It’s been two years since our last search for a Head Coach, after Cuonzo Martin headed back home to Missouri. After two underwhelming seasons under Wyking Jones, the athletics department has decided to go in a new direction.
Here are the candidates we believe are either being considered or should be considered to take over.
Be on the look out as we update this post with news and more candidates as we hear about them!
Assistant Coach for San Antonio Spurs
HC for Spurs’ Summer League team
Coaching Record/Style: N/A
Connection to Cal: N/A
Why they should be the HC: A HOF player and front bench assistant to arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time. Her understanding of the Spurs and setting up a culture like it would fit in with the standards and expectations off the court at a place like Berkeley. If she bring the Spurs brand of basketball it could be successful in the Pac-12
Why they should not be the HC: Her understanding of recruiting at Cal. Any recruiting ties to AAU teams which is essential in college basketball now. Has not held a HC position outside of the Spurs’ summer league team. Would she want to move down to college for her first coaching gig? She also interviewed for the GM job of the Bucks in 2017, so she may not be looking to go to college.
Verdict: Being the first Men’s basketball program to hire a female HC would bring some interest to the program from all over the country. Berkeley is definitely a place that could make it work and handle that. Would be a really good hire, but looks like she’s more interested in the NBA.
Current HC of Nevada
Former HC of the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings
Nevada (4 years) - 110-34 (.764 Win Pct)
1 Sweet Sixteen in 3 Tourney appearances
Connection to Cal: N/A
Why they should be the HC: He is the hot commodity around west coast basketball right now. Has coached the team to 3 straight NCAA appearances out of the MWC. Has recruited well with a mix of transfers and freshman to rebuild the program. Lots of west coast and Pac-12 ties even before joining Nevada.
Why they should not be the HC: He was a candidate last time around, but ultimately signed an extension with the wolfpack. Some issues with his off the court incidents and hiring of a former Cal assistant. Could he understand the restrictions at Cal and recruit accordingly?
Verdict: It did not look like he wanted to come to Berkeley two years ago, what could have changed? You would still give him a call, being a successful coach on the west coast, but salary demands may not match the pedigree.
Coaching Record/Style: N/A
Connection to Cal: Guard from 99-02. Member of Cal’s 1999 NIT Championship team. Played in NCAA Tournament in 01 & 02. 2 time Pac-10 All-Academic First Team. Played 114 games for the Bears with career totals of 100 steals and 148 assists. Assistant under Ben Braun from 2005-2007.
Why they should be the HC: His recruiting record speaks for itself. He knows Berkeley and could recruit within the confines while being able to talk about his own experience and what the degree from Berkeley means. He was also reportedly interviewed last cycle. He’s been at Florida State since 2011, and has seen great success in the ACC and NCAA tournament
Why they should not be the HC: Questions beyond his recruiting prowess and development of players. How much does he have in terms of duties during games? 8 years at FSU but only a handful of reported situations where he has a candidate.
Verdict: I think you make the call here as he is a Cal guy, with a thorough interview to figure out his thoughts beyond recruiting. Unlikely to leave though as he wasn’t hired last time around as well.
In 2014, Mike Montgomery retired, and there was a non-insignificant push from some folks in and around the program to promote his lead assistant, Travis DeCuire.
Of course, Cal surprised just about everybody in the world of college basketball by pulling Cuonzo Martin, fresh off a Sweet 16 run, from a weird situation in Tennessee. That decision can be credited for a perfect home record, near conference title, and the highest NCAA seed in program history. It can also be blamed for the situation Cal finds itself in now based on the timing of Martin’s departure. I hope we argue about this in the comments rather than the merits of Travis DeCuire!
So, instead, DeCuire moved on to become the head coach at his alma mater Montana, noted incubator of Pac-12 coaches. Seriously – Monty, Krystkowiak, Tinkle . . . the athletic director(s) up in Missoula seem to know what they’re doing.
