With the search to find a new basketball coach at Southern Miss likely to move quickly, there’s some buzz around a relatively small group of candidates.
It’s unclear who new USM athletic director Jeremy McClain considers his top target and it’s unlikely he’ll show his cards in advance of an announcement. He hired former Texas-Arlington coach Scott Cross at Troy on March 26 and kept that process quiet throughout.
Sadler stepped down on Thursday, just six days in advance of the start of the signing period on Wednesday. McClain said that it would be ideal to have a new coach in place prior to Wednesday, but he offered a loose 10-day time line to find a new coach.
“We can’t be short-sighted,” he said on Thursday. “We have to make sure we have the right guy to lead the program.”
I wrote a piece on Thursday listing potential candidates for the job, including Southeastern Louisiana head coach Jay Ladner and LSU assistant Greg Heiar. Since that point, several other names have gained some traction:
▪ Florida State assistant Dennis Gates — He’s in his eighth season on the staff at Florida State and the former California player drew some buzz as a candidate for the Golden Bears’ head coaching job a couple of years ago. The Seminoles have been to the NCAA Tournament the last three years, including a trip the Elite Eight in 2018. Gates also has coaching stops at Marquette, California, Northern Illinois and Nevada. He’s also regarded as a top notch recruiter.
▪ Baylor associate head coach Jerome Tang — He has spent the last 16 seasons as a member of Scott Drew’s staff at Baylor. Prior to that, he was the head at Heritage Christian Academy in Cleveland, Texas. He won four state championships on the high school level and consistent produced Division I signees. At Baylor, Tang has helped deliver plenty of talented signees.
▪ Oklahoma associate head coach Chris Crutchfield — He has been on Lon Kruger’s staff at Oklahoma since 2011 and has been the associate head coach since 2016. The Kentucky native also had assistant stops at Oral Roberts, TCU and New Mexico State. He played a huge role in the recruitment of Buddy Hield and Trae Young to Oklahoma.
▪ Florida State assistant Stan Jones — If USM does somehow land Jones, it would get one of the most respected assistant coaches in the country. He is regarded as a strong recruiter and a respected basketball mind. He has helped build championship contenders at FSU and Mississippi State. The only thing that may hold back his potential candidacy is that he is 59 years old and he is already well compensated at Florida State. Sadler made $350,000 a year at USM and Jones made $270,000 for the 2016-17 season.
▪ Texas-Rio Grande Valley head coach Lew Hill — A former long-time assistant of Lon Kruger at UNLV and Oklahoma, Hill has taken a program that won 27 games from 2013-16 to a record of 45-57 over the last three seasons. UTRGV, which has improved its win total by five games in each of the last two years, finished 20-17 this past season. He also has assistant coaching stops at Texas A&M, East Carolina and Southeastern Missouri State.
There are some other names that have been bandied about that will be familiar to Mississippi basketball fans:
▪ Cal State-Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes — The former Ole Miss and Georgia State coach has built Cal State-Bakersfield into a respectable program in the WAC with NCAA and NIT bids over the last four seasons.
▪ Former UTEP, USC, Iowa State and Chicago Bulls head coach Tim Floyd — The Hattiesburg native and former USM basketball player has long been rumored to have some desire to finish out his career at Southern Miss. His dad, Lee Floyd, is a former USM head coach.
▪ Former LSU and Arkansas State head coach John Brady — The McComb native has a career record of 402-344 and a 2006 Final Four trip at LSU to his credit. He and Floyd are the same age of 64.
▪ UCF assistant Robbie Laing — The former Campbell head coach worked as an assistant for James Green at USM during the 1999-2000 season. The 61-year-old has been a member of the UCF staff since 2016. He was 113-182 in 10 seasons at Campbell.