By John Shinn
NORMAN — Arizona is interested in making Jeff Capel its next head coach. But early reports Capel is already in negations to leave Oklahoma appear to be erroneous.
Wednesday afternoon the East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune reported on its Web site Capel had already begun talks to become the Wildcats' next head coach. Citing an anonymous source, the paper said Capel's hiring could be announced within "the next couple days."
Wednesday afternoon, a source close to the Sooner basketball program who would only speak on the condition of anonymity said Capel has had no contact with Arizona as of Wednesday afternoon.
Capel was at the OU basketball offices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning. He boarded a plane for Detroit in the afternoon where he will attend several banquets in conjunction with OU forward Blake Griffin receiving national player of the year awards and the Final Four in the next few days.
Arizona got in the market for a coach a week ago. Longtime coach Lute Olson resigned prior to the season and Russ Pennell served as interim head coach this season. The Wildcats, who went to four Finals Fours (1988, '94, '97, 2001) and won the 1997 national championship under Olson, decided Pennell wouldn't return after they went 21-14.
According to the report, Arizona first made overtures to John Calipari, who left Memphis to go to Kentucky today, and to Gonzaga coach Mark Few about the job. Both coaches rebuffed the offers.
Capel, who just completed his third season at OU, guided the Sooners to a 30-6 record and an Elite Eight appearance this season. The Sooners also reached the NCAA tournament in 2007-08 before losing in the second round.
Messages left for Capel and OU athletic director Joe Castiglione were not immediately returned.
This isn't the first time Capel has been a player on the coaching carousel. Last year, South Carolina made it known it would like to lure him away.
Rumors flew last week that Virginia and Georgia wanted to reel the 34-year-old coach away from Norman, too. Capel didn't do much to quell those rumors.
"Write what you want. I don't care," he said Sunday following the Sooners' loss to North Carolina. "My name has been mentioned every year I've been a head coach. I'm not getting into that. I can't do anything about who writes my name or who mentions it in certain things. I just concentrate on what I do."
Virginia hired Tony Bennett away from Washington State Monday. Georgia is still in the market. So is Memphis.
All, seemingly, are willing to pay big for coaches despite the recession.
Capel, who signed a six-year deal following last season that pays him $1.05 million annually plus bonuses, also has a $600,000 stay bonus that is payable at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season.