Chicago St. tries to fill coach vacancy

As Gordon Hayward's halfcourt shot sailed through the air during the final seconds of the national championship game, Chicago State athletic director Sudie Davis couldn't help but think about his own men's basketball program.

He wondered, "Why can't that be us?"

It may be a lengthy stretch to compare Butler's remarkable season to a Chicago State program that went 9-23 overall and finished in a three-way tie for last place in the Great West Conference last season. But to Davis, he was simply connecting the dots. Like Butler, Chicago State is a Midwest school in a major city, is surrounded by larger universities, has an undergraduate enrollment of near 5,000 and draws a majority of its basketball players from the nearby area.

As Davis sees it, all the Cougars now need to be the next Butler is the right coach. It's that reason Davis doesn't mind Chicago State having the last Division I men's basketball head coaching vacancy in the country.

"I don't care how long it takes as long it's done right," Davis said. "The sky's the limit [for this program]. I think it's a time bomb waiting to explode. It's having the key players in the right place. The key player is a coach who can recruit Chicago.

"You don't have to be UCLA, Michigan, Duke. I didn't see any big names on the bench [for Butler]. I didn't see any big names on the floor."

This will be Davis' first men's basketball hiring since taking over as athletic director in October of 2008. Davis fired Benjy Taylor as head coach on April 19 after Taylor had gone 39-53 after three seasons. Under Taylor, the Cougars did have their first winning season in 23 year when Chicago State went 19-13 in 2008-2009.

"Benjy was doing a pretty good job," Davis said. "He was doing what he could do. His philosophies were different. We wanted to move in another direction. The university has changed. Our expectations of athletics are that we can step up. President Dr. [Wayne] Watson wants perfection. I love it. I don't think we've had this leadership before. It's the renaissance of Chicago State."

Davis described the coaching search as being inclusive, ranging from high school coaches to college assistant coaches to college head coaches. Davis is also being helped by a search committee that has received about 60 applications.

Davis hopes to make a decision in the next week or two.

"We're moving steadily," Davis said. "We're just not trying to fly through because we're the last one left. I think it's coming along. We've had coaches from all walks of the world, and I don't know if it's been a good fit for Chicago State."

There is potential for Chicago State's program, maybe just not Butler potential, according to City/Suburban Hoops Report's Joe Henricksen, one of Chicago's top recruiting analysts.

"The program is in the middle of very fertile recruiting grounds in Chicago, and it boasts an absolutely terrific on-campus facility," Henricksen said. "A part of the problem is Chicago State is a little low on the pecking order of Chicago college basketball here in this area. While Chicago State will never be recruiting against the likes of Illinois, Northwestern or DePaul, they do have to at least try and recruit against some of the local mid-majors like UIC, Loyola and Northern Illinois. Those schools are all considered to be a 'higher level' and play in better conferences.

"But with that being said, there are enough players in this area to make an impact recruiting wise as a low-Division I program. The ideal coach, in my mind, is someone who understands the job and all that it takes. The ideal candidate would be a young, energetic, go-getter with some local ties who can wrap up all the nice leftovers after bigger programs have picked over the city and suburbs of Chicago for players."

Just as DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto declared during her coaching search, Davis said recruiting Chicago is a priority for Chicago State.

"Everyone else is coming into Chicago and pulling people out of here," Davis said. "Is anybody holding onto anybody in Chicago? I don't think so. You look at the rosters in Chicago, and you wonder, 'Where did they go?'"

Chicago State's next coach will have some talent to work with next season. The Cougars return three all-conference selections in forward Carl Montgomery and guards Christian Wall and Antonio Lofton.

Davis doesn't expect a complete turnaround next season, but he does sometime very soon.

"I don't know if Chicago's going to be ready for it," Davis said. "It's a really exciting time. I'm just watching it. I'm a part of it, but I'm just watching it."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.