Like him or not, you’ve got to give credit to Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs. He keeps his cards close to the vest when conducting a coaching search. Just as Gene Chizik seemingly came out of left field to be Auburn’s new football coach, a week into the basketball search, the direction Auburn is heading is anyone’s guess. Jacobs has been as invisible as Osama Bin Laden in the hills of Pakistan.
Friday afternoon, CBS Sports writer Dennis Dodd set off a firestorm when he proclaimed Auburn was close to an agreement with Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. With those flames cooling, speculation has turned back to former Auburn great Chuck Person and a late surprise candidate.
Inside the Auburn Tigers reported Sunday that Jacobs may now be targeting Wright State coach Brad Brownell. Hearing that news, the two most pressing questions are where is Wright State and who is Brad Brownell? Breaking out the Rand McNally we locate the school in Dayton, Ohio. They play in the Horizon League where Brownell lead them to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 14 years last season.
This past year, they compiled a 20-12 record and lost to Butler in the conference tournament final. Prior to moving to Dayton, Brownell led UNC-Wilmington to two NCAA tournament appearances in four years. Despite the decent resume, a Brownell hire would go over like a turd in the punch bowl. Then again, who am I to question the hiring practices of Jacobs?
Meanwhile, reports out of Minneapolis are that Smith may be leaning toward remaining with the Gophers. Citing an unnamed source, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Sunday that someone close to Smith said that, “(He’s) not interested in the Auburn gig because he “doesn’t feel like rebuilding again.”
With only one starter returning for Auburn next year, that’s something Smith needs to think long and hard about. At 58 years of age, he should still have juice left in the batteries to turn around the Tiger program. Reports have surfaced during the past year that Smith is not completely happy in Minneapolis.
Despite making nearly $2 million annually, he’s been promised numerous upgrades to the program including new practice facilities. None have come to fruition yet. Obviously, Auburn fills that need nicely.
At the same time Smith is grabbing all the attention, Person is getting a late push by former Auburn players. Many fans dismissed the notion of bringing in someone with no head coaching experience. However, a Sunday story by Birmingham News writer Kevin Scarbinsky paints a picture of a man with tons of street cred within NBA circles. Person was a finalist for the Chicago Bulls job in 2008. He now serves as an assistant for Phil Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He has all the tools to be a high-impact coach at any level,” Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told Scarbinsky. “He’d be a great hire for Auburn if they could pull it off.”
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak says Person is the real deal. “If they didn’t think he could bring something to the table, they wouldn’t have invited him into the group,” Kupchak said.
Ten days into the search we know little more than we did in the minutes following Jeff Lebo’s dismissal. Jacobs circle of advisors are either very small or very loyal and able to keep their mouths shut. The amount of information coming from “unnamed sources” is almost zero. Auburn may be minutes or weeks from hiring a new coach. With its signing class already full, there’s no rush.
My vote is for Tubby Smith? How about you?