By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - Following a day of alleged Shaka Smart sightings across the Twin Cities metro area, Minnesota Golden Gopher fans had their hopes and dreams dashed early Wednesday evening as Virginia Commonwealth University basketball coach Shaka Smart opted to pass on new offers and took an extension to stay in Richmond and coach the Rams.
The deal, reportedly, extended Smart through the 2023 season and upped his annual salary from $1.2M to $1.5M. Presumably, this offer came with more built in security but was nearly $1M below what Smart could have demanded from schools like Minnesota or UCLA. At the end of the day, it appears as if Shaka chose the comfort of a familiar situation for him and his family over the thrill of an upgrade. Kudos to him for making that tough decision.
That said, with Smart now out of the conversation, the Gophers will be forced to move down their "short-list" and continue attacking options number two, three and four. But who does that leave?
Earlier this week, I posted a list of candidates that were likely to have been considered for the vacant Gophers coaching job. In the two days since that posting, the "short-list" has shifted. Some new candidates are in the picture, some old candidates have risen the ranks and others have all but been crossed off of Norwood Teague's shopping list.
Supposedly, there has even been a candidate in town who took time to sit down with Teague and pseudo interview for the job. If this is indeed the case, we can assume that this candidate does not have a team still playing in the NCAA Tournament. That doesn't rule out those coaches still involved (Buzz Williams, Andy Enfield or Gregg Marshall), but with time being of the essence, there's no doubt that Teague and his staff want to button this up as soon as possible.
So without out further ado, here is my best representation of what Norwood Teague's "short-list" of coaching candidates might look like as of Thursday morning.
1.) Shaka Smart (VCU)
2.) Brad Stevens (Butler) - With Smart off the board, Stevens becomes the next most likely target for the Gophers to go after. Only 36 years old, Stevens has that "young guy" swagger that most think Teague may be targeting. Stevens has benefited from the national attention he and his team received with back-to-back NCAA Championship appearances, and annually finds himself at the top of the list for teams across the country who are looking for new leadership. Stevens' Butler squad is out of the tournament so he would be able to meet and talk with the University of Minnesota, but the question is not that of availability but that of interest. Would Stevens be interested in a change? Stevens signed a 12-year contract extension in 2010 that pays him roughly $1M a year. He could be enticed by a bump in pay, but that may not be enough to sway his interest from what he is already building at Butler. While he may be number two on the target list, he may be a long-shot at best for Teague and the Gophers to land.
3.) Buzz Williams (Marquette) - One of the aforementioned names that seems to have gained a bit of steam since the coaching search officially began is Buzz Williams from the Marquette University. This one confuses me. Williams has obvious ties to Norwood Teague and Associate AD Mike Ellis through the Villa 7 group that landed him the Marquette job in 2008. That said, Williams seems to have it pretty good out in Milwaukee. Signed through 2020, Williams is already pocketing near $2M annually at a school where the basketball team reigns supreme. He's housed in a $31M practice facility (Al McGuire Center) that opened in 2003 and houses player lounges, locker rooms and a private practice court that is an exact replica of the program's home court at the Bradley Center. Still the rumors surrounding Buzz Williams continue to run hot. His attention is clearly focused on the Golden Eagles' Sweet Sixteen matchup against Miami Thursday night, but as early as Friday morning he could be on his way to the Twin Cities if he so desires.
4.) Flip Saunders (current NBA analyst) - The fourth choice is where it starts to get interesting. Former Gopher player, former Gopher assistant coach, and former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders seems to be the Gophers fallback option, which wouldn't be a bad case scenario at all. Flip is a hero in the state of Minnesota and appears to have interest in the job. The only problem, he doesn't exactly fit the bill for the style of candidate Teague appears to be targeting. At 58 years of age, Flip is not the young spring chicken that seems to be all the rage in college basketball these days, especially since Teague and Ellis have been responsible for the rise to fame that many of those young coaches have enjoyed. Still Flip would be a good option if Stevens and Williams don't work out. He knows the game, he knows the state and would have a leg up on many of the candidates for recruiting in Minnesota.
5.) Anthony Grant (Alabama) - Splashing onto the scene this week was Alabama fourth year coach Anthony Grant. Grant comes from the Billy Donovan coaching tree and is a graduate of the Villa 7 program. He also spent three seasons as the head coach of VCU...hmmm, do you sense a trend? Grant should be considered but likely remains a long shot at the gig.
6.) Fred Hoiberg (ISU) - I am only including Fred because I feel that I have to. But I've opted to cross him out because it's not happening. It was a good idea, but keep dreaming Gophers fans.
7.) Andy Enfield (FGCU) - In the midst of his own meteoric rise through the coaching ranks, Enfield is the 2013 NCAA Tournament version of Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens. Piggy backing on the unprecedented success of his Florida Gulf Coast squad, Enfield may land himself a new gig simply based on one successful season, which is precisely why he scares me as a candidate for the Gophers. Stevens proved it with back-to-back title game runs, Shaka has been in the tournament making runs for the last three or four years but Enfield, he's only had the reigns of a basketball program for two seasons. In my opinion it's way to early to know if this run is simply a flash in the pan or if he is in fact a legitimate NCAA coach?
Aj Mansour covers the Twins, Vikings, & Gopher Football for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions on this post or others in the designated comment box below. For Golden Gopher updates and breaking news follow Aj on Twitter @AjKFAN