By Joe Henricksen
While we wait for Jean Lenti Ponsetto to officially name the next head coach at DePaul, the Hoops Report can't help but think back to a recent research project that was conducted last summer and an interview question I was asked in an ESPN.com article a little over a month ago.
First, the research project. As big-named coaches Jamie Dixon and Ben Howland were foolishly mentioned as possibilities at DePaul -- sure you can dream, but reality eventually sets in -- the Hoops Report couldn't help but think back to last summer's research findings. Those findings can be found here from a past Hoops Report blog last August titled: Best Division I Coaching Jobs in Illinois.
The Best Division I Coaching Jobs in Illinois
By Joe Henricksen
We will go ahead and anoint Bruce Weber as the coach with the best Division I college basketball coaching job in the state of Illinois. That much is obvious with the resources, tradition, facilities, Big Ten Conference affiliation, and recruiting ties to the state and Chicago that Weber and his staff enjoy.
However, after coach Bruce Weber and the Fighting Illini job, what programs are the most desired? Who has the best coaching job in the state outside of Champaign?
Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich can take some pride in knowing that a large pool of coaches who were surveyed over the last two weeks by the City/Suburban Hoops Report selected the Illinois State job as the best Division I head coaching position in the state of Illinois -- and in pretty convincing fashion.
The list of 22 coaches that were surveyed were told it was a complete off-the-record survey and their answers would be kept anonymous. The 22 coaches included current Division I head coaches and assistant coaches from around the state and a few out-of-state assistant coaches who are both familiar with the state of Illinois and have had previous college coaching experience in the state of Illinois. Coaches were asked to rank, in order, the top four coaching positions in the state of Illinois. First-place votes received 10 points, second-place received 8 points, third-place received 6 points and fourth-place received 5 points.
There are currently 13 Division I basketball programs in the state: Illinois, Illinois-Chicago, Loyola, DePaul, Northwestern, Chicago State, Northern Illinois, Illinois State, Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Bradley, Southern Illinois, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
Coaches, who were allowed to vote for their own school, were told to consider everything when looking at the head coaching job at each school, including history and tradition of the program, facilities, fan and media interest, recruiting potential, quality of life in the town and area the school is located in, support system and anything else that goes into building a strong basketball program at each respective level of the Division I school.
Overall, Illinois State was most frequently listed among the top four, with 21 of the 22 coaches surveyed placing ISU in its top four. Illinois State secured by far the most first-place votes with 12, followed by Bradley and DePaul with three first-place votes each. Although Bradley received just one first-place vote, the Peoria school still edged SIU to finish second overall in the survey.
Illinois State has won 49 games and reached the NIT in the two years since Jankovich took over the program. The Redbirds, who play in the highly-regarded Missouri Valley Conference, are looking for their first NCAA Tournament berth since coach Kevin Stallings led ISU to back-to-back tournament berths in 1997 and 1998. The 21-year-old Redbird Arena is the second largest on-campus facility in the state of Illinois with a seating capacity of 10,200, while the practice facilities recently underwent a $500,000 renovation.
Here are a list of quotes that were given for various schools that received first-place votes....
"ISU is a short, easy drive to Chicago for recruiting and they are in a great conference [Missouri Valley]." .... "Combine the on-campus facilities they have, the conference they are in, local interest, some tradition, the community and Illinois State is the best job." .... "DePaul is still in the Big East, it's still in Chicago and they have the best tradition of any school other than Illinois. The facility kills them." .... "The fan and community interest in Bradley basketball puts them at the top. The people really care about that team and program." .... "Tough call between Illinois State and Bradley. The conference they play in is terrific, but I would have to go with the state school and the facilities at Illinois State." .... "Aside from last year, Southern Illinois just has it going success wise. They are in the [Missouri] Valley, can tap into St. Louis and Chicago as well. They pay well." .... "Outside some of the power conferences, I think Illinois State is one of the more underrated jobs in the country." .... "For the mid-major level, Illinois State has some great recruiting advantages with its location and facilities, while Bradley is still a name in college basketball." .... "DePaul is a tough job, but the right person can win there. The Big East is a draw to recruits." .... "I just think Northwestern really can be a great sell, where if it's having some success there is a national interest in the program because of the academics. Plus, it's in the Big Ten."
