The coaching carousel is in full tilt for the spring, and there were plenty of rumors to chase this weekend. Many of them proved to be untrue. Here are some of the things I culled from various sources over the weekend:
St. John's: Rick Pitino told ESPN.com on Sunday that he intends to finish his career at Louisville. Florida coach Billy Donovan told ESPN.com he's not involved at St. John's and he's "happy where I'm at." Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley also confirmed to ESPN.com that he hasn't been contacted by St. John's, calling the bluff on any Donovan-to-St. John's story.
So where does that leave the Red Storm after the heavy hitters? Well, there is plenty out to choose from. If the Red Storm want Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg or Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt, they'll have to get them in a clandestine way without any kind of formal search. Can it be done? Possibly. But the money has to be large, with assurances that there is a real commitment in place. I concur with Dick Vitale. If it ends up being another solid coach who doesn't have national name recognition, even someone with strong New York ties, why get rid of Norm Roberts?
Seton Hall: Siena's Fran McCaffery and Richmond's Chris Mooney appear to be strong candidates. That doesn't mean they're the only candidates, but the Pirates are said to be looking for a fresh face with a clean track record after the Bobby Gonzalez debacle. If the Pirates push, they can probably land McCaffery, while Mooney might be harder to pry away from an elite A-10 job. But both may have to think twice, given the talent returning to their respective teams next season.
Oregon: Mike Bellotti's decision to step down as athletic director makes it even more clear that former AD and influential Oregon booster Pat Kilkenny will make the hire with the nod from Nike's Phil Knight, who has invested in Oregon as much as any high-profile alumnus at any other school. Don't be surprised to see the next Oregon coach coming from the family of coaches who work with Nike. The next Oregon coach has be someone who can sell the program to the boosters and aid in filling the arena and the boxes. Gonzaga's Mark Few gets first crack, and then it could down the line with elite Nike-sponsored coaches such as Minnesota's Tubby Smith and recent Nike addition Jamie Dixon of Pitt. The level of interest for any on these coaches is unknown.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes formed a search committee on campus. This isn't a search for a new professor. The basketball coach must be a fantastic recruiter and energize a sleeping fan base at this moment. But they also need a proven coach. That's why the Hawkeyes could do no wrong with Utah State's Stew Morrill or Dayton's Brian Gregory. According to sources, both would listen if called. Morrill has been one of the most underrated coaches in the country for over a decade. Gregory has Dayton as an A-10 contender. Gregory was once in the Big Ten as an assistant under Tom Izzo.
Central Florida: Three interesting names keep floating up here: Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus, former Alabama coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Gottfried, and Appalachian State coach Buzz Peterson. UCF needs to make a splash of a hire. Theus would certainly fit that description.
Boise State: Here's who is not going to Boise: LSU's Trent Johnson. I spoke with him Sunday, and he reassured me that any chatter of him going back to Boise was ridiculous. He said he has one of the top recruiting classes coming to Baton Rouge. Now, former Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak is a viable candidate and is seriously in the mix. But so too should be Portland's Eric Reveno. Weber State's Randy Rahe and Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice are on the radar. Boise State should be a coveted job since there could be a day in the near future when Boise State joins the MWC.
• If Penn hasn't hired interim coach Jerome Allen yet, there could be some movement with Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon. I'd still be surprised if Allen didn't get the job.
• IPFW's Dane Fife is expected to be in play at Toledo. But the more Ohio State wins, the likelier it becomes that you could see someone like Jeff Boals. Don't be surprised when the MAC looks to the Big Ten for hires.
• Hawaii hired former USC assistant Gib Arnold because of his strong local ties. His father, Frank, was the former coach there. Expect Arnold to keep up a mix of international players with mainland JC players and high school seniors to get the Warriors back to relevance.
• As for Charlotte, Buzz Peterson worked for the Charlotte Bobcats, so going to Charlotte from Appalachian State would make perfect sense. I've had a number of coaches say the Charlotte job is one of the best in the A-10.
• Houston coach Tom Penders resigned Sunday, according to multiple reports. While Texas assistant Rodney Terry should be in the mix, is there anyone who doesn't think former Kentucky and Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie gets the job?
• Fordham should just hire alumnus Mike Rice of Robert Morris. He's a sound, intense coach. Would they get a bigger name? Probably not.
The hot names: Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa; Steve Donahue, Cornell; Tony Barbee, UTEP.
Barbee should be in play at DePaul and Auburn if he chooses to leave what could be another CUSA champ at UTEP next season.