In five years leading the Grizzlies DeCuire has finished 1st (tied), 2nd, 5th, 1st, and 1st in the Big Sky, with two NCAA appearances. He’s about to lose five seniors prior to a probably rebuilding year, so you’d think this would be a good time for him to move on.
Ability to adapt to his player’s strengths: Many coaches are wedded to a very specific system, and so you see peaks and valleys as players gain experience, learn the system, then leave. DeCuire’s statistical profile suggests that he’s much more willing to adapt to what his players can do.
For example, in 2015 his team featured good shooters, so his squad attempted 3 pointers on 41% of their shots. Three years later his team didn’t feature good shooters, so that number declined to 27%. He’s had small teams that focus on getting good shots and ball control, and bigger teams that crash the glass and draw a bunch of fouls. He’s played fast, and he’s played slow.
This flexibility has led to a series of offenses that have improved over his tenure and have always been at the top of the Big Sky. Meanwhile, his defenses have been competent despite an almost comical lack of size for an NCAA tournament team. They played a 192 pound dude at center for 28 minutes against Michigan for god’s sake!
Ceiling: Are you sensing a theme? Something that pretty much all of the west coast mid-major candidates that every ‘who is Cal considering’ article will include share something in common. And that’s a good-but-not-great profile of mid major success. Smith, DeCuire, Turner, and the rest have all built teams that are good enough to beat most mid-major programs but not good enough to compete with the top 50 of the college basketball universe.
In all of these cases, and particularly in the case of DeCuire, it’s fair to ask if it’s even possible to build a top 50 team at Montana, consigned to the perpetually overlooked Big Sky. Recruiting to San Francisco in the WCC is one thing. Recruiting to Bozeman Missoula, Montana is quite another.
Still: It’s probably safe to assume that Travis DeCuire could quickly return Cal to 9-9 seasons in the Pac-12. Whether or not he’s capable of competing for conference titles or ready to make Sweet 16 runs is a different question, and much harder to project out.
Verdict: If we’re going with a west coast mid-major head coach, he’s a solid choice.
Update: This doesn’t knock him out of the running, but it makes his buy-out more expensive and a little harder to sign. (3/28/2019)
Sources: Travis DeCuire is finalizing a three-year contract extension to remain the head coach at Montana.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 29, 2019
Current staff member on the Detroit Pistons.
Former staff member of the Golden State Warriors, LA Lakers, Cal
Coaching Record/Style: N/A
Connection to Cal: Played 4 years (05-10) under Mike Montgomery. 16th on Cal’s all-time scoring list. 1st in 3PT% at 44% (154-350). He was also on Wyking Jones’ initial staff and put on leave during the Maui Invitational
Why they should be the HC: He’s relatively young and would immediately be able to sell the program to any potential recruit. He also would change the atmosphere and culture in the locker room, as he knows how to succeed at Cal on and off the court. Being an Ex-Player around Montgomery, Kerr, and Walton, Theo should be capable in the Xs and Os side of coaching. Along with being a terrific shooting coach, with some records to his name as well.
Why they should not be the HC: Does not have any coaching experience and recruiting experience is extremely limited in his short time under HC Jones. Although he would be well known among the fan base, his name wont bring the celebrity status like Kidd or Abdur-Rahim’s name would.
Verdict: The break-up was too recent to bring him back on. I’d love to see him gain some experience and be the HC a few years from now.
Russell Turner has turned UC Irvine into a metronome. Is that metronome good enough for Cal?
Turner actually comes from the Mike Montgomery tree. He got his start as an assistant at Wake Forest before joining Mike Montgomery for four seasons during the height of his success at Stanford. He followed Monty to the Warriors, spending six seasons in the Golden State organization before getting hired by UCI.
What makes Russell Turner’s Anteaters a metronome? Turner has been at UCI for nine years. After two rough seasons at the start of his tenure reviving a program that has fallen towards the bottom of the Big West, UCI has been a model of consistency. Turner has won between 11 and 13 conference games in all seven seasons since. He has won 21 games or more in six of seven seasons. He has collected three regular season conference titles and two conference tournament title, and has never finished outside of the top four in the Big West. His best Kenpom rating? 84. His worst? 147. That’s an incredibly narrow band of performance for a seven year stretch of basketball.
