The Rutgers men's basketball team is currently 6-18 overall and 0-11 in the Big Ten, including a current 26 game conference losing streak. Their current KenPom rating is 282. It's year three for Eddie Jordan and things are only getting worse as his coaching tenure at Rutgers continues. I wrote the case against Eddie last month. Dave White wrote a letter to athletic director Patrick Hobbs last weekend, which was a passionate plea for him to fix basketball. Let's hope he received Dave's letter! If Rutgers goes winless in conference play, does Hobbs really want to be the guy to give Eddie a raise and contract extension? More importantly, does Hobbs want to give Eddie a raise and contract extension, regardless of whether the team goes 2-16 or 0-18. We don't know that answer, but we will soon find out once the season is over.
Let's assume Hobbs is considering replacing Jordan as head coach of the program. Put the facilities argument down for a minute, and the idea that no coach can succeed at Rutgers without them, and let's focus on basketball. Because the lack of facilities is not the reason for embarrassingly bad basketball, non-existent defense, and players who don't ever fully develop. While Hobbs works on facilities to put the basketball program in a better position in the long term, it's time for him to bring in a good college basketball coach to cure the hopelessness on the court in the short term. And in an effort to help, Hobbs can save some money on a search firm like he used for finding a football coach by reading this article.
Here is a list of potential candidates that Hobbs should consider, most likely would reach out to, and specific reasons why some of them would be a good candidate for the Rutgers job. I've done my share of critiquing and complaining this season. I have talked to several die hard and long time supporters of the program, including old friend Richard Kent and our own Dave White. Here are ideas for a solution: a coach to turn this program around.
Amaker coached at Seton Hall from 1997-2001, so there is little doubt his name would be on the mind of Hobbs when conducting a search. While he only took the Hall to the NCAA tournament once and never took Michigan once, he did go a combined 176-139 and won a NIT title over Rutgers in 2004. He has flourished at Harvard, leading them to five Ivy league titles and four NCAA wins in his nine year tenure. It would be difficult to pry Amaker away from Cambridge, as his wife is a faculty member at Harvard Medical School as well. Perhaps the only job that would get Amaker to leave would be replacing Coach K at Duke. I would think landing him would be a longshot, regardless of whatever relationship he has with Hobbs. Maybe a key spot at the Medical school for his wife and a long term contract offer would be something Amaker would consider? We can only hope.
Sendek is 52 years old and currently out of work, after being fired by Arizona State after last season. However, he has coached for 22 seasons and only had a losing record four times, posting a combined record of 413-295. He has made 8 NCAA tournament appearances, winning 7 times during March Madness. He has two top 20 finishes in his career, one each at both NC State and Arizona State. Sendek would bring instant credibility to the program and is highly intelligent, having graduated with honors from Carnegie Mellon. He is a pupil of Rick Pitino, where he served as an assistant at Kentucky before leaving to get his first head coaching job at Miami (OH) at age 30. To put things in perspective, he was fired by Arizona State despite making the NIT last season. He is a proven winner and would seemingly be a home run hire by Hobbs. Of course, we don’t know what Rutgers could afford to pay Sendek, but you would have to imagine he would listen to any offer and an opportunity to coach in a power conference again.
Greenberg is 59 and has been a college basketball analyst with ESPN for the past four years after being fired from Virginia Tech after the 2011-2012 season. Greenberg had just 3 losing seasons in 22 years as a head coach between stops at Long Beach State, South Florida, and Virginia Tech. He compiled a 383-293 record at schools that are not traditionally strong basketball schools. At Tech, he proved he could win at a football school with far less support for the basketball program. Tech more or less plays in a glorified high school gym, let alone flashy practice facilities. The knock on Greenberg was that he only made the NCAA’s once at Tech, but did take them to 5 NIT’s and was 47-21 in the two seasons before going 16-17, leading to his dismissal. Virginia Tech has gone 33-63 the past three seasons before having a record of 13-12 this season with their second head coach since Greenberg. They had losing seasons in six of seven before Greenberg arrived. He has experience with transitioning leagues, doing so with Tech moving from the Big East to the ACC. The guy is from NYC and knows how to win in difficult situations. He played at FDU and JFK high school in New York City. He was an assistant coach under Terry Holland at Virginia and arguably the best Rutgers coach ever, Bill Foster, at the University of Miami. Greenberg is battle tested. He led an undermanned team to three wins over Duke during his tenure, each time they were ranked in the top #7 in the country. He would bring a swagger back to Rutgers and would likely put everything into his last run as a head coach.
