Well, yesterday the big news was ‘Braun Fired!’ Of course, it took about 15 minutes after the story finally broke nationally for the ‘who’s next?’ phase of the story to begin. Dozens of articles have been written on this topic since then, recapping the highlights of Braun’s coaching career, the lean years that led to his ouster, maybe quoting Sandy Barbour from her statement yesterday, and then suggesting a half-dozen predictable names of potential replacements, mostly drawn from the ‘local coach recycle bin’. (Hint: if you’re reading one of those articles and Steve Lavin’s name is mentioned anywhere, you can immediately stop reading and get back to work — nothing worthwhile to see there.)
Well, before we start irresponsibly tossing out more names of coaches, I think it’s worth stopping and figuring out exactly what it is we want from a coach and a basketball program. First off, I’d like to mention again this post I wrote about a month ago regarding what we should expect from our basketball program and its head coach. Though I think the whole discussion is valuable (including the comments), the gist was that we need a coach who:
1) Represents the University well
2) Can regularly compete for conference championships
3) Can have some NCAA tournament success
4) Can bring national relevance to Cal’s basketball program
Ray Ratto seems to think the odds of Cal landing such a person are not good, calling Cal "a school with a largely mid-major profile." OK, leaving aside the major media market and the new facilities and the local recruiting talent and the major conference exposure and the sterling academic reputation, he’s got a point (don’t tell Kevin over at TheBand that). Still, Ratto could’ve written (and probably did) the same article following Tom Holmoe’s resignation in 2001. I think that coaching search turned out OK.
On the subject of what sort of coach Cal will end up with, he had this to say today:
What Cal fans actually deserve is a team that (a) graduates its players, (b) stays off the NCAA’s bad books, (c) has a coach whose recruiting and coaching philosophies mesh far better than Braun’s did and (d) a realistic understanding of where Cal fits in the college basketball universe. It is not UCLA. It is not Indiana. It is not Kansas. It is not North Carolina, or Duke, or 50 other places where basketball drives the entertainment train. It has limitations based on its academic and social culture, its geography and resources, even its place in its own conference.
These can be broadened; Stanford was once a basketball pit. But that happens only in incremental steps rather than quick fixes, with a coach who not only knows his X’s, O’s, C’s and PG’s, but flows with rather than fights against the prevailing tide, and who regards Cal as the ideal place to make a career stand. The way, if you’ll pardon us baiting the hook again, Montgomery did at Stanford.
Ignoring the fact that Braun himself regarded Cal as the ideal place to make a career stand* (one of about a half-dozen nits I’d pick with Ratto’s article), Ratto certainly does have a leg to stand on here. Cal does not have its pick of whatever coach it wants (this year, that would be Indiana), and not just any hot young coach will do. A successful head coach at Cal will both understand and embrace not only the natural advantages Cal has to offer, but the unique challenges that this place will undoubtedly present (*cough* Berkeley City Council *cough*).
Carl Steward of the Contra Costa Times wrote what I consider to be the most intelligent and thoughtful of all the mainstream news articles on this subject. In searching for a section to quote, I had to stop myself from quoting half the article. This passage, however, should get his main point across:
…as long as she’s going to be besieged with suggestions on Braun’s replacement, I might as well throw mine on the pile.
Nobody just yet.
Take your time, Sandy, and before you even start sifting through applications and recommendations, call Steve Gladstone or get in a boat and row to wherever he is. Barbour shouldn’t necessarily ask her predecessor as AD about candidates. But she definitely should ask him about a hiring process when it comes to the second-most important job in the Cal athletic hierarchy.
Gladstone, of course, conducted the search for the most important job in that hierarchy — head football coach — and took his sweet old lazy-river time in doing so. During the process, a lot of people wondered if Gladstone was really up to the chore or was just a misplaced crew coach up a creek without a paddle.
But Gladstone delivered a winner — Jeff Tedford — because he was both prudent and patient and had no preconceived notions about "instant" remedies.
I couldn’t agree more. Get the ‘right’ guy, Sandy, because no one wants to do this again in 5 years’ time.
And what do the players think about all this? Well, both Jamal Boykin and Theo Robertson spoke to the media yesterday (the most extensive set of quotes I’ve seen can be found here), and as player representatives and soon-to-be fourth years, I’d have to commend them for being both mature and diplomatic about the whole process. If they had anything bad to say about Coach Braun, they certainly didn’t take this opportunity to say it. "I know a lot of guys were really appreciative of things that Coach Braun brought to the team," said Robertson. "He gave us an opportunity to play at this level and gave us a place to play and receive a top-flight education." Boykin, in regards to whoever might be the next coach at Cal, had this to say: "I think that the coach would have a lot of the characteristics that Coach Braun had in being compassionate, caring about players, caring about academics, letting the players play who produce the most results."
Of course, neither did the players dig into Sandy Barbour for letting go a coach whom they obviously liked. Boykin again: "She’s truly dedicated to getting the best for us and this is what she feels is what’s best for us," said Boykin. "It’s tough but it’s just one of those things that’s a part of the college basketball business."
So what are the players looking for in their next coach?
"I think there are a lot of positive characteristics from Coach Braun that we’ll talk about but other characteristics I think we’ll be looking for would be a disciplinarian,” said Boykin. “I think that’s something we could really use –some more discipline –in our practices and just moving forward.
“I think every program does. It’s a crucial part of every program. I came from a program (Duke) that was very disciplined. Coming here, there was a difference in that. The advantage of it was that the relationships between the guys here were phenomenal because you’re able to be free and smile and laugh but at times that carried into times that we should’ve been taking care of business. I think having a coach that we kind of fear clowning around with could help us at this point."
That sounds reasonable. This was a talented team, one that was potent offensively, but the defense was often puzzlingly lax. Perhaps a little ass-kicking would be in order. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Robertson also added this:
"I’ve had no indication that anyone was thinking of leaving the program. I’ll have to talk to the guys that weren’t here for the meeting but I don’t have a general sense that any of them are leaning towards leaving the program."
Phew. Good to hear.
Well, if you’re itching to hear some names speculated about, you could always check out my post from a few weeks ago. However, if you’re looking for a much more thorough rundown of all the potential names out there, check out this post by smokeyrover over at the Bear Insider. If some of his post looks familiar, it’s because he left the first part of it as a comment on this post, from which I quoted extensively here.
One thing to note about the search: don’t be sucked in by the hot coaching names. When I wrote up my list less than a month ago, I tossed in Bill Grier’s name at the end, almost as an afterthought. After all, he’s been a head coach for less than a year. Since then, his San Diego team upset both St. Mary’s and Gonzaga to win the WCC tournament and a trip to the big dance, where they proceeded to take down fourth-seeded UConn in the first round. Now everybody wants to hire this guy. Is he a much better coach than he was a month ago? I doubt it. Look, I’m not saying anything about Grier. I’m just saying that you’ve got to judge a candidate by their overall track record, and not just whether his team pulled off a big upset or two a couple weeks ago.
Anyway, names will continue to surface over the next few days and weeks, and when we get credible information that someone is actually been considered/interviewed, rest assured that we’ll be all over it.
*According to this article, Braun said this in 1997:
"I really believe that Cal is a dream job. Our values have always been in place here. I don’t want to be anywhere where the bottom line is only winning games," said Braun.
According to this article, Sandy Barbour said this yesterday:
"The bottom line is we just didn’t win enough games," Barbour said.
FYI, these are not contradictory statements.