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Missouri basketball, search firms, the Pete Carroll Rule, and the waiiiiiiiting is the harrrrdest part

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Relaaaax, everybody. Everything is fiiiiiine.

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Oklahoma v Missouri Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Monday was officially the day in which Missouri’s coaching search turned a little bit delirious. Last week, it felt like there was a clean and easy plan in place (though things are almost never clean and easy). On Monday, when Tom Crean hadn’t magically become Mizzou’s head coach, people started to lose their respective minds a little bit, as evidenced by Gabe Dearmond’s PSA tweets.

WE’RE GOING TO BLOW THIS is the general sentiment at this stage, which ... well ... is how the Internet works. And it’s definitely how the Mizzou Internet works. Every fan base goes full-on “woe is me” pretty quickly, and ours certainly isn’t an exception.

That said, I’m still pretty reassured by one simple thing that I mentioned on Monday: This is a pretty good time to hire a coach.

Sparse attendance at Mizzou Arena, combined with a new athletic director looking to make a splash, certainly increase the odds of the school spending big on a hire. But even beyond that, think about the list of coaches we think are being considered as compared to what we perceived to be the 2011 list.

You’ve got far more experienced versions of Gregg Marshall and Cuonzo Martin. You’ve got 350-game winner Tom Crean. You’ve got wafted rumors of near-300-game winner Scott Drew looking to get out of Waco.

Granted, Missouri might not land any of those guys, but even the mid-major headliner — almost certainly Kevin Keatts of UNC-Wilmington — is at this very moment more exciting and potentially more proven than anyone we profiled back in 2011.

(Yes, Shaka Smart was on the 2011 list, but when I profiled him, VCU was merely in the 2011 Sweet 16. Yes, this is a technicality, but Keatts’ pre-UNCW, Pitino-heavy pedigree is probably more impressive than Smart’s, too, so there.)

Plus, Missouri doesn’t appear to be considering a Division II coach this time around. So, uh, there’s that, too.

This search could yet go into some strange directions, and I could end up at some point feeling pretty silly that I thought the names above were actually possible — uncertainty is the rule, after all — but the top names appear both more proven and more realistic. That’s a good place to start.

The simple fact that Cuonzo Martin appears relatively underwhelming to a lot of people speaks volumes. Martin has nine years of head coaching experience, six in power conferences. He inherited three tricky situations and needed one year, max, to get things turning back around.

  • At Missouri State, he inherited a team with two seniors and mostly freshmen and sophomores, went 11-20 in his first go-round, then went 50-21 with two top-75 (per Ken Pomeroy) teams.
  • At Tennessee, he had the thankless task of taking over for Bruce Pearl. He took over a team that was 19-15 the year before and had only a couple of seniors, and he went 19-15, 20-13, and 24-13. The team was top-75 for two years, top-10 the third.
  • At Cal, he took over a program that had been in neutral for a couple of years (21 wins with a No. 56-60 ranking in the two years prior). As has been his custom, he had a first-year reset (18-15, No. 112) and has since gone 44-23 with a winning record in Pac-12 play twice.

Martin is known to have strong St. Louis-area ties, and he has proven himself a good recruiter. And our reaction — “our,” as in “mine, too” — has been a collective, “Meh, he’d be alright, I guess.”

NCAA Basketball: California at Arizona
Cuonzo Martin
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Martin’s teams definitely battle slumps, and he hasn’t been in any single location long enough to prove that he can take the final step or two in program building, but we shouldn’t necessarily be judging him for that, either.

He left Missouri State because he had a major job offer. He left Tennessee, it appears, because of an iffy relationship with a high-expectation fan base. And in theory, if he leaves Cal, it would be to come back closer to his midwestern roots. His reputation includes things like “job hopper!” and “high floor, low ceiling!” but that could simply be a sample size thing.

Martin is probably my fourth or fifth choice, but that’s only because of who else is on the board. I like Tom Crean. I like Scott Drew. I obviously like Gregg Marshall. All three are drastically proven entities, even if at least two of the three are longshots at best. I love Kevin Keatts, who might be the most proven, high-upside mid-major coaching product in a couple of years.

Actually, here’s how you know you’re dealing with a pretty strong market for coaches: Nevada’s Eric Musselman has built the Wolf Pack from 9-22 to 28-6 in just two years AND has NBA head coaching experience with the Warriors and Kings. And it seems that he’s at best most people’s No. 4 or 5 choice. That’s pretty crazy, and we haven’t even mentioned VCU’s Will Wade, Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley, Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey, etc. And nowhere above did I type Chris Holtmann’s name.

This is a really strong group. Unless Sterk is truly fixated on the idea of power conference head coaching experience, to the degree that he ends up taking a Frank Haith type instead of a more high-upside mid-major — this is the one misstep I fear at the moment — it will be pretty hard for him to end up with a guy who doesn’t have an exciting résumé.

On the Internet, the absence of good news is received as bad news. But honestly, I don’t even find myself concerned about what happens if the names above start getting checked off the list — if Crean stays at Indiana, if Drew stays at Baylor, if Martin goes to Illinois, if Mizzou still (probably) can’t afford Marshall, if Keatts goes to NC State, etc.

