The University of Alabama has reached a buyout agreement with former basketball coach Avery Johnson and started a full-fledged search for its next coach.
At the moment, Alabama basketball coaching searches come around like presidential elections, once every four years. According to the Founding Fathers, that’s great. According to anyone charged with building a basketball program on a solid foundation, it’s not so great.
What athletic director Greg Byrne will have to do, if he can, is find a coach who will break that cycle, finding someone the fan base isn’t ready to vote out of office in 2023.
For most Alabama fans, that means thanking Johnson for his service and his work at rekindling interest in the program and moving on to “Next Man Up.”
Does that mean a coach with a past track record, like a Rick Pitino? (Say what you want about Pitino, the man does have a track record, regardless of how you interpret that phase?) Do you swing for the fences and call a Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City, knowing before you dial the first digit that the chances are he’s going to leave an NBA playoff contender to take a college job that’s not as good as the college job he left to go to the NBA in the first place?
Do you go for another veteran looking to get back in the game, a Fred Hoiberg or Thad Matta? Do you go the alumni route with Iowa State’s Steve Prohm? Do you try to raise enough money (see above under “buyout”) to convince a major college coach with a good gig to move? That’s a hard thing to do in college football or basketball, unless you are talking a Jimbo Fisher compensation package? Do you play what is, for want of a better term, Mid-Major Roulette?
Are there any guarantees with “the guy at Buffalo” (Nate Oats) or “the guy at Wofford” (Mike Young) or “the guy at Liberty” (Ritchie McKay)? Would they adjust well to the SEC, or would there be a learning curve and a chance of being in the same boat four years from now?
Byrne does have a track record for making swift, decisive hires, both at Alabama (baseball coach Brad Bohannon) and at his previous jobs at Arizona and Mississippi State. He will probably play his cards close to the vest, with no long public courtship like the Alabama/Gregg Marshall negotiations four years ago. He won’t take the easy route if he thinks another course is better, at least judging from his decision to bypass Ron Polk’s chosen successor for the baseball job at MSU to hire John Cohen instead.
Aiming high sometimes means you miss. Alabama fans don’t like to hear it but some candidates may be happy where they are. But Byrne doesn’t seem like a defeatist, and I don’t think he will sell the potential for Alabama basketball short as he looks to find the man to break the four-year cycle.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.