Friday’s firing of Auburn basketball coach Jeff Lebo barely made headlines across the world of college basketball. And that perhaps sums up best while it was inevitable that Auburn was going to make a change. Kudos to athletic director Jay Jacobs for not making Lebo sweat out the weekend and listen to rampant speculation about his future. He’s one of the finest individuals to ever represent Auburn and Jacobs treated him that way.
Now the attention turns to the coaching search. This is unquestionably the most important non-football hire in the history of the Auburn Athletic Department. There are 92 million reasons why Jacobs must get this one right. He threaded the needle with Gene Chizik and will need to be just as adept this time around. Basketball success at Auburn has been about as elusive as bingo night at Victoryland.
So who tops the list? Listen to fans and it’s simple: Write a fat check today and hire Missouri’s Mike Anderson. If it were only that easy. Many Auburn fans still view Anderson as the one who got away back in 2004.
The former UAB coach was a fan favorite for the job six years ago before crossing wires with Auburn’s former president and athletic department officials. Depending on who you talk with, the chances of Anderson listening to University officials again range from slim to none. You’ll remember he spurned a lucrative offer from Georgia last year, instead signing a seven-year contract extension at Missouri. Even with those odds, look for Jacobs to take one more swing at the Birmingham native.
Here are some other names being prominently thrown around in Auburn circles…
Chuck Person - The former Auburn legend and current Los Angeles Lakers assistant is a popular choice among former players. His lack of head coaching experience and no college degree may be too much to overcome.
Sam Mitchell - The 2007 NBA Coach of the Year for the Toronto Raptors and Columbus, Georgia native knows the area well and is said to be interested in the job. He spent 11 seasons playing in the NBA and at one point was traded from the Timberwolves to the Pacers for Chuck Person. Small world.
Tony Barbee - The UTEP head coach is getting a lot of ink in recent days in connection with the Auburn job. His Miners lost to Houston in the Conference USA Championship Game Saturday, but is still heading to the Big Dance with a 25-6 regular season record. A John Calipari disciple, Barbee has no ties to the Deep South and that could be a liability. However, he’s credited with being one of the nation’s top recruiters.
Chris Mooney - Something of a long shot, the Richmond Spider head coach led his team to a 26-8 regular season record and lost to Temple in the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship game yesterday. A Princeton graduate, Mooney is viewed as one of the top young coaches in America. However, his lack of ties to the South may be a knockout.
Chris Collins - The son of NBA coach Doug Collins, the younger Collins serves as Mike Krzyzewski’s top assistant at Duke. A four year player at Duke, Collins was team captain his senior year and was named second team All-ACC. Prior to returning to Durham in 2000, he served three years as an assistant at Seton Hall. Lack of head coaching experience could again be a factor.
Travis Ford - The former Kentucky star and current Oklahoma State head coach is widely regarded as one of the top young coaches in America. After turning around the UMass program in 2007, Ford left for Stillwater, where he’s won more than 20 games in each of his first two seasons.
Jacobs has set no timetable for when a replacement will be hired. Obviously, if he’s going to interview candidates who are in the NCAA Tournament, it could be late March or early April before someone’s in place. The list is sure to grow bigger in the coming days. We’ll keep you updated.