DePaul's athletic department inner circle, led by athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, will have their hands full finding the next coach of the Blue Demons' flagship team. Here are some strong candidates, listed in unofficial order of worthiness:
Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery
The jump from Southern Illinois to the high-major level worked out for Bruce Weber and Matt Painter. Why not Lowery? The Salukis have struggled the past two seasons, but Lowery still has coached three NCAA tournament teams, including one that reached the Sweet 16. He has landed a number of players from the Chicago area over the years. The most notable names of late have been Kevin Dillard, Tony Freeman, Ryan Hare and Diamond Taylor. Lowery's associate head coach Lance Irvin could also provide a relationship with the area's top-tier players. Irvin is the son of Mac Irvin, a legendary AAU coach. Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin, Lance's brother, endorsed Lowery as the best choice for DePaul on Monday. He should be a prohibitive favorite for the job.
Oregon State coach Craig Robinson
It doesn't hurt being President Barack Obama's brother-in-law, but Robinson's résumé is more than his family tree. Last season, Robinson took over an Oregon State program that went winless in the Pac-10 and 6-25 overall and quickly turned the Beavers into a respectable team. Oregon State finished .500 overall, picked up seven conference wins and won the postseason College Basketball Invitational championship. Robinson, who graduated from Mount Carmel and starred at Princeton, also has had success recruiting in the Chicago area with current freshman Angus Brandt having played at Lake Forest Academy. Whitney Young senior Ahmad Starks is signed to play there next season. Robinson was also a head coach at Brown and an assistant at Northwestern.
Duke associate head coach Chris Collins
You can find Collins on TV every week, sitting snugly on one side of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, with fellow assistant Steve Wojciechowski on the other side. The two former Duke stars are the prohibitive favorites to take over the program when, and if, Coach K ever retires. Longtime Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins, another Coach K replacement possibility, struck out on his own to take over at Stanford. Would Collins, now an "associate head coach," leave a surefire assistant's job at his alma mater to come back to Chicago to take over a Big East doormat? If he's confident, yes. He's got a national Q rating and a name that would engender respect all over the city, not just in the suburbs.
DePaul assistant coaches Billy Garrett and Tracy Webster
Lenti Ponsetto described Garrett and Webster as rising stars in the coaching world. Neither has college head-coaching experience and are best known as recruiters. Webster will be the interim head coach until the end of the season. Unless DePaul goes on some unlikely winning streak in the Big East, neither will be realistically considered.
Kentucky assistant coach Rod Strickland
Have any other candidates been name-dropped in a Wu-Tang Clan song? I didn't think so. Strickland still has serious street cred. He played 17 years in the NBA, was a two-time All-America pick at DePaul, and had a star prep career in New York City. He is a first-year assistant coach, after joining John Calipari's staff in Memphis as director of basketball operations. He moved with Calipari to Lexington, where he's been working with wildly talented freshman John Wall. Strickland's probably too green for this gig, and he wasn't exactly known for his good qualities in the NBA, but he's still a DePaul legend, and there aren't too many of those around anymore.
Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson
Northern Iowa is one of the hottest mid-major programs in the country. Jacobson's Panthers reached the NCAA tournament last year and appear headed in that direction again this season. All of Jacobson's recruits come from the Midwest, though he hasn't exactly plundered Chicago for talent. He currently has one player from the Chicago suburbs on his roster.
Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins
Hawkins was a finalist for the position during the last candidate search. Western Michigan has been one of the Mid-American Conference's most consistent teams over the years. The Broncos could be on the verge of an NCAA berth this season. They're among the top 75 teams in RPI and held their own against Temple and USC. He would be a long shot this time around though and would bring negligible buzz in the city.
New Mexico coach Steve Alford
Alford didn't exactly leave the Midwest on a white horse. But he's done pretty well at New Mexico after a good record at Iowa was sullied by the Pierre Pierce incident, among other missteps. He won 152 games at Iowa and made the postseason six times in eight seasons. The Bobby Knight disciple knows the area, and his New Mexico teams have also done well academically, at least according to the team's Web site. Alford could be a viable candidate, but he's a dark horse at best.
Florida International coach Isiah Thomas
Thomas hasn't proved anything as a coach at any level, but he is a name, and Chicago kids would likely come play for him. If anything, he'll bring national reporters back to Lincoln Park.