In the University of Tulsa’s search for a new basketball coach, the two main considerations are viability and affordability.
Sustainability trumps all other factors. For a program with horrible attendance issues, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of getting it right.
In the 2021-22 season, TU was 0-7 to open American Athletic Conference play. For the first time in 73 years, a Golden Hurricane team was 0-7 in its conference, and there didn’t seem to be much reaction around town.
It’s a scary problem.
To be in the 8,355-seat Reynolds Center for games attended by no more than a thousand spectators – it’s a sobering sight, especially for those who were in the building when at least 7,000 were an attendance figure for each game.
That’s the challenge for a new coach: getting Tulsa to care about UC basketball again.
Before stepping off the grid for a search process that is unlikely to last beyond the end of next week (March 25 could be New Coaches Day at TU), athletic director Rick Dickson spoke frequently and at length about the financial challenges of his department.
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Dickson doesn’t discuss his quest for a coach who can fix a broken program, but others do speak and indicate that the next coach will definitely not be in the million-dollar realm of first-year compensation.
In 2014, Frank Haith’s first season money was $1.3 million. I would be surprised if the new coach commands more than 70% of that figure. An informed contact guessed that Tulsa could start a new $500,000 coach.
The reaction to that might be, “How can you expect to make the American Athletic Conference with a coach making $500,000?”
To which I would reply: “With a coach who has earned around a million dollars this season, TU was 4-14 in the league and in 10th place.”
Dickson is believed to be conducting Zoom conversations this week with potential candidates, and by next week there should be finalists and in-person interviews.
Is Dickson targeting someone with successful head coaching experience? Someone like Frank Martin? Recently fired in South Carolina, Martin, 55, is a free agent. In 2017, he led South Carolina to the Final Four. In 2010, he took Kansas State to the Elite Eight.
Could Dickson roll the dice on a talented coach with a history of personal missteps? Multiple contacts, there have been references to Billy Gillispie. Most of the references were along the lines of “Have you really do you think Rick would check out Gillispie? »
For Bill Self’s Tulsa program, Gillispie was a phenomenal recruiter. He left a healthy head coaching position at Texas A&M to accept the overwhelming pressure of working in Kentucky. It didn’t go well or end well with the Wildcats. At Texas Tech, Gillispie quit after just one season.
Today, Gillispie is the 62-year-old head coach of Tarleton State – a new presence in Division I and a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
Another name I’ve heard more than once: Sean Sutton of Texas Tech, who was Eddie Sutton’s top assistant at Oklahoma State and for two tough seasons served as the head coach of the USO.
What about this guy? At northwestern Missouri State, Ben McCollum coached Division II National Championship teams in 2017, 2019 and 2021. He is National Coach of the Year four times. Over the past six seasons, his record in conference play is 110-10. This season, the Bearcats are 31-5 and two wins away from another trip to the Division II Final Four.
McCollum is only 40 but nearing the end of his 13th season at Northwest Missouri State.
Or is Dickson primarily focused on assists like Pooh Williamson, 48 (former Hurricanes point guard hero and longtime Division I assistant), KT Turner, 43 (currently at OU and formerly a coach -associate chief in Texas and SMU), and Chris Crutchfield, 53 (currently in Oregon and former staff member of ORU, OU and Arkansas).
An additional interesting name has popped up over the past two days: Jai Lucas, the younger brother of former OSU guard John Lucas III. Jai Lucas played college basketball in Florida and Texas, and today he’s a 33-year-old assistant at Kentucky.
Before Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith and Self became TU rock stars, they went down totally different paths before stopping at 11th and Harvard. Richardson had been at a university in Texas, Smith had been on staff at Kentucky, and Self had been the head of Oral Roberts.
When Doug Wojcik was fired in 2012, then-athletic director Ross Parmley said, “Basketball should be a revenue-generating sport and a flagship sport at the University of Tulsa.”
Attendance was a problem in 2012, and more recently it has been terrible. If Golden Hurricane basketball wasn’t profitable in 2012, you have to assume that it’s currently operating with a deficit.
While Dickson doesn’t have the ability to throw big bucks on established, winning coaches, he does have the ability to identify an affordable head coach who at TU can perform like a rock star.
Dickson hired Tubby Smith in 1991. Smith was an approachable, hungry assistant coach, and as the head of TU his results were incredible. Dickson is now on the hunt for Tubby 2.0, TU’s next rock star.