Mooney, Smart can't escape the questions

SAN ANTONIO -- It’s shopping season for college athletic directors in search of new basketball coaches. And the Southwest Regional has become Macy’s.

Perhaps the two hottest coaching commodities in the country are both here, with their Cinderella teams in tow. One is Chris Mooney, whose 12th-seeded Richmond Spiders will face the Kansas Jayhawks on Friday. The other is Shaka Smart, whose 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth Rams take on the Florida State Seminoles.

Both call the city of Richmond, Va., home ... for now.

Expect moving vans to arrive for both men this spring.

Their names have been mentioned in connection with several of the top vacancies in the game -- Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Tennessee most prominently. Which means they had to spend time Thursday deflecting questions about their future employment on the eve of the biggest games in the history of their two schools.

“It’s flattering,” Mooney said. “Obviously, it’s one of the unfortunate parts of college basketball, while we’re in the midst of our most exciting time for players and coaches, that there’s this other facet because jobs are becoming available.

“As far as managing it, if there are a hundred blog posts about Shaka -- to put all the pressure on him -- if there are a hundred blog posts about Shaka taking this job or that job and somebody is interested, he doesn’t see it if he doesn’t turn on his computer. I would talk to my guys right up front about it if there was anything to talk about.”

Deft move by Mooney, hypothetically throwing the other guy out there. (He did so with a laugh.) But the fact is, both men are part of a tried-and-true dynamic: If you are a younger coach who has gotten his team into the second week of the tournament, you automatically become a hot coach.

“It comes with the territory when you are able to win games in the NCAA tournament, it happens every year,” Smart said. “It’s almost like a formula. You win a game or two and then this is going to follow it.

“But how do I manage it? It’s easy to manage because my focus is 100 percent on our team. Somebody asked me, ‘Well, how do the [players] deal with it?’ I don’t think our coaches are focused on the rumor mill or the coaching carousel. They’re so locked into the NCAA tournament, and they know that I am, too, so it hasn’t been an issue.”

It will be an issue soon enough. But for now, both deserve the right to coach their current teams for as long as they can this season.