Southern Miss

Top candidates emerge as Southern Miss works toward hiring a basketball coach

With the search to find a new Southern Miss basketball coach nearing the interview phase, a few names have come to the fore.

The ideal situation for USM would be to have someone in place prior to Good Friday, but there’s always the potential for the search to drag out a bit longer as new athletic director Jeremy McClain works to find the right man.

Doc Sadler stepped down as head coach on April 11, making it difficult for USM to have a new head coach hired prior to Wednesday’s start to the signing period.

Several names have come into focus since Sunday afternoon as McClain and company work to narrow the list. There may be a name or two missing who are in the running, but here’s a list of candidates in the mix that I am aware of:

Southeastern Louisiana head coach Jay Ladner: When Sadler stepped down, there was little doubt that Ladner would be considered among the top candidates for the job due to his ties at Southern Miss and across South Mississippi. He was a member of the 1987 USM team that won the NIT and he has the backing of some prominent boosters. The 53-year-old is 76-88 in five years at Southeastern. The Lions had their best season under Ladner in 2017-18 with a 22-12 campaign that included a Southland Conference regular season title and a trip to the NIT.

Southern Miss assistant Clarence Weatherspoon: Ladner isn’t the only former Golden Eagle in the running and Weatherspoon is already in Hattiesburg. The Crawford native has been on the USM staff since August of 2016 and played an important role in rebuilding the Golden Eagles over the last three years. He has proven to be a strong recruiter and offers 13 years of experience as an NBA player. Nobody would bring more stature to the job than Spoon, who is the best player in the history of the USM program.

Texas Tech assistant Mark Adams: The Red Raiders are fresh off a run to the national title game with Adams playing a key role in their success. He was credited by head coach Chris Beard with helping develop a dominant defensive scheme that held opponents in the NCAA Tournament to an average of 55.8 points a game. Adams, who is a 1979 graduate of Texas Tech, has been on the staff in Lubbock since 2016. He has experience as a Division I head coach during his time at Texas-Pan American from 1992-97. Adams had a controversial exit there when he was forced out at Texas-Pan Am over allegations of NCAA rules violations. He was the head coach at Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, from 2004-13, leading the program to a total of 233 wins and the 2010 NJCAA national title. He was also a head coach at Div. II West Texas A&M from 1987-92 and an assistant at Little Rock in 2015-16.

Cal State-Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes: The former Ole Miss head coach has been in the mix since the early stages of the search. Barnes had a strong run in Oxford from 1998-2002, leading the Rebels to three NCAA Tournament bids. He couldn’t quite keep that success going over his final four years at Ole Miss and went through a difficult four-year stretch of 44-79 at Georgia State from 2007-11. At Cal State-Bakersfield, Barnes has gotten his mojo back. The Roadrunners are 79-53 with an NCAA Tournament bid and a trip to the NIT semifinals over the last four years. Barnes has continued to recruit Mississippi with CSUB’s 2018-19 squad featuring three players from the Magnolia State.

Florida State assistant Dennis Gates: The eighth-year assistant at FSU seems likely to get a shot as a Division I head coach at some point. Leonard Hamilton has the Seminoles in contention in the ACC and Gates is regarded as a strong recruiter. He also has assistant stops at California, Northern Illinois and Nevada.

Baylor associate head coach Jerome Tang: Tang has helped bring in some of the Big 12’s most talented recruiting classes in recent years. Tang has been part of Scott Drew’s staff at Baylor since he was hired as head coach in 2003.

It’s unclear whether Gates and Tang are still in the running. At the moment, it appears that neither will interview with Southern Miss.

Other names that have drawn some buzz at USM, but their status is uncertain at the moment include:

Former Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy: He was 151-116 over a seven-year stretch at Texas A&M and reached the Sweet 16 twice. Kennedy also had successful stints as a head coach at Southeastern Louisiana and Murray State.

Former Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy: He’s currently working for ESPN, but the Mississippi native would bring some star power to the job at USM. He was 245-156 in 12 seasons at Ole Miss, making the NCAA Tournament twice.

Texas-Rio Grande Valley head coach Lew Hill: A former assistant of Lon Kruger at UNLV and Oklahoma, Hill has done a good job in a rebuilding project at UTRV. He also has served as an assistant at Texas A&M, East Carolina and Southeast Missouri State.

Is there a favorite?

It’s hard to pick McClain’s top candidate at this point.. The new USM athletic director hired an experienced hand at Troy on March 26 when he picked former Texas-Arlington head coach Scott Cross to take over the Trojans’ basketball program.

After being announced as the new USM athletic director on April 4, it didn’t take long to give McClain a shot to make an impact on the athletic department in Hattiesburg.

He did a good job of making hires at Troy, including Cross and new football coach Chip Lindsey. We should know at some point this week who he decides is the best fit for the USM basketball program.

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.