Tom Crean, Thad Matta and other candidates to be Georgia’s next basketball coach

Georgia basketball-coaching candidates-Tom Crean
Tom Crean could be a top candidate for the Georgia coaching job.

Georgia has an opening for a basketball coach, with Mark Fox out after nine seasons. This will be the second-most high profile search for Georgia in recent years. But the search for a replacement is not at all like when Mark Richt was let go so that Kirby Smart could be snatched up.

There is no obvious, ready-made alumnus waiting in the wings for basketball. But Georgia has been preparing for this for a while, as it has been apparent for several weeks that a change was afoot. Athletic director Greg McGarity may have already engaged a search firm.

Which way will Georgia go? There are veteran coaches who are currently unemployed and available. There are coaches at mid-majors. There are also assistants at high-major programs, though the ongoing FBI investigation could make any program cautious about going that route. Who knows who will be caught up next in that net?

People will mention Billy Donovan because of the Florida connection with McGarity, but there are no indications that Donovan is unhappy in the NBA. And while Danny Hurley at Rhode Island is the hot mid-major coaching candidate this cycle, he will have many suitors, including Pittsburgh and Louisville. That doesn’t mean Georgia can’t try, of course.

Georgia has gone the mid-major route four of the previous fives times it has hired a basketball coach (although one of those, Jim Harrick, had won a national title at UCLA before going to Rhode Island).

But consider this: Seven current SEC coaches had been power-conference or even NBA coaches before being hired by their current programs: Rick Barnes (Tennessee), Cuonzo Martin (Missouri), Frank Martin (South Carolina), Ben Howland (Mississippi State), Bruce Pearl (Auburn), Avery Johnson (Alabama) and Mike Anderson (Arkansas).

Of course, it’s easy to say you want to hire an established coach with a great resumé. It’s another to be able to do it.

So here’s an educated stab at candidates for the job in Athens:

Tom Crean, former Indiana coach: The highest-profile coaching free agent, Crean spent the past year out of coaching after being fired by Indiana. It didn’t end well for him there, but he led Marquette to a Final Four in 2003 (with the help of Dwyane Wade), then took Indiana to three Sweet 16 appearances (although not further). Crean, who will turn 52 in late March, seems to want to return to coaching, but would he pick Georgia? Would he be a fit for Georgia, where football is king, a situation Crean has not dealt with as a head coach?

Thad Matta, former Ohio State coach: Another coaching free agent, though under different circumstances. Matta stepped down from Ohio State last year amid health reasons. Matta is actually two years younger than Crean, and Matta reportedly also has met with Ole Miss, so he seems ready to get back in. If he is, Georgia would be advised to check in on a veteran who was successful at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State — but who, like Crean, could wait to see what else is available. Matta does have a Georgia connection: His brother Greg is the coach at North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw.

Earl Grant, College of Charleston coach: If Georgia goes the young and mid-major route, Grant fits the bill, even with a minor in-state connection: Grant, 41, played at Georgia College, a Division II program. He’s a native of North Charleston, S.C., and has turned around College of Charleston, which went 9-24 his first season but has won at least 25 games the past two years and earned an NCAA Tournament berth earlier this week. Grant was also a good recruiter at Clemson from 2010-14. There’s a lot to like here.

Steve Prohm, Iowa State coach: Prohm has Georgia roots: He grew up near Dalton in northwest Georgia and briefly attended Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. Then he ended up graduating from Alabama in 1997, where he began his coaching career as a student assistant. Taking over for Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, Prohm led the Cyclones to the Sweet 16 in his first year, then the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his second year. This year they’re struggling. Prohm was coach at Murray State from 2011-15.

Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro coach: A former North Carolina guard, Miller is in his seventh season at UNC Greensboro, going from five losing seasons to begin his tenure to back-to-back 20-win campaigns and a 2018 NCAA berth.

Nick McDevitt, UNC Asheville coach: Another young mid-major coach, the 38-year-old McDevitt has been the coach at UNC Asheville, his alma mater, the past five years, reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2016.  

Matt McCall, UMass coach: This would be a reach, as the 36-year-old McCall is only in his first season at UMass and isn’t having a strong year. But McCall is a Donovan protegé, having worked at Florida as a student manager in the early 2000s, so McGarity may remember him as well. McCall has also beaten Georgia twice: Earlier this season at UMass and two years ago in his rookie season at Chattanooga. McCall was 48-18 in two seasons at Chattanooga, reaching the NCAA Tournament his first year, although he didn’t build that program, he inherited it from Will Wade, now the LSU coach.

Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State coach: Forbes is doing well at a mid-major right now and has SEC experience, having been a Tennessee assistant from 2006-11. But Forbes was also part of Bruce Pearl’s staff when Pearl was fired for recruiting violations. Whether that impacts his candidacy is hard to tell. Forbes, who will turn 53 on March 22, also doesn’t have obvious ties to Georgia, but then again not many on this list do.

Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee coach: Much like Forbes, Davis is doing well at a mid-major but has a long-ago NCAA history, having resigned from Texas A&M in the early 1990s after being accused of recruiting violations. That could make him a tough hire for Georgia in this climate, even if that was a quarter-century ago.

Jonas Hayes, Georgia assistant coach: This would be a way to have some continuity in the program and try to keep what’s going well while having a fresh approach. Hayes has turned into a strong recruiter since Fox elevated him to the staff in 2013, and has made inroads in the Atlanta recruiting scene. Hayes is also an alum, which would excite plenty of people. But is he ready to be a head coach?

Sam Mitchell, former NBA coach: Mitchell played and coached at the pro level, leading the Toronto Raptors from 2004-09 and briefly the Minnesota Timberwolves two seasons ago. He doesn’t have college coaching experience, but he’s from Georgia: He grew up in Columbus and played his college ball at Mercer.

The wild-card current coach: Six years ago, South Carolina had an opening and landed Frank Martin, who was antsy to leave Kansas State. Few saw that coming before it happened. Is there another established coach who wants a change of scenery?

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