I’d like to think that Ron Wellman is a smart guy and he made a good gamble a few years ago that went terribly awry. It’s possible he was onto something but went with his personal history instead of the more proven prospect route. Simply being an NBA coach or assistant doesn’t in and of itself give someone bonefides – maybe our AD under thought that aspect. We went with the NBA before and it fell significantly short, however there’s some exciting talent there, I let my imagination run wild to tempt fate and go back to the same well. We’ll never know the exact disconnect between college students and our most recent coach, but that cannot be the predictor of how every coach from the NBA would mix with every college campus. Having said that, and I know with the purity percentage of a bar of Ivory Soap that my ideas will not be in the calculus of our Head Coaching search. I have three NBA guys for your consideration that I oh-so-wish were looked at for the position and oh-so-know will not be. So rest assured, if you think I am off my rocker, Ron doesn’t answer my calls anyway. With that said ….
The first guy that came to mind when we were looking for a coach four years ago is the same guy I wish were in the hat today; Dave Hanners. Now I know most new-to-Wake(ish) folks will just say "who?" and most geriatrics will say "you mean that Carolina guy?" but Dave Hanners is top shelf in my opinion. He’s a true basketball mind. Why he’s not been offered a head coaching position before, I can only imagine he’s more been looked at in the NBDL rather than the NBA as there’s a list of other guys in front of him for head coaching positions. But for us, Dear Old Wake Forest, Hanners would be an insanely wise choice. For those less familiar, Dave was an assistant coach of Larry Brown. And say what you want of Larry Brown the migrant worker, or Larry Brown the kvetcher, or Larry Brown the passive-aggressive, or Larry Brown the oft-ejected, or Larry Brown the Tarheel, but one thing everyone should recognize, from Kansas to SMU, from Philly to Detroit to Charlotte – Larry Brown can flat out coach basketball. And what I got to see firsthand in Charlotte was, he and his staff (first and foremost Hanners) can flat teach the game of basketball to guys that should already well know it (yet don’t) and get them to play together. But aside from Dave most immediately being an acorn off the Larry Brown tree, he’s been a player and later assistant to the great Dean Smith. It’s hard to think that shopping from UNC-Coach-Mart is a bad idea. So we have in Hanners, an assistant that coached in several final fours, several national championships, an NBA title and helped turn at least one completely hapless NBA club from rags to playoffs. Dave is currently working with some other college aged talent in New Orleans right now and he’s going to be free to answer the phone come April 16th. I think it would be a call worth making, I’d be happier if Aminu was already in his ear. I want to say Dave is in his mid 50s so age would not be going for him – but if he’s anything like Larry Brown he’s got a good 20 years of tread left on the tires.
My next target would be a bit of a stretch, but to me, he’s an attractive prospect. Nate McMillan was once a standout for NCSU and then spent a dozen years in Seattle playing for the Sonics until his retirement in 1998. He immediately swapped out his hightops for wingtips as an assistant and within a couple years, became their interim head coach. He was retained as the head coach the following season and was credited by many for turning that club around. He was let go after a handful of years as the Sonics head coach with mixed results. He went to Portland in 2005 where he’d spend the next seven years. Nate might be more the NBA type coach rather than the guy you could see righting the ship of a college franchise like Wake but he’s got good underpinnings. He has ties to the area, he’s been a commodity in the ACC & NBA for nearly 30 years and he’s been an assistant under Coach K with the past eight years (Olympic team). He won’t be too available until late May (one the staff of the Pacers) but maybe he’d take a call just for kicks. I’d say, Nate would not be my number one target here, more like my number three, but there’s a strong one and two ahead.
My number one target is Patrick Ewing. Most folks know Pat as the auto-block from the 1982 Tarheels National Championship. He was the most intimidating players I remember watching in the early to mid-80’s. He was a perennial All Star with the New York Knicks for what seemed like ages (until Tim Duncan began to redefine ages). Since Pat’s retirement, he’s been in coaching. From my memory, he began doing it unofficially long before working with big men Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo in the off-season with his Alma Matter. For nine years now he’s sat the sidelines under some true brains of basketball – namely the brothers Van Gundy. He currently is the Associate Head Coach in Charlotte under Steve Clifford, whom many thought would have to wait behind Patrick before getting his call up. Why has Pat not gotten the call? I don’t know that anyone has figured that out – some have posited that it’s a bias against men who played center as the popular convention is that guards make good coaches. Seeing Pat interviewed for a while now, he’s very soft spoken and there may be a perception he’s not a great communicator. Whatever the reason, he’s not getting the looks most feel he should. He was offered a head coaching job in the NBDL and correctly turned it down – this guy has way way WAY too much experience to be doing that. On the collegiate side of the equation; Pat came along to make Georgetown a household name in hoops and learned from one of the best big men in coaching history in John Thompson. Aside from the reminders of Duncan; being from the Caribbean, losing his mother young, staying in college to get his degree despite being a potential lottery pick; he and his girlfriend had a child in his sophomore year (Pat Ewing Jr.) so he also knows the balance of school and basketball and life. Bottom line, I think Pat has a story that we can relate to although most of us probably know him as the menacing guy that lit up everyone in the early 80s but needed Akeem & Jordan to move on before he got his title. But key here, is that he’s a guy that desperately wants a head coaching job (he wants it in the NBA but if we could just convince him to drive 82 miles north ….). He’s put in the time and the years with nine logged as a standout assistant coach (now associate head coach) and I have personally watched as he’s transformed a couple of big men into more than the sum of their parts (something that Jerry Sloan, Doc Rivers and Kevin McHale had not been able to pull out of Al Jefferson for example). Pat also has the gravitas that his former college coach had, and I think that could work for him in the coaching box as well as the recruiting trail. He’s a 52 year old head coach in waiting. I know the Bobcats/Hornets will lose him very soon to a head coaching position, and I’d so love it if Wake were the sweepstakes winner. Perhaps Muggsy can be the coach whisperer for me over at Time Warner Cable arena and help nudge Pat up I-85 (and over to 52 and then 40 Business and .... you get the gist).