Today, Steve Politi reported that the coaching search for Rutgers men's basketball is down to three candidates: George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan; Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell; Iona head coach Tim Cluess. While all Lonergan was reportedly interviewed on Monday, Pikiell and Cluess just saw their seasons come to an end with losses in the NCAA tournament. Based on the report, it's likely they will interview this weekend.
Let's concede that Hobbs has narrowed his scope of candidates to these three coaches. We have included all three as potential replacements as far back as February, so it's not a surprise. Let's take a look at the pro's and con's of all three candidates.
Mike Lonergan (Age: 50)
Lonergan has won at all three schools he has coached at between Catholic University, Vermont, and George Washington. Although Catholic is a Division III school, he made them a perennial power and he won a national championship there in 2001. After learning for one season under Gary Williams at Maryland, Lonergan had four seasons of 23 or more wins, including four postseason appearances and one NCAA appearance. That landed him the head job at George Washington, where after two losing seasons, he has had three consecutive years of 22 or more wins per season. He went to the NCAA tournament in 2014 and the NIT the past two seasons. Ironically, Lonergan will be in New Jersey on Monday as his team plays at Monmouth in the 2nd round of the NIT.
Pro's: 8 of 11 Division I seasons coached he has had a winning record; most experienced coach of the three candidates; recruits well in Washington D.C. & Internationally; good game coach/strategist; teams are fundamentally strong; Atlantic 10 experience
Con's: May prefer to wait for Georgetown opening; Few NJ/NYC recruiting connections
Steve Pikiell (Age: 48)
Pikiell, the reigning America East coach of the year, led Stony Brook to their first ever NCAA tournament appearance this season, where they lost last night to Kentucky by 25 points. Pikiell played for Jim Calhoun at UCONN in the late eighties and started his coaching career as an assistant under him. After a few stops, he landed at George Washington under fellow UCONN and Calhoun disciple Karl Hobbs for five seasons, making the NCAA tournament. He then went to Stony Brook in 2005 and built the program from almost nothing in his eleven seasons, as his first three years at the school resulted in only single digit win campaigns. Pikiell has led the Seawolves to 22+ wins in six of the past seven seasons. He is credited with developing Jameel Warney into a star who has NBA potential. Werney went to New Jersey power Roselle Catholic.
Pro's: Proven program builder; player development; Calhoun coaching tree; Defensive coach; fundamentally strong teams; recruits NJ already
Con's: Big jump from American East to Big Ten
Tim Cluess (Age 57)
Cluess coached 14 seasons at St. Mary's high school in Long Island, where he won multiple state titles and coached NBA player Danny Green. He then coached at Suffolk Community College and Division II school C.W. Post, where he continued to win. Cluess landed the job at Iona when Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs, then at Seton Hall, hired Kevin Willard away from the Gaels. Cluess was hired at Iona by athletic director Patrick Lyons, who also was hired away to Seton Hall by Hobbs. The relationship between Hobbs, Lyons, and Willard remains strong, so it makes sense that Cluess is getting serious consideration for the job.
Pro's: Has won at every school he has coached at; runs up tempo offense; makes three-point shooting focal point of offense; NYC connections
Con's: age; teams not defensively sound; Big jump from MAAC to Big Ten
It's also possible Hobbs is talking to a candidate or two that has not been reported. Don't get your hopes up that Hobbs pulls an ace out of his sleeve, but it wouldn't shock me if he did. Kevin Boyle has been a popular name but there has been no indication Hobbs is considering him. I wish he would consider Kenny Payne and Herb Sendek, but for now let's assume it's down to the final three candidates Politi reported.
I think Lonergan and Pikiell are strong candidates for the job. I think Lonergan being successful in the Atlantic 10 at a school that does not have great resources makes him a great fit for Rutgers. His ability to recruit internationally and in D.C. help, but he would need to establish a pipeline in NYC/NJ. Pikiell has built Stony Brook into a conference power and it's possible he could do the same at Rutgers. I think he is the steadiest choice, even though it might take longer for him to build than the other two. Cluess is a winner but I think his run and gun system could backfire in the Big Ten. His teams don't play much defense, and it could potentially take longer for him to gather personnel to fit his "let it fly" offensive philosophy. I will say all three candidates are upgrades from Eddie Jordan. Vote in our poll and let us know who you prefer.