|Monday, April 14
Updated: April 15, 12:51 PM ET
Jayhawks' search for coach will start with Self
By Andy Katz
Illinois' Bill Self is Kansas' first choice to replace Roy Williams.
And, if Self is offered and takes the KU job, his hiring would set off a domino effect stretching from coast to coast and involving at least five schools -- not to mention trigger an onslaught of premier job openings.
Self's hiring at Kansas would not only fuel angst in athletic departments and at alumni gatherings across the country as they wonder what might happen next, but let's not forget recruits. Some high school players committed or signed by Kansas might try to wiggle their way out of national letters of intent signed months ago.
But, keep in mind, Williams' decision Monday to leave Kansas for North Carolina was just the first spin on this particular carousel. Self leaving Illinois for Lawrence, Kan., could be the next. And the ride could include Marquette's Tom Crean, Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Bruce Pearl and others.
But it all starts with Self -- a Kansas assistant under Larry Brown in the 1980s. He is the clear favorite. Those who remained at the school from the Brown era speak highly of Self. And make no mistake, Self is the first name on a firm short list of KU candidates, according to multiple sources within Kansas' basketball program.
So, should Self accept an offer to return to Kansas as its head coach, he would trigger a scenario that could see Crean leave Marquette for Illinois, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Bruce Pearl leaving the Horizon League upstart for C-USA and the program Crean revived at Marquette.
As for Self's competition at Kansas? Sources told ESPN.com on Monday that Kansas hopes to choose among five candidates, starting with Self, and including Crean, Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Gonzaga's Mark Few and Wichita State's Mark Turgeon.
The Jayhawks are forced to move quicker than normal in replacing Williams. How fast? Kansas is determined to have a coach in place within a week.
But, the timing and uncertainty within the Kansas athletics department following last week's firing of AD Al Bohl will make finding Williams' successor that much more difficult. Sources said the search committee will consist of Chancellor Robert Hemenway, associate athletics director Richard Konzem, assistant athletics director Doug Vance and interim athletics director A. Drue Jennings.
Self said Monday that he remains focused on his current job, telling The News-Gazette (Champaign, Ill.) that he's moving forward at Illinois and that he hasn't heard from any other schools.
Self would come in and settle a tumultuous situation at Kansas, just as he did at Illinois in 2000-2001 when he replaced Lon Kruger and led the Illini to the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons. The Illini's first Elite Eight appearance under Self came the season after he took Tulsa to the second week of the Dance. Self is a disciplinarian who gets players to play tough, hard-nosed, defensive basketball. Any threats of Kansas players transferring would likely be quelled if Self were hired. He took over a veteran team at Illinois with players like Marcus Griffin, Sergio McClain, Cory Bradford and Frank Williams.
Kansas, which is coming off consecutive Final Four appearances, has a nucleus in place to make another run deep into the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks return starting guards Aaron Miles and Keith Langford, and forward Wayne Simien, who missed most of the season with a separated shoulder. Simien could be one of the top forwards in the nation next season and is a likely NBA first-round draft pick. The Jayhawks also have role players Michael Lee, Jeff Graves, Bryant Nash, Moulaye Niang and a highly-rated incoming recruiting class of David Padgett, J.R. Giddens and Omar Wilkes.
Getting Self, however, isn't a slam dunk. To leave Illinois means leaving behind a top 20 team that returns three of the best freshmen in the country in Dee Brown, Deron Williams and James Augustine, not to mention veterans Nick Smith, Luther Head and Roger Powell. To compensate for the losses of Big Ten player of the year Brian Cook and 3-point specialist Sean Harrington, there are commitments from Charlie Villanueva (who's yet to sign and has NBA thoughts), Richard McBride and Brian Randle.
Leaving Illinois for Kansas means giving up a program that has a richer recruiting base of players coming out of Chicago and Peoria. Kansas doesn't have a strong pool of players to draw from in-state. The salaries could be similar. But Self does have stronger ties to the Big 12. He not only was an assistant at Kansas but also played for, and was an assistant at, Oklahoma State.
If Kansas cannot lure Self, it will not hesitate to pursue Crean, Brey, Few or Turgeon.
Crean figures to have an interesting decision no matter what Self decides to do. It may come down to leaving Marquette to coach Kansas or replace Self at Illinois. And while he does make nearly $1 million a year and is beloved at Marquette, Crean does have ties to the Big Ten as an assistant to Tom Izzo at Michigan State. But, like Self, Crean is cultivating a rich recruiting area, already having made inroads into greater Chicago.
Oh, and he's coming off of a Final Four appearance.
Brey, meanwhile, has worked the Midwest for Notre Dame but could have his eyes on Duke down the road whenever Mike Krzyzewski retires. Few does not have ties to the Midwest but he's one of the most respected coaches in college basketball. Turgeon is extremely popular within the Kansas athletic department after serving as an assistant at Kansas, but he has yet to put Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons.
No matter what happens within the Kansas coaching offices, an emotionally charged atmosphere has been left in Williams's wake. Still, Kansas administrators said they will not worry if players talk about defecting. The feeling among Kansas personnel is that a new coach would quiet such talk and no player would risk redshirting next year, especially after a Final Four season.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.