After firing Sean Miller, Arizona finds itself with a hugely important decision: who gets the keys to the Arizona basketball kingdom?
Should they hire from inside the family like North Carolina, Indiana, Michigan and even Texas have done recently?
Should they hire the most accomplished coach, period? Maybe, but that list might be shorter than you think. Almost every program in the country can pay a coach to stick around, if they want to. Money is everywhere in college athletics so if you're taking the Arizona job, its probably not because you want a raise.
Could this hire come down to which former Arizona Wildcats legend rallies the most support? Could faces of Arizona's past go head to head in a winner take all showdown for the right to be the next head coach?
Without further ado, here is my list:
Top 5 Candidates to Replace Sean Miller:
5. Eric Musselman
- Musselman is the well traveled, former boy wonder NBA head coach who has carved out a nice career for himself in college. Most recently, Musselman led the Arkansas Razorbacks to the Elite 8 before losing to Baylor. Amongst all the coaches linked to the job, Musselman is by far the most accomplished. He's won 20 games or more every year as a head coach in college and led his teams to four NCAA tournament appearances in five tries. He coached three years in the NBA and three years as an assistant, including two at Arizona State. He's probably the best coach Arizona's money could buy. The biggest drawback to Musselman is that he'd be taking the job because it's the next job, not because it's the Arizona job. He's a climber, not a caretaker. The reason alum hires have been so popular in college basketball lately (UNC, Indiana, Texas) is hiring someone who cares about the program as much as they care about their next paycheck carries a lot of sellable value. If Musselman had the faintest whiff of a connection to Arizona, he'd be the clear choice. Musselman feels like the most Jedd Fisch-esque hire that could be made, which might be telling.
4. Damon Stoudamire
- Who amongst the Arizona faithful doesn't love Damon Stoudamire? If he brings Khalid Reeves back as an assistant, it's a wrap. I remember watching the 1995 NBA Draft and celebrating like a maniac when he got picked by the Toronto Raptors. I owned and loved my purple Damon Stoudamire Raptors jersey, wearing it constantly. Its literally the only purple item of clothing I've ever purchased. After an incredible career at Arizona, Stoudamire went on to have a successful NBA career, cut his teeth as an assistant in the NBA and at Memphis and Arizona before landing the top job at Pacific. He's had some success there, wrapping up his 5th year. He has not been to the NCAA tournament, he was not won a conference championship, he has not coached or recruited an NBA talent but he has helped elevate the program to a respectable level. Truth be told, Stoudamire would not likely be hired by any other Power 5 conference based on his coaching credentials at Pacific. But, he's got HC experience, a major connection to the program and wants the job. I wouldn't bet against Stoudamire but we also might know too much about his coaching abilities relative to other famous alum on this list.
3. Miles Simon
- Miles Simon needs no refresher line about who he is to Arizona. Currently, he's an assistant coach on Frank Vogel's staff for the Los Angeles Lakers. His proximity to Lebron James makes him immediately hirable. He's also got deep southern California recruiting ties from his time coaching at Arizona and AAU. He brings the most famous face back to the most important position at the University of Arizona. He has no head coaching experience but he has literally everything else. One minor caveat to his candidacy: his personality is a lot more Sean Miller than Lute Olson. Let's put it this way, if you put Jason Terry and Miles Simon in a contest to charm people, Jason Terry is the 1997 Arizona Wildcats and Miles Simon is the 1998 Arizona Wildcats. He's not incapable of it but its not a strength. How important is that? How important should it be? Hiring Miles Simon isn't pandering to nostalgic fans, it would be good business.
2. Tommy Lloyd
- Step one for accepting Tommy Lloyd's candidacy: swallow your pride. Hiring an assistant from a more successful program is an Arizona football hire, not an Arizona basketball hire. Washington State hires a Gonzaga assistant, not Arizona. But once you check your pride at the door, you can come to terms that Lloyd could be a really good hire. His recruiting chops are spectacular, his experience for the preeminent west coast college basketball program is impressive and he's the ultimate fresh start. Plus, Lloyd and by extension Gonzaga, represent a clear path to Arizona basketball becoming Arizona basketball again. Gonzaga and Mark Few have become what Arizona was under Lute Olson. If Lloyd can bring the same culture building leadership Mark Few has, Arizona would be in very good hands. If you don't value his culture building and recruiting, there's no reason to hire Lloyd over a more established Musselman but for my money, Lloyd would be a slightly better fit.
1. Jason Terry
- Jason Terry has less coaching experience than Damon Stoudamire or Miles Simon. He has fewer recruiting connections than Stoudamire or Simon. But he offers Arizona perhaps the best combination of continuity and potential. In 2019 at the Final Four in Minneapolis, Terry told me on air he wanted to be the next head coach of the Arizona Wildcats. He joined Miller's staff to gain valuable experience. Think of this season as Terry's years coming off the bench at Arizona before he became the National Player of the Year. This isn't based on hardcore facts, this is just based on I really like Jason Terry. I love his energy, his passion and his experience. He's won an NBA title and played in the league for 19 years, you don't think he understands basketball or leadership? Jason Terry is the kind of coach that attracts the right kind of player to rebuild Arizona basketball. He might be the riskiest choice on the list but he's a coach I'd be happy to bet on.