Wright was once a major target of Rutgers when he was at Hofstra, but he went to Villanova and Rutgers hired Gary Waters instead. It is still painful to think about what might have been. Rutgers athletic director Robert Mulcahy at the time was in talks with Wright back in 2001. Word was it was moving forward and then Villanova coach Steve Lappas suddenly resigned. Nova was Wright's dream job, being from the area and his wife is an alum there, and the rest is history. Fast forward to today and he is anchoring the #1 team in the country. He will face pressure to make noise in the NCAA’s after many early exits. If another one occurs this March, would he be open to a change back to his New York roots? Probably zero chance so let's move on.
Highly Successful Mid-Major Coaches
Miller was a three-point specialist at NC State from 1998-2002 and served as an assistant coach there, at Ohio State under Thad Matta and for his brother, Sean, at Arizona. In 2011 he became the head coach at Dayton and has compiled a 104-50 record in five seasons there. In 2013-2014, he was the tournament darling, taking Dayton to the Elite Eight. Currently he has the Flyers at 19-3 after averaging 27 wins the past two seasons. He signed an extension at Dayton and the odds of him staying until a top program has an opening is very likely.
Lonergan is from the Washington DC area, played at Division III Catholic University and was the head coach there for 12 seasons, posting a record of 251-88. After working as an assistant under Gary Williams at Maryland for one season, he became the head coach at Vermont for six seasons, going 126-68 and making 4 postseason appearances, including 1 NCAA tournament bid. He has been at George Washington for the past five seasons and is 87-65 in his tenure. This season may turn out to be his best, as he has them currently at 18-5. He has had great success recruiting internationally and in the DC area. They are looking at their third straight 20 win season and postseason appearance, and Lonergan has won three coach of the year awards. At 50, Lonergan is most likely ready to jump at the opportunity to coach a power 5 team. A point of note, he interviewed for the Seton Hall job with Hobbs when he was at Vermont. Though the job went to Kevin Willard, Hobbs would certainly reflect back on that moment when considering candidates for the Rutgers job. Lonergan's resume since that job interview clearly speaks for itself.
Brown has been the Albany head coach for the past 15 seasons, where he has won 20+ games four times and has made the NCAA’s three years in a row. They are 16-6 currently this season. He has built the program from the ground up, inheriting a desolate team which struggled his first four seasons, all losing ones. However, since the 2005-2006 season, Brown has led the Great Danes to a 199-148 record and five NCAA appearances. He is only 44, has a strong social media presence, is great with fans and supporters, and would seem to be the type of ambassador that Hobbs is looking for in representing Rutgers. He has been a tireless recruiter with a history of developing players above their star ratings. What's not to like?
Jones is from Long Island, and has some similarity to Brown. Jones actually played at Albany in the eighties, was an assistant there in the nineties, before sticking at Yale and has been the head coach there since 1999. He has the highest winning percentage in school history at .571 and has the most wins in program history. He was the Ivy coach of the year last season, tying Harvard for the league title.
He has led Yale to a 4th place finish or better for the past 15 seasons, no small achievement. They are currently 15-5, undefeated in the Ivy, and a heavy favorite to make the NCAA’s. He is a class act and is just 51 years of age.
There is no understating the importance of the impact the Hurley family has had on New Jersey high school basketball with hall of fame coach Bob Sr. His son Danny was targeted three years ago but negotiations fell through and he stayed at Rhode Island. He has the Atlantic 10 program on the rise and led them to a 23-10 record and NIT appearance last season. They are just 14-10 this season and fighting their way in probably the most underrated conference in the country. There is no doubt Hurley returning to Rutgers, after being an assistant during the Kevin Bannon era, would be a major boon for recruiting. He could walk into any gym in the tri-state area and bring instant credibility to the Rutgers program. The big question is has that ship sailed and would Hurley even consider the opportunity this time around? I am not sure if Hobbs knows Danny personally, as there was some crossover from their respective Seton Hall days. Either way, you have to imagine Hobbs has to make that initial phone call. There is no telling where it would go from there.
