PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Bob West

February 20, 2014

West column: No shortage of interest in LU basketball job

PORT ARTHUR —     Despite the deep, deep hole in which Pat Knight left the Lamar University basketball program, and the daunting short-term outlook with just one scholarship available for next year, there will be no  shortage of coaches who think they can be a game changer. In fact, they were circling long before LU president Dr. Ken Evans told Knight to hit the road with five games left in the season.

    Pat Foster, who presided over the longest run of success in program history in the 1980s, advised me he started getting calls about whether he thought Knight was going to be fired as far back as three weeks ago. Foster told one and all that he didn’t feel LU  would make a change because of the hefty payoff on Knight’s contract.

    When Evans pulled the trigger last Sunday, Foster’s phone lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. So did the phone of the man who first put LU basketball on the national map — Billy Tubbs. Tubbs, who was in the midst of a  Palm Springs, Calif., golf trip, knew when he learned Knight had been terminated that his cell phone would be blowing up.

    For now, however, there’s not much either Tubbs or Foster can tell anyone wanting them to put in a good word. Interim coach Tic Price seemingly has the inside track, depending on how things play out over the next five games.

    “We’ll review it and see where we are when the season ends,” Evans told the Port Arthur News. “If Tic makes nice progress, we’ll certainly consider him. I’ll be working with Jason (AD Jason Henderson) on the next step. The first step was to make this move (firing Knight).

    Price, who was on Steve Roccaforte’s staff, had noteworthy success (63-27) in his first head coaching job at New Orleans, then was less prolific at both Memphis (30-27) and McNeese State (74-68). A non-basketball problem cut short his time at Memphis and he was in a difficult situation at McNeese. But he did win at both stops.

    Tic is a pretty fair basketball coach, a good guy, is well liked in Beaumont and makes sense financially. As was noted in this space earlier in the week, Lamar could do much worse.

    Should Evans opt to open the job up, he needs to have someone brief him on previous LU basketball hires and how often the search process was flawed or a downright dog and pony show. Starting with the hiring of an inexperienced young assistant named Tony Branch, when a rising star named Tim Floyd wanted the job, too many of Lamar’s moves were made for the wrong reason.

    Other hires which looked good at the time — Mike Newell headlines that category — blew up in Lamar’s face for reasons no amount of vetting could have forewarned. Mike Deane, another mistake, was hired because Lamar was in a financial bind and could get him on the cheap. Deane had been fired with time remaining on his contract at Marquette. What he was owed there enabled LU to bring in him for a low number.

    The bottom line is that hiring coaches is an inexact science somewhat akin to Forest Gump’s box of chocolates.  Foster, for instance, who was an Arkansas assistant at the time, got lukewarm reviews here when athletic director J.B. Higgins hired him on Frank Broyles’ recommendation.

    Next to Tubbs the first time, he’s the best coaching decision ever made at Lamar.

    Foster’s six years saw Lamar go the NCAAs twice, and score wins over Missouri and Alabama in first round games, plus make four trips to the NIT. The breakdown should have been 3 NCAAs, 3 NITS, but the NCAA selection committee totally screwed over a 1984-85 team that ended the regular season 25-4, with one-point road losses at Wichita State and Utah State, and a 68-65 loss to Karl Malone and Louisiana Tech in the finals of the SLC tourney.

    Not only did Foster win big, extending Lamar’s nation best home-floor winning streak to 80 games, he got the Montagne Center built. But he’ll be the first to tell you it would never have happened without a savvy and deeply committed Board of Regents chairman named Bob Montagne.

    So, while hiring coaches can be a crapshoot to a certain extent, the odds can be improved by getting input from basketball-knowledgeable people. Cut out all the boosters, friends of the program and administrators who aren’t qualified to make an informed decision and rely on guys in a position to evaluate  coaches on merit. Even then there are no guarantees.

    Knight’s hiring apparently boiled down to then AD Larry Tidwell getting oversold, based on glowing recommendations from big-name coaches. He passed their effusive praise along to then president Jimmy Simmons and Simmons, understandably, bought in. In retrospect, what big-name coach, out of deference to Bobby Knight, isn’t going to speak highly of his son.

    It was painfully clear early on in the process that Knight, despite his losing record at Texas Tech, was going to get the job over coaches who would have been a much better fit for Lamar.  Tubbs, who often gets the blame for Knight, was barely involved. Since he was on his way out the door, he purposely distanced himself. Billy was an advisor who didn’t do much advising, after pushing for Terry Evans, one of his former players at OU.

    From watching so many of these coaching scenarios play out, my advice to Dr. Evans would be to either hire a professional head hunter group (not likely because of cost) or get Tubbs and Foster heavily involved. With all due respect to Jason Henderson, he just doesn’t have enough skins on the wall to dive into the basketball network and make the call.

    After talking with Tubbs and Foster, I got the impression that Foster is much more interested in taking an active role. He’d even be willing to act as lead consultant, without compensation. All he’d want is expenses and the guarantee that he be taken seriously.

    Why bring in somebody like Foster? Because he’s been a sounding board for coaches since he retired. He’s been an AD, he stays on top of trends in the game and, most of all, he understands what it takes to be successful at Lamar. He’s the one who recommended Tim Floyd when school officials turned a deaf ear. He still has great pride in what he and Tubbs built and wants to help get the program in the right hands.

    Tubbs, meanwhile, sounded more like he’d help from a distance but didn’t appear to want to get directly involved. He still feels bad over having recommended Mike Newell and for not being able to make more of a difference the second time around.

    “I would always help Lamar in any way I can,” he said, “but I’m not going to push myself into the mix. I’m not interested in naming the coach. I’m not calling Terry Evans or anybody. It’s Lamar’s deal. Frankly, I think Tic’s a pretty good coach.”

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net.

       

    

    

    

    

  

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