The Top Six (final results of survey with first-place votes in parenthesis)
1. Illinois State (12) ................................................159 points
2. Bradley (1) ........................................................ 123 points
3. Southern Illinois (3) ........................................... 116 points
4. DePaul (3) ......................................................... 97 points
5. Northwestern (1) ............................................... 51 points
6. UIC (1) .............................................................. 18 points
Others receiving points in the order they received them: Loyola, Eastern Illinois and Northern Illinois
So that brings us back to the DePaul job. We're talking about a job that, among college coaches in the business who are familiar with recruiting the state of Illinois and the 13 Division I jobs in the state, was a distant fifth. DePaul was behind Illlinois and the Missouri Valley trio of Illinois State, Bradley and Southern Illinois. That should tell you something.
These types of surveys can change with the wind, with certain programs rapidly rising or falling depending on the current situation and climate within the basketball program. If these coaches knew at the time they were surveyed that DePaul would spend, say, more than $1.5 million on a head coach and raise assistant coaches salaries, would the results have been different? Maybe. Probably.
But the point, which most everyone seems to realize and understand other than those involved with the search, is that the DePaul job is not very desirable -- or not as desirable as the folks at DePaul believe (or at least hope) it is.
Maybe desirable can be -- or is being -- confused with difficult. After all, if a program is going public saying it's going to throw out "X" amount of dollars, ranging from $1 million to $2.5 million, that sounds pretty darn desireable to me. The DePaul job, though, is certainly difficult. I am one of the very few who believes that winning can return to DePaul, even with all that we know.
We know the glory days of DePaul basketball are more than two decades ago. We know the national attention it received playing on WGN for years, an absolutely underrated element, has been lost forever with the influx of ESPN and cable television, which basically offers dozens and dozens of programs national attention. We know there is no football program to pump life and money into the athletic department. We know local kids aren't enamored with the program as they once were. We know even the local media has found others to cover. We know being totally beaten up in Big East play the last two years has its drawbacks with recruits. And, most of all, we know that Allstate Arena is a sinkhole, an albatross that is pulling the program down with it.
Still, this is a program with past history and some great tradition. This is a program that was once a really big thing. This is a program that plays in the Big East, the nation's best conference and one high school players would love to play in.
What it really comes down to is first, hiring the perfect coach and staff, which seems more difficult to do by the day. And, second, finding a home. Imagine a DePaul basketball facility in the heart of Lincoln Park with 8,000 seats? The place would be happening, filled even with a decent Demon team, and be attractive to recruits. Even building a new facility near downtown, a short train ride away from campus and easy to reach for folks and business people in the Loop, would be better. Just get out of Rosemont!
With the building of an on-campus (or at least nearby) facility a stretch and really not a possibility at the moment, it's imperative to hit a home run with this hire. But the pickings are so slim. If DePaul can somehow talk and woo Dayton's Brian Gregory into the job, fantastic. He would be a great hire. He seems to be the last viable option of impressive, big-named possibilities out there. Depending on who you talk with, it's a longshot to land Gregory or, if the money is right (or a lot), a possibility.
This brings me to the first missed opportunity. The Hoops Report's personal choice? I went on record a little over a month ago in an ESPN.com article stating I would target Steve Lavin. I said at that time Lavin would bring an impressive combination to the table. He would bring a face to the program, instant name recognition, an image, media savvy, great in the living room in home visits, experience, past success and midwest ties. If a respected national figure like Lavin could bring in true Chicago-connected assistants who could get it done locally, then overcoming some of the hurdles at DePaul, most notably Allstate Arena, would become more feasible.
I will admit, I am a bit biased. Lavin just happened to be the first high-major coach to give a young pup out of Illinois like me any love, attention or respect a decade ago. And he was the head coach at, of all places, UCLA. That obviously went a long way and still does today.
Now that Lavin is the head coach at St. John's, it's water under the bridge. So why even discuss it? Because it's disturbing to me that Lavin wasn't even given the time of day or consideration. Lavin to DePaul could have happened. It could have gotten done. And three weeks ago! Instead the program waited and watched unrealistic hopes flame out quickly.
Now I hear Geno Auriema as a possibility. Huh? Obviously it's a rumor and one that is pretty far-fetched and unrealistic. Maybe there is a slam dunk out there yet for DePaul. Maybe they think Reggie Theus is that slam dunk. But at this point you can't help but worry. Hopefully sometime this week, or whenever the decision is made, I will be pleasantly surprised.
Calling Brian Gregory, calling Brian Gregory ... Right now he has to be the guy. Overpay. Do what it takes, DePaul.