By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) Shaka Smart is out. So where does Illinois go next?
When Bruce Weber was fired March 9, I initially posted a list of 10 possible replacements, with Smart at the top of the list. Since then, Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas went all out in pursuing Smart before getting rejected one last time Wednesday.
Thomas’ latest rejection has left him in a tough spot. Other candidates now know how much money Illinois is willing to spend (reports have the Smart offer somewhere between $2.5 million – $3 million) and after he spent most of his time pursuing the VCU head coach, Thomas is essentially starting over from scratch now.
So how wide open is the search? I’ve compiled a list of 17 names being mentioned in connection to the job, seven more than I originally had nearly two weeks ago (and that’s with Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens taken off the list).
It’s important to note that because Thomas pursued Smart so hard, the pressure to hire a minority candidate has eased somewhat, but it is still very much alive.
Here’s the list of names in no particular order:
Lorenzo Romar – The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that Romar is on Thomas’ list of candidates. The Washington head coach clinched a berth in the NIT semifinals Tuesday, which won’t be played until March 27. That could hold up the process if he is a serious candidate.
Leonard Hamilton – The Tribune reported the Florida State head coach is lobbying for the job, but ESPN’s Andy Katz countered by saying Hamilton has no interest. Even if he does, Hamilton is 63 years-old, which doesn’t make him an ideal candidate.
Chris Mack – The Xavier head coach has led the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 in two of the last three years. Xavier has had a good history of developing good head coaches as Thad Matta and Sean Miller both moved on to bigger and better jobs, as did the late Skip Prosser.
Mick Cronin – Cronin has successfully revived the Cincinnati basketball program, gradually improving in each of his six seasons as head coach. He now has the Bearcats in the Sweet 16. And who hired Cronin at Cincinnati? Mike Thomas.
Anthony Grant – The Alabama head coach was Shaka Smart’s predecessor at VCU where he made the NCAA Tournament in two of his three seasons. Grant then moved on to Alabama where he made the NIT last year and lost in the first round of this year’s NCAA Tournament. His name has been linked to the Illinois job since the start, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Grant has no interest.
Buzz Williams – The Marquette program hasn’t skipped a beat since Williams took over for Tom Crean four years ago. He’s won at least 22 games every year and has the Golden Eagles in the Sweet 16 this year. It’s unclear if Williams would be willing to leave — some consider the Marquette job better than the Illinois job — as the Golden Eagles put a lot of money into their basketball program.
Sean Miller – Miller hasn’t had much success at Arizona (missed the NCAA Tournament twice with an Elite Eight appearance in 2011), but not all of it is his fault. He turned down the Maryland job a year ago and after another disappointing season in Tuscon, he may be willing to leave. Certainly a name to keep an eye on.
Johnny Dawkins – The Stanford head coach hasn’t had much success, failing to reach the NCAA Tournament in four years on the job. Despite that, the long-time former Duke assistant has had his name mentioned in multiple places when it comes to the Illinois job.
Tommy Amaker – After failing to lead Michigan to the NCAA Tournament, Amaker has completely turned around Harvard, leading the Crimson to the Tourney as a No. 12 seed this year. Amaker figures to get an offer to leave the Ivy League soon and a second chance in the Big Ten with the Illini could be a possibility.
Reggie Theus – The former Chicago Bulls player is out of coaching this season after serving as an assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves for three years. He turned around the New Mexico State basketball program from 2005-07 before taking the Sacramento Kings head coaching position. He also got an interview for the DePaul job before the Blue Demons hired Purnell. Theus is very much in the mix, but if he’s the No. 1 choice, then Illinois has problems.
Frank Martin – The Kansas State head coach has possibly taken that program as far as it can go — four NCAA Tournaments in five years — and might be looking for other opportunities. He was linked to the Miami (Fla.) job a year ago, but nothing ever materialized. He’s recruited pretty well in Manhattan, Kansas, but he doesn’t have any obvious ties to the Chicago area.
Chris Collins – The top Duke assistant has publicly said he wants the Illinois job. Collins is from Northbrook and considered playing at Illinois before eventually choosing Duke. He has recruited the area well for Duke, most notably getting Jon Scheyer to go to Durham instead of Illinois. Illini athletic director Mike Thomas says he prefers candidates with head coaching experience, but he didn’t completely close the door on hiring an assistant. The Chicago Tribune reported Collins would prefer the Northwestern job, but it appears he would take the Illini offer if it was the only one available to him.
Jeff Capel – Capel led Oklahoma to the Elite Eight in 2009, but the program completely fell apart afterward and he was fired two seasons later. Now back at Duke as an assistant, his name will be mentioned with a lot of openings.
Gregg Marshall – The Wichita State head coach made a name for himself at Winthrop where he led the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in seven of his nine seasons there. In 2007, he moved on to Wichita State and after a slow start, he has won at least 25 games in each of the last three seasons. The Shockers were upset by VCU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and it has since been reported that Marshall turned down an offer to become Nebraska’s head coach.
Scott Drew – In his ninth year at Baylor, Drew has made the program relevant. He took over a program in disarray in 2003 and has now won at least 21 games in four of the last five seasons. Drew, of course, is the son of Homer Drew, the longtime Valparaiso head coach. Both of his parents are battling cancer and one has to wonder if a return to the area would be appealing to Scott. Baylor is currently in the Sweet 16.
Ray McCallum – McCallum led Detroit to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Horizon League Tournament this year. He is in his fourth year on the job after serving as an assistant at Indiana. He’s also spent time as an assistant at Michigan and Wisconsin, so he’s no stranger to the Big Ten. McCallum was also the head coach of Ball State (1993-2000) and Houston (2000-04). His son Ray Jr. is the best player on Detroit and it would be interesting to see if he would make the jump to Illinois as well.
Robert Smith – The Simeon head coach is an extreme longshot for the head coaching position, but don’t rule out him being considered for an assistant job. He hasn’t been quiet about his interest in the Illinois program and he could definitely help bridge the gap between the Chicago Public League and the Illini. He also happens to be the head coach of coveted recruit Jabari Parker. Smith just won his fifth state championship last weekend. If there was ever one high school coach that could successfully be pitched to the Illini fan base, Smith is it.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.