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Candidates for Pitt’s Coaching Search

Candidates for Pitt’s Coaching Search

Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke will embark on one of the most important coaching searches in the Pitt basketball program’s history after deciding on Thursday to move on from second-year head coach Kevin Stallings.

It’s hard to imagine a situation more bleak than the one Pitt faces, with a team that went 0-18 in conference play, lost its last 19 games, and failed to win a game against a major-conference opponent.

Even worse, sources tell Pittsburgh Sports Now that, pending a new hire, some members of the current squad will follow Stallings out of town.

Whoever the next coach is will face an uphill climb. Who will that be? Here’s a list of potential candidates.

Dan Hurley

Hurley, the current coach at Rhode Island, will be at or near the top of the list for almost every head coaching job that opens this offseason, and Pitt will be no exception. Hurley, 45, has a 109-80 career record. He’s been with the Rams since 2012, with stops at Wagner and St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey previously.

His Rams are 23-6 this year, are in first place in the Atlantic 10 and are expected to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. Hurley’s success has been built on East Coast recruiting, and his current Rhode Island team has players from Providence, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Maryland.

The son of legendary coach Bob Hurley and brother to Duke and NBA guard Bobby Hurley, who now coaches at Arizona State, Hurley has both recent success and pedigree to coach just about anywhere — and that’s the problem.

Hurley is far and away the most talented coach below the major-conference line right now, and Pitt will face stiff competition if they want to land him. The fact that the Panthers moved quickly in firing Stallings may give them an advantage, but the Rams haven’t even started their conference tournament and could be playing for a few more weeks.

Thad Matta

Thad Matta was fired at Ohio State last June after posting a 337-123 record with the Buckeyes and replaced by Chris Holtmann.

Lyke worked at Ohio State for the first nine years of Matta’s tenure, which saw him win multiple Big Ten titles, two trips to the Final Four and five Sweet 16’s. Matta failed to make it past the second weekend in his final four years with the Buckeyes and missed the tournament completely in 2015-16 and 2016-17 after going dancing nine of his first 11 years.

One of the reasons he was let go was his declining heath. Back issues kept him off the recruiting trail. Matta needs to continue to seek out work as part of his buyout with Ohio State, and he recently made a very public visit to Ole Miss before word breaking late on Thursday that he was no longer in the running.

Maybe Matta was just there to make a show of looking for a job, or maybe something happened to change his mind at the last minute. Or maybe Ole Miss just wasn’t interested in another veteran coach after parting ways with Andy Kennedy. Either way, Matta remains an interesting candidate for Pitt and other jobs — if he’s interested in coaching.

Tom Crean

Most famously the head coach at Marquette and Indiana, Crean also had stops as an assistant at Michigan State, Western Kentucky and one season at Pitt in 1994-95.

The 51-year-old Michigan native didn’t coach this year after being let go at Indiana in favor of Archie Miller and has been working as an analyst for ESPN.
Crean has a career record of 356-231 and made the NCAA Tournament four of his last six ears with the Hoosiers. He had three years remaining on his contract when the was fired and was paid a $4 million buyout.

It’s not know if Crean is looking to get back into coaching at this point, or if he’d be interested in a return to Pittsburgh. His family has midwestern roots.

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There’s a long drop from the top three to the rest of the field. The above three would be considered home-run hires. The rest are the types of candidates that have showed promise, but at a much lower level than the ACC.

Ron Sanchez

Sanchez has spent nine years learning under Tony Bennett at Virginia, learning one of the nation’s most devastating defensive systems and recruiting in the ACC footprint to another public school with stringent academic standards. The Cavaliers are currently the No. 1 team in the country.

Before that, he was an assistant at Washington State and worked at Indiana and his alma mater, SUNY-Oneonta. Sanchez was born in the Dominican Republic and has coached that country’s national basketball team, giving him international connections, as well.

Chris Jent

Jent has never been a Division I head coach, but he has plenty of basketball experience. The former NBA small forward is a California native but went to high school in New Jersey and played collegiately at Ohio State.

After his pro career, he caught on as an assistant in the NBA, with stops in Philadelphia, Orlando, Cleveland and Sacramento. He was twice an assistant under Matta at Ohio State from 2011 to 2013 and 2016-17. He also spent one year as the head coach of the Bakersfield Jam in the G-League and is currently an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks.

Nate Oats

Oats, 43, has done wonders at Buffalo, where the Bucs are the odds-on favorites to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. Oats took over the program from Bobby Hurley and is seen as a coach that could have success at the next level.

Buffalo is his first Division I coaching job. He was previously at Division II Wisconsin-Whitewater and Romulus High School. Oats signed a five-year contract in 2016, but makes less than $500,000 a year at the MAC school.

Earl Grant

Grant arose under Gregg Marshall’s coaching tree at Wichita State and has blossomed at College of Charleston. The Cougars are 26-7 and headed to the Big Dance after making an NIT appearance in 2016-17, Grant’s third season.

Grant is from the Charleston, South Carolina area and would provide recruiting ties within the ACC footprint, but the Colonial Athletic Association is a far cry from the ACC.

John Becker

Becker, 49, took over for Mike Lonergan at Vermont and has built the Catamounts into a respected program in the low-level America East Conference. They’ve won 20 games in each of his seven years at the helm and will play for a second straight NCAA bid on Saturday.

John Brannen

Brannen, 44, is in his third year at the helm of Northern Kentucky. The Norsemen made the NCAA Tournament last season and are headed to the NIT this year with back-to-back 20-win seasons. Brannen is a Kentucky native with deep ties to the midwest. He played at Morehead State and at Marshall and coached at Eastern Kentucky, as well as Alabama, St. Bonaventure and VCU.

Mark Schmidt

Schmidt is a familiar name to Pittsburgh basketball fans, as he coached Robert Morris for six years from 2001 to 2007. His record with the Colonials was an uninspiring 82-90, with no postseason action and no finish higher than third place in the NEC. Things have gone much better for him at St. Bonaventure, where he’s made the NCAA Tournament and the NIT and has three straight 20-win season. The Bonnies are the second seed in the A10 Tournament this year and will need to upset Rhode Island to earn a bid.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker

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