This is the first of four articles that Blogger So Dear will have exploring the candidates who could be the next Wake Forest head basketball coach. I solicited names from Twitter, friends, family, co-workers, and pretty much all other corners of the internet to compile a list of 23 coaches who are at least within the realm of possibility for our next hire.
The tiers are as follow:
- The Home Run Tier
- The Wes Miller Tier
- The Mid-Major Tier
- The Red Flag Tier
Most of these are self-explanatory titles, as they encapsulate most of the candidates who fall within it. This article will focus on the Home Run Tier (but Unlikely) of candidates.
This is a list of candidates who, if Wake Forest were to land, would be absolutely fantastic. While no coaching hire is without risk, these guys have proven to be excellent coaches at the mid-major level and have gotten a chance to show what they have at the high-major level, usually to good success there too.
The odds of landing one of these guys ranges from “unlikely” to “astronomically long odds”. I know that a lot of people who read jump past this disclaimer and just comment with “WHY ARE THESE GUYS EVEN ON THEIR LIST, THEY WILL NEVER GO TO WAKE”, so I want to reiterate that these are long odds, but still, in my mind, within the realm of possibly coming here if everything fell just right.
If one of these coaches wants to come to Winston-Salem then Ron Wellman should do almost everything in his power to get them here. I will note that with the final two coaches there are some hesitations in my mind with how they would do at Wake, as well as whether or not their styles would fit in Winston. I will go into depth under their name.
Home Run Tier
|Name||School||Age||Overall Record||NCAAT Appearances||Year as HC||14-'16 KP Average||17-'19 KP Average||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019|
|Name||School||Age||Overall Record||NCAAT Appearances||Year as HC||14-'16 KP Average||17-'19 KP Average||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019|
|Greg Marshall||Wichita State||55||487-187||14||21||11||52||6||13||13||8||21||128|
Without further ado, here is the list:
Steve Wojciehowski (Marquette)
In my mind, Wojo would be one of the best candidates for Wake Forest to hire. He is currently the coach of Marquette, where he has compiled a 92-63 record so far, but with just one NCAA Tournament appearance. He will make his second appearance this year, as the Golden Eagles currently sit at 19-4, and 30th in KenPom.
There is a lot to like about Wojo, as he checks nearly all of the boxes that we are looking for. He’s young, shown he can win at a high level, proves that he can run a program the way he wants to and do it successfully, and also has ties to the ACC and NC since he played under Coach K at Duke. Normally I would say that playing at Duke would be disqualifying, but let’s be honest, beggars can’t be choosers at this point.
He plays up-tempo, guard oriented basketball, and has recruited one of the best players in the nation in junior Markus Howard. While his defensive numbers are a bit concerning, it is clear that he knows how to get the ball in the basket on the offensive end, and values shooting the 3-ball, which could be an excellent equalizer for the Deacs.
The big question is whether or not he would want to come here. I have slight optimism because of his ties to North Carolina and the ACC, but there are a lot of reasons he probably wouldn’t want to as well. It’s easier to win at Marquette and the Big East. He’s already rebuilt the program the way he wants to run it, and he knows the the Marquette admin will pay him a lot of money based on what they gave Buzz Williams ($3M a year). Marquette is the marquee sport at the school and they love their basketball in Wisconsin.
Also, Marquette very well may be a better job right now than Wake Forest on a national level. If he views it that way, or even similarly, then it will be hard that we could get him down here.
My guess is he is probably waiting for the Duke job to open up, where he would be an excellent candidate. Unless his desire to move to the ACC and coach on Tobacco Road overshadows all these other inspirations I believe he will stay at Marquette for the foreseeable future.
Shaka Smart (Texas)
Good old Shaka Smart. We have been down this road before with him, as he was a hot topic name when we ultimately hired Danny Manning back in 2015. There are a ton of things to love about Smart - his age, his enthusiasm, his fun style of basketball, and mostly his charisma in the coaching profession that endears fans to his teams.
Smart is 226-116 in his coaching career, but just 63-60 at Texas. The ability to hire Smart would be 100% dependent on whether or not he is the head coach of Texas after this year because it’s not realistic to think that we will poach him away. I had a string of tweets on this last night, but the 63-60 record is a bit of a misnomer because he plays in the toughest league in the nation (Big 12), and has played a top ten strength of schedule each year in Austin.