The 50 year old native of West Orange, New Jersey is a sleeper candidate in my opinion. He was an 1000 point scorer at St. Benedict’s prep in the early eighties and a two year starter and captain at George Washington. After becoming the head coach at East Carolina at just 29 years old, he compiled a 4 year record of 57-52 at a traditionally bad basketball school. After a couple quick stints as an assistant at Wyoming and New Mexico, Dooley turned out to be a longtime Kansas assistant under Bill Self from 2003-2013. He was a part of the 2007-2008 national championship team. Dooley ended up landing his second head coaching gig at Florida Gulf Coast, taking over for March Madness sensation Andy Enfield once he capitalized on that miracle run and went to USC. He has had back to back 20 win seasons at FGCU and has gone to the postseason both times, despite not making it back to the NCAA’s. I think Dooley is definitely worth consideration based on his jersey roots and Kansas connection.
A little bit of an out of the box candidate here. His run at Memphis has been successful to a point. He hasn’t been able to replicate John Calipari’s success in March and the fanbase is getting restless. However, he is a tremendous recruiter and already has 160 wins in just his seventh season as a head coach. He is just 38 years old. After four NCAA tournament appearances and 25 wins or more in four of his first five seasons, things are trending backwards. He was just 18-14 last season and sits at 13-8 this season. However, his talent and recruiting background is intriguing. One issue is his salary, as he makes a whopping 2.65 million this season.
The former Duke guard and longtime assistant got his first head coaching job at Marquette last season. After a transitional 13-19 season, he has the Golden Eagles trending back up with a 15-9 record this season. He is just 39 years old and can relate to recruits, while also having the allure of spawning from the Coach K coaching tree. A less established but known name could be an interesting fit if Hobbs were to pursue him.
Local College Pool
Rice has made a name for himself already this season, with the potential for his profile to blow up come March, depending on the success of his Monmouth team in the NCAA tournament. The former point guard at North Carolina earned his coaching stripes as an assistant in the Pac-10 at Oregon State, the Big East with Providence, and the SEC with Vanderbilt. After going 33-62 in his first three seasons as the head coach at Monmouth, he has broken out in his fifth season. Last year the Hawks finished 18-15 and are off to a 20-5 start this season, including wins over UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and Georgetown. While Rice has indicated he wants to stay at Monmouth, he will definitely be an attractive target for AD’s looking for a new coach this offseason.
Engles is a career grinder, having worked his way up as an assistant at Wagner, Rider, and Columbia. The Staten Island native took over a moribund program in NJIT in 2008, where he promptly went 1-30 in his first season but broke a Division I record 51 game losing streak that he inherited. However, in the six seasons since he went 91-94, including a breakout campaign last season, finishing with a 21-12 record and a postseason appearance in the CIT, the first ever for the school. That season landed NJIT in the American Sun conference, after being an independent for six seasons. It also helped birth plans for new facilities for the program. He is a local coach who is familiar to garden state recruiting circles and a tireless worker. He knows exactly what it takes to build a program from the bottom up. Engles scheduled the season opener this year at Kentucky, while also playing Providence and St. John’s. A sharp contrast to our current coach who refuses to play Princeton and now Monmouth. He is on his way to back to back winning seasons as the Highlanders sit at 14-11 this season.
The longtime Stony Brook coach played at UCONN in the late eighties when Jim Calhoun was just starting to get the program rolling. He played point guard and was a two-time captain on teams that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. Pikiell was an assistant coach under Calhoun, then Yale, Central Connecticut State and George Washington, before landing as the head coach at Stony Brook in 2005. With a win Monday over Hartford, he has now led the Seawolves to 20 or more wins in six of the past seven seasons and sits at 20-4 this season. They are also headed to their sixth postseason appearance in seven years and are favorites to win the America East conference and advance to the NCAA’s. At 48, he is primed to take the next step up the coaching ladder and is well respected among his peers.
