As teams fall out of the NCAA Tournament, the annual college coaching carousel picks up steam. Over the weekend, things really picked up when Ben Howland was let go by UCLA, meaning there are now two very good jobs available in Los Angeles.
With Howland out in Westwood, one of college basketball's premier jobs is open, and the pressure will be on athletic director Dan Guerrero to find a big-name replacement. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the rival USC Trojans are still looking for a head coach after their mid-season firing of Kevin O'Neill. While the USC job doesn't have the same clout as the first chair at UCLA, it could end up being a great job as well.
Rather than wasting time with big-name guys who won't be leaving their current jobs for Westwood, Guerrero and his search committee need to focus on guys that they can get. Not only guys that they can get, but guys who will be able to recruit Southern California and play a bit of a different style than the guy they just let go -- who, by the way, was pretty successful during his tenure.
Taking a run at Smart makes sense on plenty of levels. He's young, he can recruit and his "Havoc" style of ball would be a big change. While he doesn't have any Southern California roots, he has the type of energy and personality that kids and coaches will buy into. Also, Smart would likely live up to his name when it comes to hiring a staff.
If he doesn't work out, then it is time to find the best winner with West Coast ties that you can get your hands on. Tad Boyle at Colorado would be worthy of a strong look and would be an outstanding hire given what he's done in Boulder and how many recruiting inroads he's making in Los Angeles. St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett would also be worthy of a long look from the Bruins administration if St. Mary's current NCAA issues don't scare them off.
The Bruins have a good class for 2013 with four-star guards Zach LaVine and Allerik Freeman to go along with three-star wing Noah Allen. Allen has already said he's onboard with whoever is hired, while LaVine and Freeman will want to see who is hired before making their next move. While it will be important that the new coach be able to retain talent, the Bruins should not make it the only thing. After all, the classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016 -- all of which look very promising in the Los Angeles area -- will be more important than the class of 2013. Bottom line: They have already blown things up by firing Howland, they shouldn't let a few recruits hold up the hiring process.
As for the Trojans, it is a totally different deal. While they have been in a bit of a tailspin since Tim Floyd left, the job is one that is very attractive. The facilities are top of the line, the local recruiting grounds are fertile and the fact of the matter is that -- at least for now -- there is so much focus on football that it could be a reasonably low-stress job if a coach is able to turn them into a consistent NCAA tournament participant.
Now that UCLA is open, what USC absolutely cannot do is worry about what the Bruins have going on in their job search. Focus on what the Trojans need and try to find the right guy now that presumed front-runner Jamie Dixon has re-upped with Pittsburgh.
Longtime Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins name has been brought up early and often, and he seems to be a fine candidate and ready to make the move to head coach. Memphis coach Josh Pastner probably has a better current job at Memphis; but he knows the West Coast from his days at Arizona, and the Pac-12 has to be looking much, much better as a conference option than whatever version of the old Big East Memphis is headed into.
Maybe the guy that the Trojans should take the longest look at is Harvard's Tommy Amaker. What he has been able to do at Harvard has been quite impressive and he's long been noted as a strong recruiter during previous head coaching stops. He and his staff have been making the West Coast a priority the past few years, so they are well known to influential high school and summer coaches.
As long as the new coach wants them, four-star small forward Roschon Prince is locked in as is three-star shooting guard Kahlil Dukes. Three-star combo guard Julian Jacobs is a guy a new coach should be able to talk into staying, while there's a strong chance that three-star big man Nikola Jovanovic would look to open things up.
One city, two good jobs and myriad options to fill those open positions. Hopefully for both UCLA and USC fans, their athletic directors are able to look past names and focus on fit, performance and the long-term sustainability of their programs. After all, it is more important to win games in the Pac-12 than it is to win the press conference.