There are two reasons for that. First is simply what I mentioned above: Even with all of those names gone, you’re still looking at a Musselman or Wade or Hurley or, possibly, a Holtmann. Second is what we’ll call the Pete Carroll Rule.

(ALERT: SHAMELESS, UNPLANNED PLUG COMING.)

From my book, The 50 Best* College Football Teams of All Time, available at Amazon:

USC athletic director Mike Garrett was driving up and down the West Coast looking for someone to lead his team. The former Trojan star running back had led the USC program since 1993 and hadn’t scored many points with his handling of the firing of John Robinson in 1997. He openly searched for a new coach before firing Robinson, and the replacement he hired, Paul Hackett, went just 19-18 with one bowl appearance in three seasons.

USC is like an old muscle car: In the wrong hands, it stalls out and stumbles; in the right hands, it purrs and roars, faster and louder than anyone else. It is perhaps harder to find a good driver than you think it’s going to be. For a while, Garrett couldn’t find someone willing to give it a shot – not Oregon State’s Dennis Erickson (a former national champion at Miami), not Oregon’s Mike Bellotti (engineer of three nine-win seasons for the burgeoning power in Eugene), not the San Diego Chargers’ Mike Riley (Robinson’s offensive coordinator in the mid-1990s).

Colorado State’s Sonny Lubick … recently fired Washington Redskins head coach Norv Turner (another former Robinson assistant) … Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez … Utah’s Ron McBride … a lot of names floated around in the rumor mill as Garrett’s search stretched on for nearly three weeks. And in the end, the name Garrett chose – former New England Patriots and New York Jets coach Pete Carroll – inspired few.

Once regarded as a coaching wunderkind, the University of the Pacific grad hadn’t coached at the college level since serving as his alma mater’s defensive coordinator in 1983. He went 6-10 in one disastrous season leading the Jets, and while he won 27 games in three years with the Patriots, he was succeeding legendary Bill Parcells in Foxborough and couldn’t meet that standard.

Local media railed against the hire and mocked Garrett for overvaluing NFL experience and replacing one Hackett with another Hackett.

Carroll did just a smidge better than Hackett.

Emerald Bowl - Boston College v USC
USC wouldn’t have landed Pete Carroll if Sonny Lubick hadn’t first said no.
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Coaching hires are the ultimate crap shoot. It’s really hard to get one right, and it’s really, really hard to get two in a row right. In basketball, Kentucky hired Billy Gillispie before landing John Calipari. Villanova hired Steve Lappas before landing Jay Wright (and even the Wright hire didn’t seem great for quite a while). Virginia hired Dave Leitao before landing Tony Bennett.

Any hire can work, and any can fail. We will react with vigor, one way or another, when Missouri actually lands its man, and even if we love the hire, that doesn’t mean we’ll love it three years from now. There are a lot of cool names on the board. Aside from losing the perceptions battle, there is minimal harm to having to move down the list to your second or fourth or sixth choice. We just don’t know in advance what might work. We’re all guessing.

So is there any actual news in this post, or are you just babbling?

Mostly just babbling, though it does appear that the odds of Crean coming to Columbia are diminishing by the day. Indiana appears to be waffling on whether or not to keep him, and depending on your Internet rumor of choice, Crean might not even be Sterk’s top pick anyway.

If Crean isn’t the guy, then this search could last another week or two, depending on who Sterk’s top choice actually is and whether he lands that guy. Strap in, I guess.

SEARCH FIRMS, AHOY

There was one piece of news that came out recently: Mizzou’s paying a search firm $80K.

Missouri will pay Parker Executive Search $80,000 plus expenses to assist in the hiring process of its next men's basketball coach. The Post-Dispatch obtained the university's contract with the search firm Monday through an open records request.

“We will work closely with you in identifying, recruiting, and assessing candidates for your consideration. We will use the information and objectives provided by you to assist in recruiting a qualified pool of candidates,” said a letter to Mizzou athletics director Jim Sterk from Daniel Parker, vice president and managing director of the search firm.

I’m not going to say I’ve come around on the idea of using search firms for a major coaching hire. It’s still a ridiculous amount of money to pay someone to search for information on coaches whose record, personality, transgressions, etc., are easy to find. For athletic directors, school officials, smaller-sport coaches, etc., I understand. For football or men’s basketball coaches, though? I can’t justify paying more than about $20,000.

That said, I at least understand the draw, and it isn’t specifically about searching for coach names.

The search firm handles the logistics of setting up confidential meetings and also promises criminal, credit and motor vehicle background checks, conformation of a candidate’s degrees, and a review of NCAA sanctions and media reviews along with reference checks.

The contract stipulates Missouri must pay a $40,000 retainer up front and another $40,000 after the search is complete or 30 days after it begins.

The billable expenses — including fees for teleconference calls, secure site access, research and delivery services as well as travel and interview costs — are capped at 12 percent of the total fee or $9,600.

Search firms very much help to keep a coaching search under the radar. That’s probably worth some money. It’s not worth 80 thousand damn dollars, but hey, the market dictates that firms can charge that much, so they do.