He played at LaSalle in the nineties and was a team captain his senior year under coach Speedy Morris. Neubauer was an assistant coach for 10 years combined at Richmond and West Virginia, before becoming the head coach at Eastern Kentucky. Neubauer led them to 5 postseason appearances in 10 seasons, including 2 NCAA’s, and had a record of 188-134. He took over a Fordham team this year that has had eight straight losing seasons and an average win total of less than 8 per season during that stretch. He has coached them to 12-9 this season and in 10th place out of 14 teams in the rugged Atlantic 10 conference. He led Fordham to a 16 point victory over St. John’s in early December. While it is only his first season at Fordham, Neubauer has helped the program make immediate strides. His wife is from Hackettstown, New Jersey so perhaps a move to the state university would be intriguing for him. That would be a quick jump though, from Eastern Kentucky to Fordham to Rutgers in two years. Regardless, he is a quality coach.
The White Plains native and former Kentucky walk-on is an interesting case. He was considered a rising star in the profession after working as an assistant at Louisville under his former coach Rick Pitino. Known as a top recruiter under Pitino, Masiello returned to Manhattan, where he was previously an assistant, and became their head coach in 2011 at just 33 years old. After two 20+ win seasons and an NCAA appearance in his first three seasons as coach, Masiello took the head job at South Florida. However, it was discovered Masiello never actually graduated from Kentucky. The offer was rescinded and Manhattan placed him on leave until he completed his degree. He did shortly after and led the Jaspers to the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive season last year. In his fifth season this year, Manhattan has stumbled to a 9-12 record. It’s doubtful he would be given much consideration, but is a local coach of note that will be looking to make the next step at some point.
The Iona coach has won 20+ games in his first five seasons on the job and is currently 13-9 this season. He has made the postseason every year on the job, including two NCAA appearances. He replaced Kevin Willard in 2010, who was hired by Pat Hobbs to be the new coach at Seton Hall, and has made them a consistent winner. The Queens native was a prominent high school coach in Manhasset, New York and won multiple state championships in his 14 seasons there. He then jumped C.W. Post for five seasons before taking over Iona. He is 56 and lacking a power 5 background, but there is no denying Cluess has won everywhere he has coached.
Out of the Box
Wade is a bit of a basketball prodigy and got his start as team manager at Clemson while a student there. After becoming a graduate assistant there, he moved on to become an assistant coach for two prominent coaches, Tommy Amaker at Harvard and Shaka Smart at VCU. Wade was the first hire for both head coaches in their new positions and he worked for them for a combined six seasons. He was on Smart’s staff when they went to the Final Four in 2011. At age 30 in 2013, Wade became the head coach of Chattanooga, where he went 40-25 in two seasons, including one postseason appearance. When Smart left last year for Texas, Wade was hired to replace him at VCU. He has led them to a 17-6 record so far in his first season. Again, it’s not likely he would leave after his first season, but Hobbs seems like someone who does his due diligence and would look into a rising star like Wade.
Driscoll is a journeyman who was an assistant coach at the high school, junior college, and division II level before working at Wyoming, Clemson and Valpo for just 7 weeks before leaving with head coach Scott Drew to revive the program at Baylor. Driscoll was there under Drew for 6 seasons and is credited as a key player, specifically recruiting and player development, in helping Drew turnaround that program. Baylor was recovering from the murder of a player and the controversy surrounding it, along with NCAA sanctions. Driscoll got his head coaching shot at North Florida and is currently in his seventh season there. He inherited a program that averaged 5 wins a season in the four years prior to his arrival as a Division II school. He led them in their transition to Division I and Driscoll has averaged 17 wins per season and broke through with a 23-11 record and NCAA berth last season. They are off to an 18-8 start this season. North Florida leads the country in three-point attempts and makes this season and was in the top 10 last season. While it would take some time for Driscoll to recruit shooters to play in his system, the Big 10 is a league of three-point shooters and Driscoll’s style of play would fit right in.
