UCLA Basketball received significant ridicule when it came out their coaching search was down to Jaime Dixon and Mick Cronin. UCLA is one of the iconic programs in the sport, and while it’s been a rough decade, they are still conservatively a top-20 job in College Basketball. Between their history, their location in Los Angeles, and a very down Pac-12 conference, UCLA should be able to attract a major name in the sport. Dixon is probably a UCLA-caliber coach, but his buyout at TCU reportedly dissuaded them from going that direction.
Mick Cronin is a good coach for Cincinnati, but his record doesn’t really meet UCLA standards and it’s difficult to see him being able to fully take advantage of all the benefits and resources that come with the UCLA brand and program. If UCLA is serious about getting back into the top echelon of College Basketball on a year-to-year basis, they need to make these six phone calls (if they haven’t already) before they settle for Mick Cronin. These are roughly in the order I would make them, though any of these names would be a good hire for the Bruins.
- Mark Few (Gonzaga)
Mark Few has had his share of opportunities to leave Gonzaga for bigger programs over the years, but UCLA should still go all out to land him if he has even the slightest interest in the job. What Few has done at Gonzaga has been nothing short of astounding, and it’s conceivable he might be more willing to listen to UCLA than other big name schools. The comparison that comes to mind is Chris Peterson leaving Boise State Football after receiving many offers to go to Washington, a big school with resources that still kept him on the same side of the country. If UCLA offers Few a significant raise, much better facilities and amenities to pitch recruits on, and the keys to one of the preeminent programs in College Basketball, would that be enough to lure him. UCLA should at least give it a try.
- Chris Beard (Texas Tech)
Chris Beard’s name has come up a lot with this job. He has succeeded at every stop he’s made, and Texas Tech isn’t exactly an easy place to win. There are rumors he may be waiting on the Texas job to open if Shaka Smart is gone next year, and Texas is certainly a great job. If you’re UCLA though, you need to at least make a serious pitch to Beard after the Final Four. Los Angeles should be an easier place to win than Lubbock, TX, so the appeal should be there if Beard is ready to move up after two years.
- Chris Mack (Louisville)
This one has the obvious caveat of Mack’s buyout possibly being prohibitive, though maybe not quite as much as Jaime Dixon’s $8 Million Buyout at TCU. Chris Mack may also not be especially interested after just one season at Louisville. That said, since Mack took the Louisville job, the program’s standing with the NCAA has managed to somehow get worse. Mack knew it would be an uphill battle, but does one of the best coaches in College Basketball want to deal with the ramifications of a major scandal that predates him? Maybe he’s willing to deal with it to stay with one of the few programs that rivals UCLA, or maybe his buyout is too prohibitive. Still, if you’re UCLA, you should at least explore this option in case Mack is ready to jump before more sanctions hit. Whatever amount of money it would take to make this happen, it’s hard to argue it wouldn’t be worth it for UCLA.
- Mark Turgeon (Maryland)
These last 3 names may not have the same luster as the first 3, but these are still excellent coaches who have consistently met high standards at programs where it’s not always easy to put together consistently great Basketball seasons. Mark Turgeon has done an excellent job now at two Power 5 schools (Texas A&M, Maryland). His teams regularly over-perform. Maryland is also in a difficult Big Ten, in a position where it may be difficult to breakthrough to the next level (which is already starting to frustrate fans). If you’re Turgeon, do you take a look at a program with the resources of UCLA in a very down Pac-12 and find it tempting to jump? If so, he has a very reasonable buyout in the six-figures. UCLA should at least inquire to gauge interest.
- Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)
For several years, Marshall was at the top of the wish list for every major program with an opening. Since Wichita State experienced a little less tournament success and moved up to the AAC, Marshall’s name has lost some of its national luster. None of the things that make Marshall an excellent coach have disappeared, though. He still took a fairly run-of-the-mill mid-major that started to taste success and turned them into a year-to-year contender to make the NCAA tournament and do damage once there. If he can experience the success he’s had in his career at Winthrop and Wichita State, the possibilities for what he could accomplish at UCLA are extraordinary. UCLA should be intrigued and reach out.
- Lon Kruger (Oklahoma)
Kruger’s biggest knock is his age (66). Still, it’s hard to deny that he is one impressive coach and recruiter. He has experienced an impressive amount of success at Oklahoma, which is not particularly a Basketball school. Even if he was only at UCLA 5-10 years, based on his record at Oklahoma, I believe he could easily make the Tournament’s second weekend year-to-year at that program and reach at least one Final Four. If you’re a UCLA administrator, can you honestly say you can expect that from Mick Cronin based on his record? And if you’re Kruger, wouldn’t you find a final act in your career of bringing success back to a legendary program and restoring it to prominence satisfying? Even if Kruger wouldn’t be at UCLA as long as some other names, he would be in a position to succeed and leave the program in better shape the next time UCLA hires a coach.