Jacobson should be patient and make sure he doesn't do something that doesn't make sense (such as going to a bottom-dweller).
Donahue needs to leave Cornell if he wants to climb. The Big Red may never be at this point again. But Donahue is comfortable, so if the right move isn't out there, he should be patient.
A few random thoughts from the first weekend:
• The Mountain West Conference did a sensational job of getting four teams in the NCAA tournament. All four teams represented well in either the first or second round. But not getting a team in the Sweet 16 still limits the MWC from being treated with true credibility as a proven elite league. The MWC must break through with a Sweet 16 team soon.
• Decisions abound for the NBA draft among players who were ousted in the first weekend. Remember, under a new NCAA rule, players have until May 8 to withdraw from the NBA draft. That means there will be roughly a week to make a decision on staying in the draft (the NBA deadline to withdraw is still 10 days before the draft). There won't be much time for workouts.
So from the teams that have lost, who has to make decisions about leaving for the NBA or at least testing the draft for a week?
Georgetown: Greg Monroe
Gonzaga: Elias Harris.
Florida State: Solomon Alabi.
UTEP: Derrick Caracter.
BYU: Jimmer Fredette
• For the record, Butler athletic director Barry Collier said he wasn't fired at Nebraska and left more than $1 million on his contract to return to his alma mater.
• When I was with Minnesota in Anaheim at the 76 Classic, I never got the sense that Royce White was going to return to the team. White, who announced recently that he's leaving Minnesota because of his legal troubles, had a much different case than Trevor Mbakwe in that there seemed to be only one side.
The Gophers had a hard time defending the shoplifting charge and were starting to really question if it made sense for White to be a part of the program. Mbakwe, who is currently suspended pending an assault case, always had a much better chance of joining the team if he is proven innocent. Minnesota coach Tubby Smith doesn't put up with much and he wasn't about to disrupt his program if there was no need. White's announcement that he's no longer a part of the program was likely a preemptive move on his part, before a decision was officially made for him by the Gophers.
• Boston College's plan was to bring in Brady Heslip early so he could redshirt and learn Al Skinner's system. Heslip has already graduated from Burlington, Ontario's Nelson High but has been playing at New Hampton Prep (N.H.). Skinner announced Thursday that Heslip was joining the squad. He will technically be eligible to play this month but unless there is a glaring need for a sharp shooter -- which there is -- the Eagles will likely continue to redshirt him. But if the 6-2 guard has a quick learning curve and is knocking down shots then the Eagles might be tempted to bring him off his redshirt.
• The Bob Cousy Award named its candidates for the honor for the top point guard in the country. Harvard's Jeremy Lin was not one of them. According to at least one member of the committee Lin wasn't nominated by the Crimson. But he will be added. He should. Lin is one of the top point guards in the country.
• I'm not sure you could get any basketball coach among Pitt's Jamie Dixon, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Rutgers' Fred Hill, Nebraska's Doc Sadler or Missouri's Mike Anderson to say they would want to leave their current conference and go to the Big Ten. Sources close to the situation in the Big East claim there is mutual interest among the Big Ten and Rutgers. That may be the case, and it is so early in the process, but I still don't get how Rutgers makes sense. I don't see the Big Ten penetrating the New York media market when Rutgers can't consistently do it. Rutgers basketball in the Big Ten would be a disaster. It's barely surviving in the Big East. Memphis would have to be the choice for the Big East if it loses a member. Central Florida is fool's gold. Memphis' faithful care about the Tigers more than any other prospective school's fan base. It's not even close. The Florida infatuation is limited to the big three in the state -- Florida, Florida State and Miami.
• There is no reason to be optimistic that Renardo Sidney will play for Mississippi State this season. The NCAA will conduct more interviews next week with the Sidney family. The key thing here is this: The NCAA is under no legal pressure to clear Sidney to play. Sidney's legal team won't sue to get a court injunction because Mississippi State won't play him without an NCAA clearance and run the risk of one day having to vacate games.
• Two of most inspirational stories so far this fall have been BYU's Dave Rose coming back from a rare pancreatic cancerous tumor and the graduation of Duquesne shooting victim Sam Ashaolu. I'm no longer a voting member of the United States Basketball Writers Association, but both are deserving honorees of the Most Courageous Award.
• Penn may flirt with current Siena and former Quaker coach Fran McCaffery but it might be considered a lateral move. McCaffery has told me in the past how much he loves his gig. Penn is arguably the best job in the Ivy League but Siena is the top job -- with scholarships -- in the MAAC.
