, he’s done a terrific job so far at Kansas State. Tang is high-energy and would be a good choice.
Kelvin Sampson, Houston – Sampson has done an incredible job in Houston, and it’s certainly worth exploring, but I’m not sure he doesn’t fit in Houston better than in Austin.
Jamie Dixon, TCU – Let’s not forget that CDC hired Dixon at TCU in 2016, and they remain close. Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA Tournament in 2018, they went again last season and could make a second-weekend run this year.
Chris Holtmann, Ohio State – He took Butler to the NCAA tournament in all three years there, and has gone every season with the Buckeyes. The one issue would be his lack of a postseason run, but he’s also got no red flags.
THE WILD CARD
Rick Pitino, Iona – Pitino is past the NCAA stuff now. Sure, it’s a PR hit — but he’s arguably the best coach in the country, and if you give him the NIL at Texas, who knows what he could do. He’s 70, so it would be more of a short-term deal to keep the program going until you find the next guy.
A SAFE PICK
Royal Ivey – He got the support from former Longhorns star Kevin Durant last time, and the Nets assistant will likely receive it again. But with the recent struggles of ex-NBA guys in college, it’s tough to imagine Ivey getting it.
Bruce Pearl – He checks all the boxes. Energy. Can coach and recruit. Has won everywhere he’s been. Will sell the program.
WHO I THINK TEXAS WILL WIND UP HIRING
Jerome Tang – Del Conte has seen up close what Baylor has done the last few years, and he just saw Tang’s Kansas State team hang 116 points in a win over Texas at the Moody Center.