Preface: I do not believe for one second that this is a done deal. I can imagine that the alumni at Wake might be a little gun-shy about taking on a guy like Coach Bz, and, at the end-of-the-day, the alumni have the power to force decisions at schools not named Colorado. Doug Gottleib talks about some of the concerns (subscription required). Until the press conference, he's still CU's coach. But in preparation for the inevitable...
I often joke that I am the only Colorado basketball fan. Obviously that's not the case, but CU has never been known as a basketball school and I've often spent cold December evenings with less that 2,000 other fans in the CEC. (Because of this, I've always cast sideways glances at the scalpers outside men's games. How do they make any money? Why pay a premium for a commodity that's readily available? Do they just jack up the KU game ticket prices by 400%?) It's hard being a Buffs Basketball fan; I really don't blame anyone for not trying to become one. Prior to the past few years, little attention was paid to the program (even by the athletic department). And then, Jeff Bzdelik showed up.
As soon as he was hired, I got the feeling that Jeff was an unwilling participant. Not that Jeff was sleazy the way a Bob Huggins, Larry Brown or a Billy Gillespie is (essentially waiting for the next big offer to come down the pipe, and not caring what he leaves behind); I just felt that he was always looking for the moment that he could move on. But he also seemed to care about the long term future of the program. He willed the media to pay attention to the program. He hired a veteran head coach (Steve McClain) to help run the team, and essentially set him up as his obvious successor. He damn near forced Mike Bohn to spend money on the program. He consistently recruited not for the now, but for the future.
It's because of this that I have no problem with him leaving to take the Wake Forest job. He will essentially be leaving the program better than he found it. (When's the last time CU could say that about a coach of one of the major sports? Bill McCartney?) Over his tenure, Coach BZ (and his staff) has built recruiting pipelines, overseen the expansion of the facilities at the CEC, and dragged the fan base kicking and screaming into (almost?) caring about men's basketball. All without a winning record. The pending move to Winston-Salem, NC even makes sense for Coach Bz on a personal level; moving to the ACC is a definite step up, his daughter (who has had some health problems) goes there, he is good buddies (as opposed to his apparently rocky relationship with Bohn) with their AD, he owns a house in NC, and he plans to retire there. It's relatively ignorant to be angry with Coach Bz for this move; he made the program better, and he's leaving for the right reasons. While he was here, he did the best he could to improve the program, and that's all I could really ask him to do.
(You've done well, Jeff. Sorry to see you go, but it's been good.)
But where does CU go from here? For possibly the first time in history, the open men's basketball position at the University of Colorado is very attractive to some top level names. With the new practice facility under construction (that thing is going to be awesome when it opens), new basketball operations center, new weight room, and new locker rooms CU is no longer behind in the facility race. Add to that the fact that Cory Higgins, Al Burks, Shannon Sharpe, Nate Tomlinson make up one of the best back-courts in the nation, and you can easily see why any coach would be "interested" in CU.
But that doesn't mean that Mike Bohn's 2nd coaching search in a month will be easy. There is a legitimate concern that that back-court could disappear if they don't like the new coach. In addition, CU desperately needs to avoid hiring the type of coach who would just use the program as a stepping stone to better things in a few years. (Woelk talked about this specifically today.) This will be an interesting test for Bohn; he needs to hire someone with the requisite skill (obviously), but also someone who cares enough to take what Bz has built and take it to the next level over an extended period of time (not an easy find in today's basketball world). I want someone who gives a shit about Colorado. (rumor favorite Mike Dunlap is not that guy.)
Of the many names floating around, there are 3 that I find intriguing:
- Randy Bennett - Coach Bennett is currently the head coach of St. Mary's (they of the recent Sweet Sixteen run.) Randy has a massive recruiting pipeline to Australia (which would fit great with Tomlinson and Shane Harris-Tunks), and has earned a major college shot. He also has been with SMC for a decade, which proves to me that he doesn't like to move around. He's built a great program with SMC, and would be a good choice for CU.
- Tad Boyle - Coach Boyle currently heads the surprisingly awesome Northern Colorado Bears. Besides being a Coloradan (from Greeley), he also knows the BigXII area, having played at Kansas before coaching in the region. His Bears whupped CU in a closed-door scrimmage prior to the season, and piloted the team to the most wins in school history. UNC has improved every year under Boyle, having joined the program the first year they moved up to Division-1.
- Steve McClain - (My personal front-runner) Currently, Coach McClain is CU's Associate Head Coach. Buff players have essentially said that if McClain lands the job, there will be no transfer issues. Having stayed at Wyoming for 7 years, we know Coach McClain is comfortable with the region. In addition, he has been the primary recruiter for much of the past year. As I stated earlier, I feel that he has been essentially groomed for the position by Bz. He also fared rather well as the head coach during the Maui Invitational while Bz was attending to family matters.
(Yippie Ki-Yay Motherfucker! My choice for the next head men's basketball coach.)
If, for whatever reason, McClain doesn't work out, either of the other two options would be very acceptable (with Bennett being my second choice). CU's in a great position to take a step forward in the next decade with the men's basketball program. With the upgraded facilities, and a stacked cupboard full of top-level guards, CU could be the next "it" team. Don't screw it up Mike, we need this one...