Defense: Turner has achieved those results with a decidedly defense-first approach. Since he established his stamp on the program, Turner has had one of the very best small conference defenses, year-in, year-out. In the last seven seasons UCI has finished in the top 20 in the nation in 2 point field goal defense every. single. season. That would be impressive at a power school, let alone in Irvine. Meanwhile, the Anteaters are very good at denying 3 point attempts. Add it all up and you see the statistical profile of a coach who knows how to force opponents to take the shots they don’t want to take. Honestly, if you asked me who his defensive profile reminds me of, I’d say Cuonzo Martin.
One could argue that Turner’s defenses have benefitted from the shot blocking presence of 7’2’’ Ioannis Dimakopoulos and 7’6’’ Mamadou N’diaye. But Turner has maintained his excellent defensive record after those players left, and his current squad is putting up basically identical results playing a 6’10’’ center. Regardless, Turner still had to coach some pretty raw prospects into excellent defensive contributors. Dude knows how to shut down an offense.
Offense: Which brings us to the offensive side of the ball. For as good as Turner is on defense, his offenses have peaked at ‘competent’ and occasionally become downright liabilities. There have been individual seasons when UCI has had enough shooting (their NCAA tournament season featured two dudes hitting 45%+ from three) to buoy the offense. But generally speaking, Turner’s offenses have struggled at various points with every single aspect of what makes for a strong offense. One team turned the ball over 20% of the time. None of them did a good job of earning free throws. And as a flip side to Turner’s biggest defensive strength, UCI has finished 144th or worse in 8 of 9 seasons in 2 point field goal percentage.
This year’s UCI offense was Turner’s best, and yet they were thoroughly throttled by Oregon to end their NCAA run.
Casual homophobia/sexism? Like seriously, what in the world was he thinking with this grade school level B.S. against Oregon, and what made him think saying as much in his post-game presser was a good idea?! This doesn’t have to be a big deal, necessarily, but good lord was it a dumb thing to say. Also, his trash talk skills are awful.
Almost certainly the best (proven) defensive coach available to Cal. Very low down the list of good offensive coaches. Another high floor, low ceiling hire. I hope we can do better.
Former HC of Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets
Coaching Record/Style: 183-190 (.491 Win Pct). 5 Seasons in NBA.
Connection to Cal: Two year starter. National Freshman of the Year in 92-93 and guided Cal to Sweet 16 that season. Pac-10 Player of the Year in 93-94. AP All-American First Team in 93-94.
Why they should be the HC: A big coach and player name that would immediately fire up the fan base. Would be able to recruit the school and program as a former player. He would gain solid trust on the recruiting trail with players and families with his relatively recent Hall of Fame career.
Why they should not be the HC: Questions about his development of the Bucks, especially after how they are performing this season under a new HC. Concern regarding his past legal issues. Also a question is the requirement of his degree to be a coach.
Verdict: If he wants to come and we can figure out his degree issue? Sign him up.
Current President of the NBA G-League.
Former assistant coach of the Sacramento Kings
Coaching Record/Style: N/A
Connection to Cal: One year starter. Pac-12 Player of the Year in 95-96. AP All-American Third Team. Holds the Cal freshman record for points scored, scoring average, field goals made and free throws made. Returned to finish his degree in Sociology in 2012.
Why they should be the HC: Few of the same reasons as Kidd. He’d be a celebrity name for the fan base. One with NBA pedigree and played for the program. Would be able to step in and recruit very well. He certainly loves the school and cares for the academic side of the university and knows what it takes on that side after coming back to finish his degree after his playing career.
Why they should not be the HC: Does he even want to coach? Has no coaching experience. He’s only been the President of the G-League for one season, would he want to forgo that position to get into coaching?