Yet, looking beyond the records, he has done pretty well in KenPom ranking with the Longhorns each year and that indicates that he is building a strong program down there. Whether or not the boosters care enough down there about basketball to invest in him and wait it out is another question altogether. He too has a $10M+ buyout it appears, but money is of absolutely no concern to Texas.
If he were to be fired then Wellman should absolutely reach out to him and see if he has interest in coming to Winston-Salem. There was a lot of discussion that we talked to him a good bit last go-around, so it will be interesting to see if anything comes of that should he be available.
My guess is that he will stay with Texas though, as next year should be a pretty good one. They lose Kerwin Roach and Dylan Osetkowski, but return everybody else, and may have one of the best kept freshman secrets in Jaxson Hayes to replace Osetkowski inside. If the Texas admin is smart they will keep him.
Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)
Gregg Marshall is another name that we heard discussed a few years ago when we were looking to hire somebody Post-Bzdelik. Marshall is 487-187 in his coaching career and has done all of this at Winthrop and Wichita State. This year has been rough for Marshall, as the Shockers are just 11-11 following the departure of an extremely talented senior class.
He took Wichita State to the Final Four in 2013, and has made 14 NCAA Tournament appearances in 21 seasons, which is pretty impressive considering the Big South was a one-bid league for most his tenure at Winthrop. He has twelve 20-win seasons under his belt and has failed to win under 10 conference games just twice in his coaching career.
Marshall is a great offensive and defensive coach and I would say his strongest attribute is adapting to the personnel of his roster to get the best sum of its parts.
There are a lot of reports out there that he can be abrasive and, to put it bluntly, can be an asshole. I don’t know how that has rubbed the alumni and fans of Winthrop and Wichita State, but when you win at the clip that he does it’s usually not an issue.
What IS an issue is his current contract with Wichita State, as he makes over $3M a year and is one of the highest paid coaches in America. Money at Wake is already something worth worrying about depending on the contract details of the Manning buyout, so that could be a major impediment in this discussion.
Additionally, there are likely schools in better situations right now who might look to employ Marshall’s services, so we will not be the only school calling him. All in all I don’t think he’s completely out of the picture, but given the financial situation it is a long shot.
Thad Matta (Not Coaching)
In my opinion, Matta is the wildcard of this group, and maybe the entire Wake Forest coaching search. Depending on who you ask he was either fired or stepped down from Ohio State (due to health reasons) after the 2017 basketball season and remains unemployed in the coaching industry at this point. He is the most accomplished coach on this entire coaching board, boasting 2 Final Four appearances (2007, 2012), 13 NCAA Tournament appearances in 17 seasons, and and a 439-154 record in his collegiate coaching career with Butler, Xavier, and Ohio State.
At age 51 he still has a lot of years of coaching ahead of him, and as he stated in an interview last year, he would get back into it if the job was the right fit:
“If it’s the right situation for not only me, but my family, something I’d be dying to get to, I think that would be what would pull me back into it,” Matta said.
This article also noted that he interviewed with Pitt, Ole Miss, and Georgia last off-season, but turned them all down. Given his background with Butler and Xavier it isn’t unreasonable to think that perhaps he would like to go back to a smaller, private type school and compete against the big boys.
Another quote from that article:
“The situations I was involved with this spring just weren’t right,” Matta said. “The timing wasn’t right, I don’t think. From where my family is and that sort of thing. It’s probably the first time I never made a selfish decision, which I’m proud of. For the most part, if the right thing would come along, maybe I’d look at it. But we’ll see what the future holds.”
To me this sounds like he would definitely be willing to step back into things, and maybe Wake Forest is the fit that he is looking for.
I think it’s a long shot though still, and this is where I struggle to see where Wake Forest stands from a national perception. Does Matta think Wake is a good job?
He doesn’t have any ties to the area other than being an assistant at Western Carolina for a year in the mid-90’s, and he’s definitely a mid-western guy at his core, with most of his coaching and life revolving around Indiana and Ohio hoops.
One thing is for sure - if he has an interest at all in Wake Forest then we should get him on the phone immediately and try to work something out. He’s got a track record that would make him one of the best hires in school history right off the bat and he knows how to win at the high-major level.
