Looking at potential IU coaching candidates

Zach Osterman

Left to right: Billy Donovan, Dane Fife, Steve Alford and Sean Miller.

BLOOMINGTON – For the first time in nearly a decade, Indiana is looking for a new men’s basketball coach.

In some respects, the program is as strong as it’s been to any prospective new coach as in recent memory, shorn of NCAA sanctions and removed from the acrimony of Bob Knight’s firing.

But spanning the distance between IU as currently constituted and the blue-blood status fans dream of returning to will not be easy. Thus, Fred Glass’ task over the coming weeks might not be so straightforward.

What follows is an examination of potential candidates Indiana might pick from. Understand that it isn’t meant to be a comprehensive and all-encompassing list, but rather a breakdown of the field in front of the Hoosiers today. We’ve separated it into tiers, to keep things a bit more organized:

• MOREWhat potential candidates are saying about IU job

Pool I: Super-reach candidates
Billy Donovan led Florida to back-to-back national titles in 2006-07.

The upper crust. The 1 percent. Whatever you want to call it. Coaches with multiple national championships and/or Final Fours on their resumes who are not absolute non-starters because of their current situation.

Fans will long, understandably for Brad Stevens, because of his in-state ties. And Billy Donovan has strangely gained some traction, based largely on an Orlando Sentinel columnist’s willingness to mention Donovan and Indiana in the same sentence recently.

But that forecast came in a segment apparently called “crazy second-half predictions,” so for the moment, let’s file this pool there.

Pool II: Established college coaches
Sean Miller has a 215–65 (.768 winning percentage) in eight seasons in Tucson.

Admittedly, this is an equally small group to Pool I.

Indiana will likely want a young-ish coach, probably no older than Tom Crean, who turns 51 in March. And let’s assume Indiana isn’t going to yank away the coach of another blue-blood program, like Kentucky or North Carolina.

So you’re talking about a select group of coaches that fit this bill, both young and accomplished, but perhaps still capable of taking another step up. Tony Bennett and Sean Miller would fit, but Indiana would have work to do to convince them that a move to Bloomington would indeed be a step up from Virginia or Arizona, respectively, where both have enjoyed regular success in recent seasons.

Steve Alford, whose UCLA team looks like a potential Final Four contender this year, probably straddles the line between Pools II and III. Which brings us to …

Pool III: Up-and-comers
Steve Alford led IU to a national title as a player in 1987. Could he do the same as coach?

Here’s where the country’s most promising young coaches best fit.

Given their combination of conference and NCAA tournament success, Archie Miller (Dayton) and Chris Mack (Xavier) might straddle Pools II and III along with Alford. But they are generally regarded nationally as promising and young, but they’re 38 and 47, respectively, so let’s group them with the younger group.

Having won conference tournament titles at both Iowa and UCLA, Alford might belong more in Pool II, something this year’s NCAA tournament success might flesh out.

In some ways, this group separates itself between Mack and Miller (and maybe Alford) — who have extended resumes at strong mid- or high-major jobs — and more recently established names like Chris Collins, Chris Holtmann and Will Wade of VCU.

Pool IV: And then the rest
Dane Fife has head coaching experience (Fort Wayne) and was on IU's last Final Four team (2002).

Consider this a hodgepodge of very young-but-potentially promising candidates, potential NBA pulls and outside shots.

Wade could belong in the first box, alongside the likes of Dane Fife, Kevin Keatts (UNC Wilmington) or Matt McCall (Chattanooga). If IU has interest in coaches with NBA ties, Randy Wittman, who played at Ben Davis and IU, would make sense. Fred Hoiberg’s status in Chicago could potentially throw him in as well. In the last group, toss in names like Randy Bennett (Saint Mary’s) and Brad Underwood (Oklahoma State).

It’s also worth mentioning that, when Indiana hired Kelvin Sampson in 2006, his candidacy did not surface until very close to his official hiring. Obviously the media environment around coaching searches has changed in the last decade, but the Sampson hiring should be a reminder not to rule out something out of left field.

Final word

This was less meant to be a forecast of Indiana’s specified intentions, and more a broad-brush look at the field in front of the Hoosiers.

There is undoubtedly a promising wave of young coaches coming into the national spotlight right now, making this hiring cycle fascinating viewing from Bloomington. Could Indiana reach even higher? Given the makeup of the Big Ten — with Wisconsin having changed hands, Ohio State struggling, and both Tom Izzo and John Beilein north of 60 now — there undoubtedly exists an opportunity in front of Glass, to restore his team nearer the top of the conference pecking order.

His work over the coming weeks will determine whether Indiana can achieve that.

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.