By Joe Henricksen
With the announcement of Jimmy Collins stepping down as head coach at UIC, there was a buzz circulating throughout the college coaching ranks. While Collins stepping down was sudden to outsiders and the timing of it all certainly befuddling to all, those in the business knew it was coming.
The buzz has been growing for months. This past spring the college coaching underworld heard and believed the UIC job would be opening by June 1. Then the date shifted and became July 1. It didn't happen. But now it's open and coaches are scurrying to have their names put in play for the head job -- and even the assistant jobs once the boss is hired.
That may come as a surprise to the average college basketball fan (Come on ... UIC? Illinois-Chicago?). But believe it or not, the UIC job is coveted by both head coaches in college basketball and especially by up-and-coming assistant coaches, particularly throughout the Midwest. This is a job that is talked about among college assistants as being one where one of those up-and-coming coaches can have success. It's not a dead-end coaching job, which so many jobs are.
In fact, in a Hoops Report survey of college coaches last summer (both assistants and head coaches were asked), UIC fared quite well in the "Best Division I basketball coaching jobs in Illinois." I have had numerous conversations over the past few years with both current head coaches and assistant coaches regarding the upside of the UIC job and all that it offers.
So why is UIC basketball so coveted and highly thought of? First, you can win there. It's been done before with three NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 12 years that have been quickly forgotten. Collins went 22-6 in his second year on the job. He put together three straight 20-plus win seasons starting in 2001-2002.
Then there is the obvious: the surplus of prep talent right in UIC's back yard. The right coach can recruit in a big way, keep them home and fill a roster with talent. And you better believe the bounce-back prospect who leaves the state for bigger and better things out of high school will transfer back if UIC has the right coach in place. And UIC plays in a league, that if you can just climb the Butler Mountain, is winnable.
Who knows where UIC will go financially when it comes to hiring the next staff, especially in the current economic climate. But the previous staff was known to be well compensated. If the numbers stay anywhere near where they were, the new head coach will be able to attract a top-notch assistant coach or two to help fill out the staff.
Now the important part: hiring the perfect fit. That perfect fit is critical and, in the Hoops Report's eyes, is clear. UIC needs a young, energetic coach who is fully capable of pumping life back into a program that desperately needs it. We're talking a program that is on life support in terms of current success (just 8-22 a year ago overall and 3-15 in the Horizon League) and talent level within the program. This young coach with energy must absolutely have strong recruiting ties to the city and suburbs. In addition, UIC needs a presence and someone who can bring stability and credibility.
While there are number of very solid candidates with Chicago recruiting ties and varying degrees of backgrounds and experience who should and will be considered, UIC could do wonders with one of two candidates: Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore and Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard.
Howard has been a hot commodity as an assistant coach under Bruce Weber, with heavy overtures from both Kentucky and Louisville earlier this summer. That speaks volumes about his work ethic, reputation and recruiting abilities -- key ingredients UIC desperately needs. There is no question Howard would get players. The bubbly and enthusiastic Howard would bring instant cred and recognition with the kids in the city as the coach who has been a fixture in their gym the last few years. He has established himself unbelievably well in recruiting the Chicago area in a relatively short period of time.
The question for UIC will be is he too young? Does he have enough coaching experience as he enters his fourth year as an assistant in Champaign? While the recruiting fortunes have flourished of late at Illinois and the immediate future is awfully bright, the program hasn't exactly been winning big.
As green as he may be, Howard is not one you can discount. As quickly as he possibly could, Howard made his presence felt with hard work. He gained the respect of those he needed to gain respect with and has the much-needed ties and connections already built. And he has played, worked and coached for some outstanding coaches, including Bill Self and Bruce Weber.
The Hoops Report's endorsement, though, goes to Moore, who is ready and makes complete sense. He should be -- and just may be -- the guy to beat and the ideal fit. He is a native of Chicago who played at Taft High School and is a Chicago Public League Hall of Famer. Ask anyone in the coaching business and around Chicago basketball and they will tell you Moore is as classy, professional and well respected as they come. The Hoops Report will tell you firsthand he is all that and more (pardon the pun). The sharp and articulate Moore, who has the ability to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds, has an aura of sincerity about him that hits home with both prospects and their parents. With basketball people throughout the Chicago area, the veteran assistant has prep basketball history and old stories to draw on in conversation.
Having grown up and played in Chicago and recruiting the city and suburbs for the last 10-plus years as a college assistant coach, Moore's ties to the area are an obvious advantage in any college coaching job he takes. He just completed his sixth year at Wisconsin under highly-successful Bo Ryan, where the Badgers have averaged 26 wins a season in the last four years. There aren't many better coaches to learn under than Ryan. You better believe Moore, who has been the guy to recruit the state of Illinois for the Badgers, has soaked up a whole lot during his time in Madison under Ryan.
During his time in Madison he's become a household name in recruiting the Chicago area. Moore was instrumental in landing both Ben Brust of Mundelein and Duje Dukan of Deerfield this past season, while securing the commitments of Brooks point guard George Marshall out of the Chicago Public League and Benet Academy big man Frank Kaminsky in the Class of 2011.
Moore also has mid-major coaching experience, which is another plus, and understands the basketball climate at the mid-major level and the type of talent you need to find to win at that level. He has spent time in the Missouri Valley (Bradley 2000-2003), the Mid-American Conference (Ball State in 2003-2004) and in the Horizon League (Loyola in 2004-2005) prior to heading to Wisconsin.
Your move, UIC. It's an important hire for a program that offers a lot more than people realize. The right coach can bring it all out. And expect both Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore and Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard to be right at the top of UIC's search, with both assistants ready to jump at the chance to re-charge the Flames basketball program. At this point, however, UIC could definitely use a little Moore sooner than later.