Nate Oats (Buffalo)
Now we get down to two of the hottest names on the coaching carousel this off-season. We will start with Nate Oats of Buffalo. Oats took over for Bobby Hurley in Buffalo after Hurley took the Arizona State job in 2016. In four seasons he has built the Bulls into a top 25 nationally ranked team, and they currently sit 24th in KenPom as well.
As a 13 seed last year he led his squad to an absolute beatdown of 4 seed Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Kentucky in the Round of 32.
Overall he is 83-42 in 3.5 seasons with Buffalo and has reached two NCAA Tournaments in three years, with another one likely on the way this season. He plays an up-tempo style of basketball and has improved the offense and defense by a lot in the past two seasons. His teams force a lot of turnovers and look to get out at run at every chance.
The timing seems right for Oats to seek the next step in his career after this season due to the shape that his roster will be in once the season is over. The team is senior-laden, with five out of the top six players on his roster set to graduate.
Diving a bit deeper into how Oats has been successful paints a picture of something that may not work at Wake Forest. The Buffalo roster is full of players who have transferred in from junior colleges or community colleges. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this at all, but Wake Forest does not usually admit transfers from these schools unless they would have qualified directly out of high school.
Since he constructs his roster through a lot of different avenues, it would be a risk to see if he could translate this success at Wake Forest while relying primarily on high-level recruiting and the occasional transfer/grad transfer.
Due to the fact that there are a lot of other schools in the country who do not have the same requirements and restrictions on JC and CC transfers, I do not think the folks making the hire will believe this is the best fit. I would love to have him here, but from a realistic standpoint it is likely that he will wind up somewhere else that meshes with how he runs things.
Eric Musselman (Nevada)
Last but certainly not least in the “Home Run Tier” is Eric Musselman of the Nevada Wolf Pack. In four years at Nevada he has turned the team from a doormat in the Mountain West into a legitimate national title contender this season. He is a ridiculous 103-30 in Reno in four seasons, and has made three NCAA Tournaments in three seasons. He currently has the Pack at 20th in KenPom and this will be the 3rd straight season that he will finish with them in the top 25.
He is an offensive-minded coach, relying on freakishly athletic players at the 1-5 to cause havoc all over the court and run as much as possible. Nevada has led the nation the past two years in turnovers forced (percentage-wise), which leads to a ton of easy baskets and up-tempo play.
At 54 years old he has a different background than most collegiate coaches in the sense that he primarily coached in the NBA before switching over to the college level. He was the head coach of the Golden State Warriors from 2002-04 and also for the Sacramento Kings in 2006-2007.
Based on his background it makes sense as to how and why he constructs the rosters that he does - primarily through transfers. Right now, of the nine players getting playing time on his roster, eight of them are transfers and the other is a freshman. There is nothing wrong with this, but as with Oats, I have to wonder how that would translate to the ACC and whether or not the “powers that be” at Wake want a coach who constructs rosters in this fashion.
The restrictions that Wake has for student-athletes seem to not be something that Musselman would want to deal with. Most of his key players (Martin twins, Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter, and possibly junior Jazz Johnson) will be gone after this season to graduation/NBA, but ultimately I think he will wind up at a big public school as opposed to a school like Wake Forest.
We should definitely reach out to him and see what his interest level is at Wake Forest, but I think both sides would be a bit wary of the other, and quite frankly Musselman can probably do better than Wake Forest right now. Once again, like Oats, I would love to have him too, but not sure how it would work out on either side.
My conclusion on the home run tier within itself is that it is comprised of both long shots, and guys who, while are excellent coaches in their current situation, likely would not thrive in Winston-Salem.
All things considered I think Wojo would be an absolutely fantastic hire, and is my number one choice overall, but I just don’t think that he would leave his current situation in Marquette to come down here.
Shaka and Marshall have already talked with Wellman in the past and it didn’t work out back then, so why would it now? Some circumstances have changed, but it’s still the same job that it was back in 2015.
Oats and Musselman are really, really good at their job, but their coaching and recruiting styles do not, on surface level, seem to translate to Wake Forest’s style of academics and athletics.
Once again, the big wild card is Thad Matta, and while I don’t think it’s extremely realistic to think of him as a serious candidate, he is definitely somebody who feelers should be sent to as a gauge of his interest in Wake Forest.
If we landed any of the guys on this list then I would be ecstatic, but would have more caution and worry about how Oats and Musselman would do with more restrictions on recruiting.