The Final Six
Hobbs said during the search for the head coach of the football program, he worked off a list of finalists that were comprised of six names. So let's do the same with our hypothetical basketball coaching search. Of the list of twenty coaches detailed, who should Hobbs seriously target and who does he have a realistic shot to hire?
While Hurley and Amaker would jump right to the top of the list of candidates if they were truly interested, I’m skeptical that either would be. Amaker is in a great situation and Hurley knows probably better than any candidate how challenging the Rutgers job would be. After the last time negotiations fell through, he might have permanently turned the page on considering it again. Either would be a home run, no doubt, but I am not holding my breath expecting it to happen.
In terms of the final six, Herb Sendek and Seth Greenberg would have to be candidates Hobbs should seriously inquire about. Sendek is most definitely wanting to be a head coach again, and Greenberg is still young enough to have one more significant stop in his career. Both are proven winners at non-traditional basketball schools. Both have a deep network of coaches and contacts throughout the college and high school ranks. They have both made big money in their careers, but are unemployed as coaches and would have to consider a Big Ten job, even if the pay was less than they made before. They could be the face of the program and ambassador for the Rutgers athletic department as a whole, something that Hobbs has mentioned as important.
Mike Lonergan, Will Brown, Joe Dooley, Steve Pikiell, Jim Engles, and Matt Driscoll are all coaches that intrigue me. Mike Lonergan reminds me of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who recruits well internationally and coaches in a similar passionate but caring style, and a coach who made the successful jump from a smaller school in Siena to the Big Ten with Iowa. Their offenses have good passing big men and good shooters, as well as they play multiple defenses.
Will Brown seems ready for a big opportunity. He is a modern coach who consistently gets the most out of his players. He isn't a flashy candidate, but he would make recruiting locally a priority and would be a good ambassador for Hobbs and the program. Also, his past players rave about him and he has a great reputation as a teacher of the game. Also don't underestimate his social media presence and ability to connect with fans and recruits. That is something that football coach Chris Ash and his staff have emphasized and Hobbs certainly understands the benefit of that approach.
Joe Dooley is less proven as a head coach but is intriguing due to his New Jersey connections and decade long apprenticeship under Bill Self at Kansas, one of the top five coaches in college basketball. He doesn't have the program building experience of other candidates, but I think Hobbs should talk to him about his vision for the program. It's likely his goal is to coach at a power five program eventually, why wouldn't he be interested in coming home to Rutgers?
Steve Pikiell, Jim Engles, and Matt Driscoll all have solid experience building programs from the ground up. Engles is most likely to get a call from Hobbs out of the three, both for his workmanlike effort at NJIT and his local appeal. He has created a program from almost nothing, and made it leaps and bounds better than Rutgers. While Pikiell and Driscoll could be legitimate candidates in their own right, I think their current backgrounds could be harder sells perception wise. Fair or not, that is definitely a factor Hobbs must consider.
So that puts the final six at Sendek, Greenberg, Lonergan, Brown, Dooley, and Engles. Excited? Disappointed? Am I crazy to think any of them, let alone any coach with a sane mind would be interested in taking over the hopeless program that is Rutgers basketball? I do, because there is an opportunity at Rutgers that is unique. It's a power five program, in a talent rich state, close to the media capital of the world, with a basketball friendly and highly motivated athletic director. And I have news for you, more than just these six would be interested in the job.
Would a Jay Wright or Tommy Amaker or Archie Miller or Steve Wojciechowski or even a Danny Hurley be interested? We don't know and it's very possible they wouldn't be. However, there are a lot of quality college basketball coaches that would be. Of the six I mentioned, I would put Sendek, Greenberg, and Lonergan in the top three. Will Brown would be a close fourth.
Eddie Jordan is a good man and loyal son, but he is not a program builder, nor an experienced college basketball coach. All of these candidates are proven to be both. The facts on Jordan's performance the past three seasons are painfully obvious, and if you want to blame facilities or injuries on his failures, then so be it. Many people that have watched and followed this program for years know it's time for a change. Now the most important question is, does Pat Hobbs feel the same way?