A year ago today, I never thought we’d be here.
Cuonzo Martin was leading a Missouri team toward the NCAA tournament. The Tigers had slipped to a disappointing finish but were mostly healthy and about to take on Georgia in the SEC Tournament. They would beat Georgia, before losing to Arkansas in a foulfest. And then they lost a tough game to Oklahoma in an 8-9 matchup during the first round of big dance.
But Martin’s job felt pretty danged safe.
Two tournaments in four years had set the tone. There were massive injury issues, which held back the program’s progress. Still, things felt mostly on course. Maybe there was a tinge of disappointment from some recruiting misses, but they were competitive again.
Until they weren’t.
Martin reset the roster, letting a few of his players with eligibility leave. A few others, though, might have been nudged. In the summer, he welcomed in four transfers to go with five freshmen, and just three holdovers. That makeover did not go well. In fact, it went so poorly that a coach who all but earned an automatic extension with plenty of contractual protections opened the door enough to be let go by a close friend.
Athletic director Desiree Reed-Francios was a part of the search process that brought Martin to Tennessee almost a decade ago, and the pair remained friends. Martin offered a walk-on spot to Reed-Francios’ son for next season at Mizzou even before she was the Missouri AD. So, this outcome wasn’t what anyone wanted to happen.
One decision among jarred the door loose: failing to recruit a proven point guard — even with one scholarship left open. Or he could’ve worked on his relationship with Xavier Pinson, keeping the veteran around for his senior season. He could offered Mark Smith the chance to come back and use his COVID year. Or maybe even Drew Buggs.
Instead, Martin’s roster flip relied on inexperienced ball handlers and built large chunks of his offense around Kobe Brown and Javon Pickett, who had been role players filling in the margins on a good team. He also managed to put together a roster which fielded his worst defense at a high-major program.
So, we ask again... What’s next?
I get it. Everyone wants the splash hire. Something to excite the fan base.
Here’s what I want: the best coach you can reasonably land. Age doesn’t matter. Budget doesn’t matter. Get the best coach you can hire, and give him the resources to be successful.
For me, the obvious target is Colorado State’s Niko Medved. Medved is a basketball junkie, a former manager who steadily rose and rebooted programs. Before Medved got to Furman, the program was in ruins. His four years helped make the Paladins a force in the Southern Conference. He then left for Drake, and bumped them up 10 wins and 100 spots in KenPom in one season. Then he left for Colorado State, where he’d worked as an assistant.
Larry Eustachy (familiar name) had been OK at CSU, but by the end, it was a disaster of a program. Players hated the coaches, there was massive dissension. Medved came in and fixed it all. They went from 229th in KenPom to 180th in Year 1, and they’re 29th three years later.
That sort of build is exactly the kind you want from a head coach. He’s now done it at multiple stops. And he’s originally from Minnesota, so he knows the midwest. And he’s coached at Furman so he knows the Southeast. He’s also an offensive guru.
Mizzou needs a head coach who is obsessed with basketball and with getting better. And that feels like Niko Medved to me.
There are other hires who I would feel very comfortable with. Todd Golden is one. Even Kim English is another. If they went with Grant McCasland or Jerome Tang I’d be fine with it. Jeff Lindor has some excitability to him.
If you’re checking in on retreads, I think it’s fine to call Sean Miller, though I’d argue his younger brother Archie makes more sense. Sean’s issue is the potential for a showcase penalty stemming recruiting violations undercover in the FBI’s not-so-game-changing investigation of pay-for-play in college hoops.
The investigation, which includes multiple charges of Level 1 violations, is crawling through an independent arbitration panel. Who knows when Miller will know his punishment. If I’m MU, I’d avoid that altogether because you don’t want to hire a coach, and pay him real dollars to not coach your basketball team.
To continue on with that point, Miller was coaching the most powerful program on the West Coast. But you could argue that Gonzaga passed up the Wildcats, and that Oregon and UCLA had closed the gap, too. Miller had unlimited resources from his bosses in Tucson, and bagmen working behind the scenes. Yet Tommy Lloyd took over the same program, with most of Miller’s players, and they’re the second best team in the country.
I’m not saying Miller is a bad coach. This more about a buyer being aware. Is he going to outperform Eric Musselman, Nate Oates, or Bruce Pearl, especially if he's working with a lesser budget? Maybe, but it’s not a given. It’s also not about making compromises or a willingness to get a little dirty. You need a good coach to maximize that talent.
Now, let’s tick off some coaches that are unrealistic. Rick Pitino is close to 70 and has a reported $5 million buyout at Iona. Gregg Marshall literally beat people in his program. Buzz Williams? He’s a native Texan at a school where the alumni base is awash in money. Travis Ford? Please, no. Oregon’s Dana Altman? Sure, if you ignore a history of playing guys credibly accused of sexual assault.
Coaches that should be on the list but not yet mentioned: Dennis Gates (I’ve heard he’s towards the top of the list at Georgia, but still a talented young coach), Thad Matta (if he’s healthy he’d be a great pull), Matt McMahon (running an elite program at Murray State), Andy Kennedy (you know I love me some AK).
Over the next few days we’re going to run some polls you can vote on with what we considered to be the major candidates on the search. It should be interesting at least. It’s a real opportunity for all of us to have a say, despite not having a say.
Regardless, we’ll be talking about this a lot over the next week or so as Mizzou starts, and hopefully ends their search, for a new head basketball coach.