Alabama basketball: 5 coaches the Crimson Tide should consider to replace Avery Johnson
The Alabama Crimson Tide recently parted ways with coach Avery Johnson after a disappointing finish. The Tide were one of the first teams to miss the cut for the NCAA Tournament, and that cost Johnson his job.
Complicating matters was an early exit in the NIT, as the Tide lost in the first round to Norfolk State — the lowest-seeded team in the tourney. Now, AD Greg Byrne is on the hunt for a new coach.
Obviously, whoever he hires will have to be comfortable in the shadow of Nick Saban and the football program, but that doesn’t mean the Tide have to settle for mediocrity on the basketball court.
The next coach will inherit a program that has improved over the past couple of years, but still needs to take a couple more steps forward.
So, who should Byrne hire? Here are five coaches who should be on the short list for the opening:
5. Rick Pitino, formerly of Louisville
Dickie V might go insane if his buddy Pitino doesn’t land a job this year despite his problems with the NCAA, even as Vitale himself continues to rip the LSU Tigers for the Will Wade controversy.
If you can get beyond Dickie V’s hypocrisy, though, Pitino is a heck of a coach. He knows how to get the best of his players, and even though the NCAA would be watching him like a hawk when it comes to recruiting, his pedigree would bring plenty of talent to Tuscaloosa.
Pitino has won 2 titles in his career (one that was vacated) and has made it to 7 Final Fours (two vacated). If Alabama wants to make a splashy hire, Pitino should be on the short list. However, Byrne will need to be absolutely sure he has his department in order before he makes that call.
4. Wes Miller, UNC-Greensboro
There are plenty of great mid-major coaches out there, from Porter Moser at Loyola-Chicago to Mike Young at Wofford to Matt McMahon at Murray State and others. However, Miller offers the best in terms of current success and potential upside.
At 36, he’s a young coach still, and this year led the UNC-Greensboro Spartans to a 29-7 record and the second round of the NIT. Last year, the Spartans went 27-8, winning the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Miller is a former North Carolina player, having been a walk-on on the 2005 team that won a national title. He has ties to the talent-rich state of North Carolina and other parts of the south. If Byrne decides he doesn’t want an established coach with a checkered past, Miller would be a good call.
3. Kelvin Sampson, Houston
Sampson’s checkered past with the NCAA now looks like not such a big deal compared to bigger scandals in recent years involving the FBI. Still, he broke rules at Indiana that no longer exist, but he served his punishment for that.
Now, he has the Houston Cougars in the Sweet 16, where they’re taking on the Kentucky Wildcats. He has developed quite a bit of talent in Houston, and could probably do the same thing in Tuscaloosa.
The only problem is that Arkansas recently fired coach Mike Anderson. Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek came to Fayetteville from Houston, so Sampson might favor the Razorbacks over the Tide if he has the option.
2. Steve Prohm, Iowa State
Prohm seems happy at Iowa State and just received an extension through 2025 and, presumably, a raise, but Alabama has the resources to make the Crimson Tide alum an offer he can’t refuse. The question is, should they?
Yes, Prohm has made three NCAA Tournaments with the Cyclones and won two Big 12 Tournament championships, but he hasn’t had much success in March Madness, losing this year to No. 11 seed Ohio State as a No. 6 seed. He would be a popular choice due to his ties to Tuscaloosa, but the next guy is really where the Tide should focus a lot of their attention.
1. Thad Matta, formerly of Ohio State
Matta makes the most sense for the Tide. He led the Buckeyes to 2 Final Fours and nine combined Big Ten Tournament and regular-season titles.
Plus, his rise in Columbus coincided with the rise of Ohio State football under Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, so he knows how to operate in the shadow of a dynamic football program. He would be a perfect second fiddle to Nick Saban and knows how to win at a football school.
The problem would be convincing him to come out of retirement. However, Alabama is one of the most profitable athletic departments in the country, so they could certainly make it worth Matta’s while to return to the bench.