Verdict: If he’s interested, interview him. Doubt he leaves the G-League position though.
Not surprisingly, the calls to seriously consider Kyle Smith came as soon as his USF Dons beat Cal by 19 at Haas Pavilion. How could you not seriously consider a coach leading USF’s best season this millennium? Of course, judging a coach based upon one season of work can be pretty dangerous. And as it turns out, grabbing Kyle Smith now might be a classic buying-high kind of decision. Let’s dive into the resume: Kyle Smith has been a basketball coach for nearly three decades, having started his career almost immediately after his DIII playing career ended. Most of his time as an assistant came on the west coast, with stints at San Diego, Air Force, and St. Mary’s. He was picked up by Ivy League Columbia as head coach in 2010. Smith spent six years in New York coaching the Lions, and to his credit he eventually managed to improve a program that mostly oscillated between bad and middling prior to his tenure. However, Smith also struggled to break through to the upper end of the Ivy League. His best team in New York was a team that featured five upperclassmen starters (including future Bear Grant Mullins!) and even that team only peaked at 25-10 (10-4) for a 3 rd place Ivy League finish. They did finish the season with a nice 4-0 run to win the CIT post-season tournament, though all four games were played at home. That peak season was enough to attract the attention of USF, a program that had stagnated under 8 year coach Rex Walters. After two average-ish seasons where the Dons hovered around .500 in WCC play, USF broke through in 2019 with a 12-2 non-conference performance and solid WCC wins over St. Mary’s and BYU. Again, this breakthrough can in part be credited to a veteran heavy rotation that features five upperclassmen. But the shine came off a bit after a brutal 0-4 finish to the season with losses to San Diego (ugh), Loyola Marymount (ugh ugh), Santa Clara (ugh ugh ugh) and Pepperdine (UGH) that led to USF not even getting an NIT invite. Strengths 3 point prevention and defensive rebounding – Smith’s teams don’t have a ton of statistical hallmarks, but they have done two things pretty consistently well: his squads prevent teams from attempting 3 point shots, and they clean up the defensive glass. Having those traits as benchmarks means that when he gets experienced players who can also hold teams to low FG percentages, his defenses can be pretty tough. High floor – Smith’s teams are rarely bad, and tend to perform better than the historic average for the particular school. Weaknesses Major conference/program experience – A list of programs Smith has coached at: San Diego (WCC), Air Force (MWC), St. Mary’s (WCC), Columbia (Ivy), USF (WCC) Zero power conference experience, and even by the standards of small conference basketball, most of his time has been spent at small, extremely low expectation programs. Other than some time under Randy Bennett during the early days of his run at St. Mary’s it’s mostly been time toiling in relative college basketball wilderness. I suppose you could spin this as a plus – ‘Smith is used to minimal institutional support!’ – but the transition from recruiting for Columbia and USF to recruiting in the Pac-12 might be pretty rough. Low Ceiling – Smith’s career has followed a pretty consistent pattern. When he has veteran, experienced rosters his teams are solid, when he doesn’t, they’re pretty mediocre. This is probably not a super useful insight, as one could argue that pretty much every coach follows that kind of pattern. My concern: Smith now has nine seasons as a head coach, and only a few of those would match most people’s definitions of successful. Two seasons saw Smith’s team finish more than 2 games above .500 in conference play. Only one season (2018-19) saw a Kenpom top 100 performance. Zero finishes higher than 3 rd in conference play. Zero NCAA or NIT appearances. One can reasonably argue that such goals aren’t realistic goals for a coach at Columbia and USF. One program hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament in 50 years, and the other is perpetually under the thumb of Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. Verdict Shouldn’t we be aiming higher than a coach who hasn’t ever even made the NIT?! Hard pass.
Update: Kyle Smith has reportedly signed a 6-year deal with Washington State. He is no longer in the running for Cal.
