By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Coaching searches rarely go as planned. Slam dunks are rare, and finding the right person can be tougher than working out of a trap in the corner.
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione is about to embark on his second search for a men’s basketball coach since 2006, since deciding to fire Jeff Capel earlier this week.
One difference between the search that brought Capel to Norman five years ago and the one currently underway is OU appears to have identified an early target.
Two sources close to the OU basketball program, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Transcript that Marquette coach Buzz Williams tops the Sooners’ wish list.
“He is the guy,” one source said.
Williams has remained mum about his potential for leaving Marquette. The Golden Eagles face Syracuse in the third round of the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional at 6:45 p.m. today.
“I don’t read that stuff. I know that it’s going on,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this week. “This is not to dodge any question; I think that I am the most accessible and honest coach that there is, and that’s what I want to be about. But I do think that it’s unfair for me to make it about me relative to all the work that we have done and that our kids have done. I would rather the attention be on them.
“I think that’s the way that it should be. And I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to answer a question, but I do think that it’s always right to make sure that the players are first. Considering that it was probably perceived that I couldn’t coach six weeks ago, nobody ever asked me, ‘Can you coach?’ So now, somebody on the Internet says I can coach, now everybody wants to say, ‘Well, where are you going to coach?’”
It’s not the way Williams coaches that’s made him the initial candidate on OU’s list. It’s where he has coached before and what he’s done to keep Marquette at an NCAA Tournament- level while playing in the ultra competitive Big East Conference that makes him attractive.
Williams is a graduate of Oklahoma City University, and the Van Alystyne, Texas, native spent six seasons as an assistant coach at Texas-Arlington (1994-98), Texas A&M-Kingsville (1998-99) and Texas A&M (2004-06). Those seasons as an Aggie assistant were as Billy Gillispie’s recruiting coordinator and helped revive basketball there.
Those Texas roots have remained fluid since Williams, 38, became Marquette’s head coach in 2008. Four of his players are from the Lone Star State. Two of the three assistants on Williams’ staff (Tony Benford and Scott Monarch) have Texas ties.
It is that kind of link to Texas high school coaches and AAU coaches that OU desperately needs.
Capel didn’t get fired because he couldn’t coach. If it were simply a matter of coming up with a game plan and executing it, OU wouldn’t be involved in this process. Consistently bringing in high-quality players is the key.
Programs like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas or Kentucky can land players from all over the country. Get recruits on campus, let them gaze at the national championship banners, the Final Four banners and the jam-packed arenas with diehard fans. The sell is easy.
Just about everyone else needs a recruiting pipeline to have sustained success. It helps to be located in a state that consistently produces a surplus of high level prep players.
Oklahoma doesn’t have that.
The state’s had one prep player in the Rivals.com top 150 the last two years. Last year, there were none. This year, Edmond Santa Fe guard Josh Richardson is currently No. 121. That’s it.
Two years ago, Oklahoma City natives Xavier Henry and Daniel Orton were both top 25 recruits. Henry opted for Kansas and Orton chose Kentucky. Both turned pro after just one season of college basketball. Seasons can be built around one-and-done players. Most programs cannot.
Texas provides the fertile recruiting area OU must tap into. Williams has the talent and experience sustain a program from that area. If a guy can consistently recruit Texas players to a Jesuit school in Milwaukee, OU should be much easier sell.
But OU’s interest doesn’t make landing Williams a slam dunk.
One road block could be money. Marquette is a private school. Therefore coaches’ salaries are not a matter of public record. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Williams’ current contract to be for six seasons and pay him $1.5 million per year. Coaches rarely make a move without a securing a pay raise of less than 30 percent unless they feel their seat is getting too hot.
Williams is also believed to be in the mix for the Arkansas job and Marquette is also likely to fight to keep him. His price could also rise with every NCAA Tournament win. He has a lot of leverage. OU also had to pay over $2 million to buy out Capel.
Castiglione didn’t mention any specifics about money when he spoke to reporters this week.
“We’re mindful of our business model, we’re mindful of the market place, we’re mindful of what it may take and we’ll determine the best course of action in investing in our program’s future,” he said.
Williams best fits OU’s needs. It’s up to Castiglione to see if he can make it work.
John Shinn 366-3536 firstname.lastname@example.org