• As much as Siena, Niagara and Rider got the early-season pub, the best team in the MAAC may end up being Fairfield. Coach Ed Cooley was raving in the preseason about his combo of Yorel Hawkins and Derek Needham, both averaging in the mid-teens.
• The A-10 is deep, but maybe too deep. There is no question that Charlotte, Rhode Island, Temple, Dayton, Richmond, La Salle, Xavier and Saint Joseph's have the capability to beat each other up and to sleep on Duquesne, George Washington and Saint Louis in league play would be a mistake. The problem for the A-10 may come if the top four to five teams have four or five losses.
• Watching high school senior Jared Sullinger play Thursday night must make Ohio State melt. The Buckeyes could desperately use Sullinger -- now. If Evan Turner comes back from his fracture in his back to play next season then the Buckeyes -- with Sullinger -- should be in line to compete for the Big Ten title and make a deep NCAA run. Sullinger holds the ball like an oversized grapefruit, can handle the ball and post up. He's everything the Buckeyes need now to shore up the middle, assuming they get Turner back.
• It's amazing that UCLA at Notre Dame Saturday has no pregame buzz. That speaks volumes about the season the Bruins are having and the drop the Irish suffered after losing at home to Loyola Marymount.
• I did say on a preseason Big East show on ESPNU that West Virginia would win the league by two games. That was before Syracuse emerged as not only a league title threat but a national championship threat as well. Still, I do like the Mountaineers quite a bit. Maybe not as much as the Orange right now, but West Virginia will continue to improve and the addition of Turkish center Deniz Kilicli in early February could be a huge boost, filling a necessary big man void.
• Good to see Mike Davis at ease at UAB. Watching Davis coach the Blazers to the rout of Cincinnati might have been the most comfortable I've seen Davis in a decade.
• Seriously, I would not be surprised if Washington State won the Pac-10. Washington and Cal should win the league but there is no reason to have complete faith in either one of those squads. No one in the league has been as dominant as Klay Thompson at Wazzu.
• Tasmin Mitchell came back to LSU for his senior season to be a leader and a productive player. He hasn't disappointed. Mitchell has been Mr. Everything and so far, averaging nearly 17 points and almost nine boards a game for the Tigers. He had a 24-point and 18-rebound game for the Tigers against SE Louisiana.
• I'm not sure I've seen a player come back from major knee surgery (ACL) as well as Ole Miss' Chris Warren. He has been superb, averaging 19 a game for the Rebels. The two Ole Miss-Mississippi State games should be dandies.
• Coach of the year so far? If you don't have Northwestern's Bill Carmody on the list then you're missing something. Carmody has done an outstanding job putting the Wildcats at 8-1 without Kevin Coble (foot injury and done for the year). The Wildcats looked toast after losing at home to Butler and now are cruising with wins over Iowa State, Notre Dame and NC State. None of those wins may be NCAA-caliber but the Wildcats will be in contention for a bid from this point forward.
No longer can coaches feel safe in any fashion once they get through the spring recruiting period and into summer evaluation.
If the feeling isn't right, if the losing has become too much to bear, if the players won't play for the coach, if there is a disconnect between the coach and his fans and boosters well, any of that appears to be just as much cause for firing these days as when NCAA violations are uncovered.
In recent years, making moves before Jan. 1 at St. John's, Minnesota and USC was somewhat palatable because of the sheer size of the program. Moves at Indiana, LSU, Alabama and Georgia during conference play were just quick head starts on coaching searches before the inevitable. But the head start didn't make a hire come quicker. The move was made to make a move.
That doesn't make any of them right or wrong, but they were still more explainable than the recent firings at Fordham (Dereck Whittenburg) and Penn (Glen Miller). Now there is officially a trend. No coach can feel secure if there is reason to believe he's in trouble, even if he stayed in power at the start of the season.
Fordham could have shed itself of Whittenburg in the spring. But it opted to go into the season with him as coach.
Penn might have done the same with Miller, but athletic director Steve Bilsky made it clear that Miller had a shot if he met expectations. Through seven games, he did not.
"I made it clear to Glen that this was a pivotal year," Bilsky told ESPN.com on Tuesday after firing Miller on Monday. "There were multiple things that had to show progress was being made."
