Still plenty of possibilities for Gophers in search for hoops coach
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As Tubby Smith settles into his new digs down in Lubbock, Texas, the mission to replace him continues for the University of Minnesota, nine days into the search for a new basketball coach.
While rejection and/or disinterest from many high-profile coaches around the country is understandable, the one that leaves the most questions is Flip Saunders.
The university has been silent on the matter -- and on all coaching search matters -- since Saunders withdrew his name from consideration over the weekend.
But according to a source close to the search, one of the main hang-ups between Saunders and the University came when athletic director Norwood Teague told Saunders to choose from a list of several assistant coaches from the Villa 7 coaching program, which Teague and senior associate AD Mike Ellis helped oversee at VCU.
It's unknown where Saunders ranked on the university's original list of candidates to replace Tubby, but Saunders is said to have been very interested from the start. Conversations between the two sides were so productive last week that people behind the scenes were preparing for an introductory press conference to take place on Monday.
Saunders told people behind the scenes he believes, if hired, he could help raise a lot of money for a new practice facility -- upwards of $15-20 million -- before next basketball season.
It's unknown if either side has left the door open.
On one hand, it's understandable why Teague and Ellis would want to provide knowledgeable college assistants for a coach, Saunders, who has spent the last two decades in the NBA. Saunders, while experienced with Xs and Os, would face challenges in recruiting and zone defenses that don't exist in the NBA.
On the other hand, it also seems unreasonable to dictate a list of assistants to an established, veteran coach of 30-plus years.
Decision this week?
In what can no longer be considered an April Fool's Day joke, a "U" booster said on Tuesday that he's been told to expect a basketball coach hiring before the week is over.
Contact with numerous sources over the last few days leads us here on the remaining possibilities:
• Nebraska coach Tim Miles: Interest could never leak until a contract was signed because of the damage that would be done in Lincoln. But two trusted sources said on Tuesday the "U" has not reached out. One of the sources said Miles has thought in the past about coaching the Gophers.
• Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall: Not that he would take the job if even offered, but a source said he has not been called. It's not uncommon for a coach still in-season to be contacted through back channels.
• Baylor coach Scott Drew: The sense from multiple people is he has interest. But nobody has said that he's been contacted. Baylor's still alive in the NIT, playing BYU Tuesday night in the semifinals.
• Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew: A source said Tuesday afternoon there's been a phone call from Minnesota. The exact level of interest from Teague and Ellis is unknown, though.
• Akron coach Keith Dambrot: While a case could be made he's deserving of an upper-echelon conference job, a source said Tuesday that he has not been called. Word is he has a good relationship with Teague and Ellis. He's the reigning MAC Coach of the Year and has won 22 or more games eight years in a row.
• Former UCLA coach Ben Howland: His agent, Jordan Bazant, also represents Gophers football coach Jerry Kill. In other words, there's a built-in relationship with Teague. According to one source, it has been known that Howland has interest.
• Marquette coach Buzz Williams: There's been no buzz. But since he's the name du jour, we feel compelled to list him.
• Villanova coach Jay Wright: On the day Smith was fired, a source close to Wright said there was no way he'd come to Minnesota. Attempts to reach that source for an update have failed.
• Syracuse associate coach Mike Hopkins: He knows Ellis through Villa 7. It's not known if the two have talked about the Gophers job.
• Michigan State associate head coach Dwayne Stephens: He, like Hopkins, knows Ellis well through Villa 7. His boss, Tom Izzo, said on Tuesday that Stephens is involved in an unnamed coaching search.
• Rockets assistant coach/former Gophers player J.B. Bickerstaff: Those close to him are convinced he'd take the job. But there's been no contact as of Monday night.
It's worth noting Teague sought out Bickerstaff's boss, Rockets coach Kevin McHale, for advice on the search. A source said Bickerstaff's name came up at least a little.
Iowa state coach Fred Hoiberg is said to have been impressed after he walked away from meeting Teague.
Andy Enfield, who jumped from Florida Gulf Coast University to USC, got a call but never formally interviewed.
Two sources in Richmond said VCU coach Shaka Smart's best administrative relationship isn't with Teague or Ellis. It's with his current athletic director, Ed McLaughlin.
All of which leaves the Gophers here, search ongoing.