Will the Aggies stay in house with hire?

May, 12, 2011
Coming off its sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance and returning possibly its best team in years, Texas A&M seeks the smoothest transition possible after the departure of Mark Turgeon to Maryland.

The Aggies should be picked to finish in the top four in the Big 12 in some order with Kansas, Missouri and Baylor now that Texas has been gutted by the early-entry NBA draft deadline.

Texas A&M isn't going to get Buzz Williams of Marquette for a number of reasons, notably his financial buyout of $2 million and a current salary that is close to that. Memphis' Josh Pastner, a Houston native, isn't going anywhere, either. He just signed a new deal and said he wants to stay put.

Nebraska's Doc Sadler hasn't heard anything, according to sources, so he's on his way to the Big Ten next season with the Huskers. Wichita State's Gregg Marshall isn't on the move, either. According to sources, Marshall likely would be receptive to a move to the SEC if that time ever came. But for now, he's paid well and has unfinished business at Wichita. An NCAA tournament berth is well within reach now that he has the favorite in the Missouri Valley for the second straight season.

There are other possibilities such as Colorado State's Tim Miles, Tulsa's Doug Wojcik or North Texas' Johnny Jones. But only two likely would provide a smooth transition: Colorado coach Tad Boyle and current Texas A&M assistant Scott Spinelli.

Boyle just moved to CU a year ago from Northern Colorado. He led the Buffaloes to an 8-8 Big 12 finish, a win or two from an NCAA berth, a 24-14 overall record and an NIT semifinal loss to Alabama.

Boyle is losing the core of his team, though, in seniors Cory Higgins and Levi Knutson and sophomore Alec Burks, who declared and stayed in the NBA draft.

Boyle knows Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne well because the two were at Oregon together. He is also a close personal friend of Turgeon and knows the Aggies' program and players. But he's also extremely comfortable in Boulder and loves the quality of life there, and he just got to CU. Leaving after just one season would be a tough call, considering he hasn't had a chance to leave a footprint. The Buffaloes will struggle in the first year of the Pac-12, but Boyle is up for the challenge. Does he leave Colorado for Texas A&M -- a job with more resources and certainly a better team -- next season? According to sources, he doesn't have to make a decision yet.

If Byrne wants to stay in house, the choice is Spinelli.

And this leads to a question -- when is it the right time to offer the head-coaching job to the top assistant?

There are countless examples of successful situations at high levels from an assistant to head coach. Michigan State's Tom Izzo was a coach in waiting under Jud Heathcote, as was Purdue's Matt Painter under Gene Keady. There are others:

Bob Huggins left, and Kansas State hired assistant Frank Martin.
John Calipari left, and Memphis hired assistant Josh Pastner.
Dan Monson left, and Gonzaga hired assistant Mark Few.
Ben Howland left, and Pitt hired assistant Jamie Dixon.
Sean Miller left, and Xavier hired assistant Chris Mack.
Todd Lickliter left, and Butler hired assistant Brad Stevens.
Butler has done this quite a bit, from Barry Collier to Thad Matta to Lickliter to Stevens.

At Texas A&M, Spinelli recruited the entire roster with Turgeon. The players are heading home for the summer. The timing of Turgeon's departure to Maryland (where there was no natural replacement on the staff for Gary Williams) could help Spinelli.

Obviously, Byrne has to ensure that hiring Spinelli is right for the long-term health of the program, not just a short-term fix because it's mid-May. But how does an athletic director know when it's right to promote?

"I don't think you ever really know," said Collier, now the athletic director at Butler. When Collier was the head coach at Nebraska, Spinelli was on his staff. "When you feel there is a great fit, then that's the time. It's not just one thing. You do need continuity in the program. But once a culture is established, then it lends itself to looking at the existing staff. Every situation is unique. In the end, it has to be a good fit for everybody."

Spinelli has put in the time. He was a prep head coach in Massachusetts for six years, then went to Wyoming, American, worked in professional basketball for a year, then back to college at Loyola-Chicago, Nebraska, Wichita State and Texas A&M.

He has been going hard at this gig since he graduated from Boston University in 1989.

The core of next season's roster has his imprint on it: Khris Middleton, Ray Turner, Dash Harris and David Loubeau were all recruited by the staff that Spinelli was on at Texas A&M.

Turgeon already has taken Bill Walker with him to Maryland. Spinelli is running the interim phase at Texas A&M while he awaits his fate. He'll have a job at Maryland if he doesn't land the Aggies gig.

Does he deserve an opportunity in College Station?

"He's got a chance," Collier said. "He's got a really good team coming back and he helped recruit all those kids."

But what will Byrne do? When do you know it's the right time to promote? This is what he has to decide. Does he take the gamble on an assistant, make a play for a coach outside the school who seems like a natural fit (Boyle) or go completely out of the box and grab one of the other coaches who don't have a direct tie to Byrne or the school?

We will know soon enough.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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