Sources: San Francisco's Kyle Smith is expected to be the head coach at Washington State barring any complications in finalizing a deal between the two sides. Official announcement could happen soon.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 27, 2019
Craig Smith has a fascinating journey. His first entire decade in coaching was spent at the NAIA and DII level, but he did win an NAIA national coach of the year award before leaving for a director of basketball operations job at Colorado State under Tim Miles. But he quickly turned that into an assistant job, then followed Miles to Nebraska for three years before landing the head job at South Dakota.
South Dakota had only made the transition to DI basketball five years ago and hadn’t yet seen any meaningful success. It took Smith a couple seasons, but he improved the team dramatically and won South Dakota’s only Summit League regular season title before taking the Utah State position vacated by Tim Dureya.
And then immediately led Utah State’s best season in eight years, winning a mountain west regular season and tournament title over Musselman and Nevada.
All he does is win? This is lazy analysis, but let’s not over-complicate things either. Smith won big at an NAIA school with no real history of success, then after a solid period of D1 apprenticeship, won at a Summit League school that was brand new to DI. He then immediately delivered MWC titles by adding a couple of key freshmen recruits to a core of players that were thoroughly average the year before. Utah State’s 2019 performance peak is better than anything most of the other prominent west coast mid-major coaches have produced in more opportunities, and while Utah State is a relatively prominent program with history, the speed and suddenness of the one year turnaround still turned plenty of heads.
Is he willing to leave? Dude’s only been at Utah St. for a season, he might not want to pull a Willie Taggart.
Probably a long shot to be interested, but he might have the highest ceiling on a list of guys Cal could plausibly attract.
Randy Bennett just wrapped up his 18th season at St. Mary’s, his only stop as a head coach. And in that time he has built one of the most consistent mid-major winners in the nation.
The numbers are clear - 12 straight 20+ win seasons, 16 straight seasons with a winning record overall and in WCC play, and seven NCAA tournament appearances. If you’re more into efficiency stats, you’ll be pleased to know that Bennett has 14 Kenpom top 100 seasons and 9 Kenpom top 50 seasons to his name. His worst season of the last decade was a 23 win season with a 4th place WCC finish and a 2nd round NIT exit. Worst. His defenses range from acceptable to good. His offenses are uniformly excellent.
This will be the 4th time that Cal has had a vacancy at the MBB head coaching position in the last 11 years. Every time Randy Bennett has been mentioned as a prime candidate. With each iteration he only looks more attractive from an on-court, team performance perspective.
So what, exactly, is the problem?
Well, he may or may not have been seriously considered two years ago, and he may or may not have been seriously turned off by the process, and the general lack of competency from Cal’s athletic department. He’s in the first few years of a 10 year contract at St. Mary’s, where he has stability, control, and respect. He’s probably well compensated, though the precise amount is unknown.
I suppose if you want to be nit-picking, there are small concerns. He’s on the older side (56), though that’s younger than Mike Montgomery was when Cal brought Monty back to college basketball. Transitioning his recruiting style to major conference basketball might be rough (are Cal admissions going to pave the way for a bunch of international admits?). A ticky tack NCAA recruiting violation that seems almost quaint now that the FBI is indicting coaches.
Cal would be dumb not to call him. He might say no anyway. The fact that he might not want to come to Cal is an indictment so many things the Cal athletic department has gotten wrong over the last decade, writ large.
Tara VanDerveer is the best west coast college basketball coach since John Wooden retired, and I’m 99% sure Tara got her wins without the help of Sam Gilbert, so maybe she’s the west coast GOAT? She’s also 65, has been at Stanford for 33 years, just brought in an elite recruiting class, and probably has ZERO interest in taking any other job on the planet. But until she retires I’m going to argue that hiring her to coach the Cal men’s team would be perhaps the greatest move Cal could ever make in the Bay Area rivalry - making history by hiring a ground-breaking coach, decimating Stanford WBB, and setting up Cal MBB for success because TVDV is a basketball assassin.
OK, I’ve said way too many complimentary things about a Stanford coach. Send me to quarantine.