There have been rumblings about the security of Travis Steele’s job all season long, but no one was expecting the program to move on from him the day after one NIT win over Cleveland State. The local media was shocked, the national media was shocked, it just wasn’t something anyone thought would happen. The abrupt nature of the move doesn’t change the task in front of the Musketeers now. They need a coach, and they need one soon. Here are the calls they should, or shouldn’t, make.
Sean Miller: This tier is one name long. Sean Miller should be the first and most insistent AD Greg Christopher makes. Miller has the pedigree, he has the reputation, and he brings a name recognition to the job that instantly vaults Xavier to the top of the Big East coaching lists. Miller has had a sub .500 conference record once. In the 17 seasons he has coached, his team has been in the KenPom top 20 nine times. He has four Elite Eight trips and another three Sweet 16 trips on top of that. His resume and results are unimpeachable.
What may be impeachable is how he acquired that record. Miller’s time ended under a cloud of NCAA and FBI investigation. Miller wasn’t named in the federal complaint, but some of his assistants were proven to have paid recruits. Miller also could still face punishment on a level one violation of failing to promote or foster compliance. What that means is murky, because the NCAA is, as ever, completely opaque as to what may face Miller going forward.
That leaves X with a serious decision. Sean Miller is the best choice to coach Xavier for a whole variety of reasons. He also could get hired and then immediately suspended. Christopher has to make sure that he’s done his due diligence before he offers Miller one of the premier jobs on the market.
If Sean Miller doesn’t get the job, these are the next four calls that Greg Christopher should place. These guys aren’t at the level of Miller, few coaches are, but they are a level up on the next group of contenders.
Grant McCasland: McCasland started his DI career at Arkansas St where he spent one year. After that he moved to North Texas, where he has turned the Mean Green into a Conference USA power and, more importantly, an at large candidate every year. In his five years in Denton UNT has gotten better every year, going from a team in the 150s of the KenPom to a team that that finished 54th this year. McCasland’s teams play slowly (the slowest in the nation this year) on offense and play ferocious defense.
Matt McMahon: McMahon at Murray State hasn’t had the linear progression of McCasland at North Texas, but he’s had the Racers in the NCAA tournament three of his seven years at the program and and has won the OVC three times outright and tied, with Belmont, two more times. His teams tend to play slowly as well and are generally better defensively than they are on offense. He is very much a mid major coach with something to prove at the next level.
Wes Miller: This would be both a good hire and hilarious. Miller took a horrible UNC Greensboro program, refurbished it, and then won the Southern Conference twice. Miller is unquestionably one of the best up and coming coaches in the nation. UC getting him wasn’t a good thing for Xavier. Poaching him after one season would be a great hire both in terms of basketball and overall Crosstown Shootout punkings.
Mike Boynton: Boynton has had five seasons coaching the Pokes and never finished lower than 83rd in the KenPom. That doesn’t sound great, but since then the Cowboys have finished 53rd, 33rd, and 38th and been in the tournament once and would have been again this season had he not been unfairly saddled with NCAA sanctions that had nothing to do with anything he had done. While Oklahoma State’s offense under Boynton has been suspect, the defense has increased to being legitimately vicious this year.
These are mid or low major guys that don’t have a complete enough resume to necessarily take charge of a Big East team. They have some coach chops, but reasonable questions can be asked.
Dennis Gates: Gates has been a head coach for three years. He’s had a horrible team (313th), an NCAA tournament team last year, and then a team that regressed into the NIT this year. This season Gates took a team with seven seniors and then somehow did worse than he had the year before. What he does well is adapt to the situation by trying change to the defense to the team he’s playing. What he doesn’t do well is coach offense.
Drew Valentine: There is a small sample size with Valentine, but that sample is a good one. Loyola Chicago is in the tournament this year, finished 24th in the KenPom, and was really efficient on both ends. They also made their three pointers, which would be nice to see.
Eric Henderson: After TJ Otzelberger left SDSU they needed someone who could rebuild quickly. Three years later Henderson has the nation’s best shooting team back in the tournament and a trendy upset pick over Big East champion Providence. The resume isn’t long and it has been compiled in the Summit League, but it is impressive.
Bryce Drew: This is not the pick the Banners staff would make. Drew failed spectacularly at Vanderbilt after inheriting a pretty good team. He’s at Grand Canyon now, and not doing great there. His name is out there, though, so here’s his mention.
Tim Miles: There’s no reason to think that Miles is interested, but he did a much better job at Nebraska than he gets credit for, because the Huskers are a trash basketball school. He also turned Colorado State into the Mountain West power they are now.
Frank Martin: Martin has been to an Elite Eight (you remember) and a Final Four. He did well for a long time at South Carolina, but never made them a consistent NCAA tournament threat. Xavier has allegedly talked to him already. In Martin they’d be getting a coach who preached defense and was vaguely aware that there was another end of the floor.
Jeff Boals: He’s been mentioned, but why?
Two of these guys keep getting kicked around as potential possibilities despite all appearances they aren’t. The other is only being mentioned because some people know his name.
Thad Matta: Literally physically unable to coach anymore. He also left in the most sleazy manner of any Xavier coach ever and would likely be booed if he ever stepped foot back on campus.
Chris Mack: Quit the last job he had in the middle of this season. Appears to be happily retired and has not shown one iota of interest in coming back to coaching.
Pat Kelsey: If Kelsey hadn’t been at Xavier, no Xavier fan would know his name. Kelsey has been moderately successful at low-majors and has yet to demonstrate he can win outside the Big South. This year he finished 8-10 in the Colonial Athletic. If Kelsey is an option, so are Matt Langel, John Becker, Scott Nagy, Ritchie McKay, and a whole host of more accomplished low major coaches who have no business in the Big East.