Once the decision was made that there was no progress in all these "expectations" he put on Miller, timing became an issue. Bilsky said he made the decision to cut Miller loose last week in advance of final exams. Penn students are in exam period and have a two-week break between a game at Monmouth on Saturday and a trip to Davidson on Dec. 28.
"The kids are in a reading period and then finals, and I knew there was a lot on their minds," Bilsky said. "There was a lot of pressure on them -- if there was a time to do it during the season, then this was it. I wanted their minds cleared, knowing what the future looked like, to have the burden lifted so they could be upbeat."
Bilsky said he feared that if he stuck with Miller, the program would have continued in a downward spiral from December to March.
That same mindset was there when Minnesota made the move to oust Dan Monson three years ago, seven games into the season. Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi and Monson have both said it was best for them to part.
The timing of the recent firings ruffles coaches but doesn't seem to faze administrators.
"It's sad when one of our brethren is gone in the middle of the season," said Yale coach James Jones. "But I don't presume to know too much on the situation."
Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and a fellow Big Five member with Penn, said the recent firings at an A-10 and Ivy League school "further blurs the distinction between professional and collegiate coaching." Martelli rhetorically asked whether either could have been let go in the spring, as Fordham and Penn still will have to compensate the coaches.
"As long as the character is good, I'm going to err on the good chance that they're going to be successful and might pull the plug later than earlier," Bilsky said. "I gave him every bit of help and support."
Penn has been hampered by injuries of late. Tyler Bernardini has been out with a foot injury, and Andreas Schreiber (shoulder), Larry Loughery (groin) and Justin Reilly (recurring concussion syndrome) also have been out. Although a full squad might have prevented a 0-7 start, that apparently didn't mask all the issues.
Miller didn't suddenly forget how to coach. He was successful at Brown and took Penn to the NCAA tournament with Fran Dunphy's crew in his first year before two subpar seasons, including eight Ivy League losses last season. While Penn and Princeton have taken a dip lately, Cornell has risen to power behind former Penn assistant Steve Donahue, who is going for his third straight Ivy League title. His toughest competitor likely will be Harvard, not Penn or Princeton.
Meanwhile, Dunphy went to North Broad Street and has led the Owls to two NCAA tournament appearances in his three seasons. He's also fresh off a win over No. 3 Villanova on Sunday.
"Dunphy was always able to get kids and did a helluva job there," said Basketball Hall of Famer and former Temple coach John Chaney. "When they lost Dunphy, they lost the best. Dunphy always had shooters and always could compete. For them to become what they were when Dunph was there isn't going to happen. That day is gone. Dunphy is pretty darn good at knowing this game."
Bilsky was in charge at Penn when Dunphy left for Temple, then hired Miller away from Brown. He said Dunphy's experience as a coach and stability at the program were big parts of the success, which included nine NCAA tournament appearances.
"We were fortunate to have him as long as we did," Bilsky said. "I'm happy for him and happy that he was able to do something in Philadelphia and not have to relocate. He deserves the success. He loved the school, and he was a good fit."
Bilsky tabbed first-year assistant Jerome Allen, a former three-time Ivy League champ under Dunphy, to lead the Quakers the rest of the season. He said Allen has a shot to earn the full-time gig.
Bilsky said he wants someone who is familiar with the Ivy League, understands Penn's history and knows it is in a unique situation. It is unlike any other Ivy League school in that it has Philadelphia as its home base, players within an easy reach and a tradition of playing in the Big Five. The fame the Quakers get locally and at times nationally for playing games against Villanova, Temple and Saint Joe's helps with the national profile. That's why Penn consistently is a potential spot for high-major programs on the East Coast to play games and at times home-and-home series. The famed Palestra is one of the sport's cherished venues.
"I'll be watching him carefully," Bilsky said of Allen. "He represents the best about Penn, knows the game and represents the school. This is not a trial, but we'll be supporting and watching him as well."
Allen finished college in 1995 and is still quite green. This is his first head-coaching gig, but the players likely will have his attention because he is close to them in age.
The natural long-term choice would be Donahue, but he has made Cornell into an Ivy power. And if Donahue were to move, why not out of the conference and into a higher-paying gig in a power-six league?
Still, Penn likely will be a coveted gig if Allen isn't the choice. The timing of removing Miller may make no difference in who can get the job unless it's Allen. Getting rid of a coach before the end of the season doesn't give an AD much of a head start. The only time it proved to be beneficial was when Tim Floyd got the USC gig in the middle of the season and then recruited while interim coach Jim Saia coached the Trojans.
But that's the exception, not the norm.