ST. LOUIS — University of Missouri athletic director Desiree Reed Francois reportedly made the most important personal decision of her career as an administrator when she decided to fire Cuonzo Martin as a men’s basketball coach. He won’t stay at the top of the list for long, as his pick for his replacement will likely move there soon.
Despite his previous ties to Martin’s hiring in Tennessee and his own son’s desire to continue playing for him next year, Reed-Francois decided that five years was enough and a change had to be made if the second revenue generator as the athletic department was going to be more successful in the future.
Will she see the lesson Jim Sterk learned the hard way? When Sterk fired football coach Barry Odom, the Tories were unimpressed with his perceived lack of vision and a candidate pool that lacked a wow factor. This word has leaked. Sterk was forced to pivot and then landed Eli Drinkwitz. The leak seemed to trigger the timeline of his own departure.
So, where does Reed-François go in his search?
Alignment. It’s a phrase ingrained in Reed-François’ lexicon since his days in Tennessee. Top-down alignment, from university leaders to coaches. It therefore makes sense that she checks the availability of at least two people she has already checked in this regard.
TJ Otzelberger (Iowa State)–Reed-Francois hired Otzelberger from South Dakota State after returning Marvin Menzies to UNLV after the 2018-19 season. Otzelberger went an unimpressive 29-30 in two coronavirus-hit seasons at the helm of the Running Rebels, before heading to Iowa State after last season. As head coach, he quickly flipped the program where he had already spent nine seasons during two previous stints as an assistant. It’s not his alma mater, but professionally speaking, it’s home. Would he want to leave after just one season, where he appears to have a team that will enter the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced on Sunday?
Kevin Kruger (UNLV)–Reed-Francois then promoted Kruger, who had been Otzelberger’s assistant for two years, to replace him. Prior to that, he spent three seasons as his father Lon Kruger’s assistant in Oklahoma, for whom he also played at UNLV as a graduate transfer. He has only a year of head coaching experience under his belt but has already demonstrated an ability to recruit in the era of the transfer portal. Kruger may also have other options, especially if his other alma mater, Arizona State, finds itself with a vacancy.
Kim English (George Mason)-The former MU standout was a rising star as an assistant coach at Tulsa, Colorado and Tennessee before taking on his first head coaching opportunity at George Mason last season. His team upset the power conference teams of Maryland and Georgia. Despite only one season as head coach, English, 33, has more power conference experience as an assistant than Kruger, and is considered a great talent developer, which was one reviews from the Martin era. The question is not so much “is English ready”. He will be head coach of the Power conference sooner or later. The question is whether the resources will be there to meet the expectations that come with being a former program manager. Fair or not, this will be compared to Kim Anderson’s experience.
Matt McMahon (Murray State)—What good is a coach Matt McMahon without a generational talent like Ja Morant? Looks like he answered that question, leading the Racers to a 28-2 regular season record in the Ohio Valley Conference this season and winning the conference championship.
Mike White (Florida) – The Gators coach since 2015, is he happy in Gainesville and is Gainesville happy with him? Rumors are swirling that despite winning over 142 in seven seasons, this could be heading for a divorce, with one of the potential landing spots being his alma mater at Ole Miss. Of this pool of candidates, White would bring the most success to the NCAA Tournament. , having reached the Elite 8 in 2017. His brother, Brian, now AD at FAU, is a former MU athletic department assistant who served as the administrator in charge of basketball at Missouri until 2018 .
The SEC has traditionally not been a conference over the past 25 years where you find assistants getting their first shot at head coaching. Excluding interim coaches and Vanderbilt, who hired Jerry Stackhouse in 2019 after serving as an NBA assistant coach, the last conference school to hire a varsity assistant as head coach was not even not yet in the conference, when Missouri hired Quin Snyder to replace Norm Stewart in 1999.
Of course, times change. If assistants can land high-profile jobs in places like North Carolina, Duke, and Arizona, then why not at a school like Missouri? It would just be harder to imagine Reed-Francois going into this process, right now, expecting this kind of outcome. Whatever she decides will be the most important personal decision of her career.
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