Six years ago, Texas successfully courted one of the most in-demand mid-major coaches in college basketball history. On Friday, Texas successfully moved on from a failed high-major coach without paying a high seven-figure buyout.
Six days after the Longhorns’ season ended with a loss to Abilene Christian in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, Shaka Smart bolted for Marquette. In doing so, he saved Texas approximately $7 million in buyout money (if they planned to fire him), opened the 37th head-coaching job in college basketball season, and returned to his home state after a week of speculation.
“I expect Texas to full-court press Chris Beard to gauge his interest level,” tweeted Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesmen, echoing a sentiment suggested by several college basketball insiders, among them ESPN’s Jeff Borzello and Stadium’s Jeff Goodman. Long rumored as a potential candidate at Texas and elsewhere (including Indiana) since leading Texas Tech to the Elite Eight in 2018 and the national championship game in 2019, Beard has a buyout clause in his contract that calls for a $4-million payment if he leaves for another Big 12 school and a $2-million payment if he leaves for a non-Big 12 school.
If Texas can’t land Chris Beard–or doesn’t want for some idiotic reason–who might they target?
It’ll be the first men’s basketball hire for fourth-year athletics director Chris Del Conte. He did, however, make one basketball hire at Rice and two at TCU, along with another high-profile hire in Steve Sarkisian in January. If Del Conte doesn’t hire Beard, his second call could be to Nate Oats.
Eight years ago, Oats was coaching high school basketball in Michigan. A Wisconsin native, he joined Bobby Hurley’s Buffalo staff in 2013 and was elevated to head coach upon Hurley’s departure for Arizona State in 2015. Now in his second season at Alabama, Oats delivered the Crimson Tide’s first conference regular-season title since 2002, first conference tournament title since 1991, and first Sweet 16 since 2004. He’s done a remarkable job in a new region and is highly regarded as a player developer.
Other current high-major head coaches to watch include Arkansas’ Eric Musselman, Rutgers’ Steve Pikiell, and Oregon’s Dana Altman. None of the three has notable ties to the University of Texas, Del Conte, or the state of Texas, but, like Oats, we’re seeing more geographically incompatible hires across college basketball. All three have been coaching for at least three decades, reached the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and are exceeding expectations at their respective programs.
Mark Pope is 44-14 in two seasons, including 23-6 in the WCC, in two seasons as BYU head coach. The 48-year-old former Kentucky star has spent the last decade in the state of Utah and might be a candidate at Utah. If he’s interested in a bigger job with more money and resources, Texas is an intriguing fit. Loyola Chicago’s Porter Moser is in a similar boat as a highly respected mid-major coach without Texas ties but is among the most in-demand coaches in the country.
Oral Roberts’ Paul Mills, North Texas’ Grant McCasland, and Abilene Christian’s Joe Golding lead the lower-level mid-major coaches that have strong ties and relationships across the state but might be a reach. Same for Georgia State’s Rob Lanier, a former Texas assistant who struggled at Siena but is faring well as Ron Hunter’s successor in Atlanta. Texas shouldn’t have to go this far down the list, but coaching searches are often unpredictable.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM