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April 6, 2009

So whatís new?

It isnít our head basketball coach.

Our season ended eight days ago. Doesnít it feel more like eight years? I was hoping this would be the celebration column. I had the Pitino speech ready ("Sean Elliot is not walking through that door, fans.Ē).

I had catch phrase gimmicks all set to go. Caliparizona. The Few, The Proud. Red Floyd. (Iím still working on something catchy for Sean Miller though. Maybe something involving his last name and ďTime.Ē Iíll have to get back to you.)

And yet we wait. Itís all the fun of football recruiting except we only have one scholarship to give and we donít know when Signing Day is.

I know what I want. Iím a results guy. A stats guy. Give me conference championships and Final Fours. As long as you donít cheat, none of that other stuff Ė style of play, NBA stars, etc. Ė matters to me.

So how do you get there? That's the 13-million-dollar-over-5-years question. I think there are two models. The first is the Lute Olson model, which is getting someone whoís already done it. People are saying Lute wasnít Lute when we hired him but theyíre understating what he did at Iowa. In his last five years as the head Hawkeye, Coach O won 20 games and made the NCAA tournament each season. He won the Big Ten once and finished second three times. His two best teams lost in the first round and his worst team during that span went to the Final Four. What they got is what we got, just better and a longer.

The other model is the Ben Howland model where a guy moves up the coaching ranks before exploding once he lands a big job. Two conference championships at NAU and an NCAA tournament appearance. Two league titles at Pitt and a couple Sweet 16s. And we all know what heís done at UCLA.

Calipari followed the Lute model. Miller was the Howland model. Theyíre the right kind of targets.

(I have no idea what model Tim Floyd was. Maybe the 4th Best Coach in the Pac-10 model. Can a coach suddenly peak after 23 years? Is there such a thing as coaching HGH?)

About the Josh Pastner thing. Patience, my Wildcat friends. You have to let him build his coaching muscles before he has to shoulder the burden of Arizonaís hopes and dreams. He made a great move in joining Calipari last year. Let him continue down that path.

I understand why many are passionate about Josh. Heís the last chance for Luteís coaching legacy to carry on. The final acorn on the tree. In that sense I get why he's the Chosen One. But we shouldn't choose him now.

The only way to hire a good coach is to go after good coaches. And when you go after good coaches, you risk getting rejected.

The funny thing about talented people is their employers tend to try and keep them around. Fans arenít trying to run them out of town. And itís a lot harder to get someone to move than it is to get them to stay put. Call it coaching inertia.

So what do you do now? You keep going after good coaches. Thirty-one guys won conference titles last year. My research shows sixteen coaches go to the Sweet 16 every single year. There are a lot of people who know how to attract good basketball players and get them to win games.

You donít get desperate. You canít panic. You keep bringing up the Pete-Carroll-was-USCís-4th-choice story as many times as it takes to keep hope alive.

(I canít take credit for this next bit, but Iím never above joke charity.)

Sometimes you have to look at the big picture. Every coach Arizona approaches gets a big raise somewhere else. These coaches go and buy houses and cars in different parts of the country. Builders and auto makers have to start hiring employees to take care of all these richer guys.

Itís time to face the truth. The University of Arizona isnít trying to hire a basketball coach. Itís trying to stimulate the economy. One rejection at a time.

God bless the Red (White) and Blue.

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