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In Praise of the Tactician

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Everybody wants a recruiter.

They want the coach that will walk into a high school gym or AAU Tournament and make coaches and fans and handlers gasp in awe. They want the hype of the big time recruiting class, the excitement on ESPN, and a reason to follow the team in the summer time. The want the flash, the pizzazz, the character.

I don’t.

That’s me, I just have to be different. I want a tactician and a program builder. I want a head coach who can look at a kid and say, "This is your role and this is how we’re going to use you." I want the guy who can sit down with a clipboard and draw up the final play while the crowd is rocking, look his best player in the eye and say, "Go make the shot." And then I want his best player to believe him.

That’s not to say I want the next coach to be lost in a high school gym. No, not at all. The head coach in college basketball is the closer. But this coach has to be more than just a recruiter. McDonalds’ All Americans aren’t going to be knocking down the door of the Scarlet Knights. This guy has to be able to land the next level down and then build them up.

Last night, Adam Zagoria tweeted that Tim Cluess had risen to the top of the heap, and Rutgers was targeting him to be the next head coach of Rutgers basketball. Time will tell if that happens, and while I wouldn’t be in anti-Cluess camp, I think there are better coaches out there. At Rutgers, grinding the game out gets you wins. And, Tim Cluess’ defense often leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not Eddie Jordan bad, but his squad’s three point defense is ranked 240th in the nation. Jordan’s was ranked 304, so that’s actually quite the jump. But Cluess’ teams are built on talent and offense.

Talent is mega-important, yes. But good coaching can close the gap faster, and give kids hope so you can land those big players when the team is ready to explode on to the scene.

Mike Lonergan fits this bill, and hopefully the two sides are still talking, but it might not happen.

But, there are still names out there that would fit my mold that have seemingly fallen off the radar. While Pat Hobbs has stealthily gone about his work since Danny Hurley said no, three names haven’t appeared on the list that I still think would fit the mold of great coach. Not just a great recruiter.

Herb Sendek is out there, looking for a job. His name came up in a Sporting News profile that specifically mentioned Rutgers. Sendek can flat out coach. In 2014, the last time Sendek won 20 games with Arizona State, his team defense categories were almost all ranked in the top 100. And his offense is based off making three point shots. This is the kind of team that always wins in the RAC.

Mark Schmidt is still out there as well. His offensive production was ranked in the top 50 this year and his three point defense was 45th in the country. Schmidt is not landing top talent in Olean, New York, but the Atlantic 10 is basically the next step down from the Big Ten. A very good conference, and Schmidt is succeeding—left out of the NCAAs because… well, the Selection Committee gave into Jim Boeheim’s whining.

And finally there’s my wild card. A 39 year old who was briefly mentioned on a list by a national writer and then never heard from again. Zach Spiker, the Army coach. Spiker is the first coach to win 15 games in 4 straight seasons at Army in almost 100 years. This is the place that spit out Bob Knight and Coach K, and also Jim Crews—just fired by St. Louis. Spiker wouldn’t win the press conference, and would have all of us scratching our heads, but he would grind.

And, according to Aaron, even Kenny Payne has potential as the total package.

But what about talent, you ask. That’s what assistants are for. At Rutgers, you need the top recruiting assistants to get you in the door. Yes, the head coach has to be out there. He can’t be a nine to five guy worried only about his office and game day. But Rutgers should find a guy who is the total package and then spend money to find the top assistants to get him his guys.

Anything is going to be an upgrade over Eddie Jordan. Jordan’s teams were lost on the court, and recruiting was nose diving after the very solid 2015 class.

But the next coach should strive to be more than that. A good coach can keep you close and surprise teams with the current talent. And people start to notice when you win.

Don’t bring in the guy you think is only going to land talent. Bring in the guy who can mold it and win games. Don’t bring in the character.

Get me the tactician.

Get me a coach.