Replacing a Legend: Who might UNC turn to after Williams era?
What if today's top college basketball programs had to replace a legendary coach? Where would they turn? Over the next few weeks, analyst Dan McDonald will take a look at who could be next in line for the nation's top programs when they look to replace legendary coaches. This week, a look at how North Carolina could try to replace Roy Williams.
ALSO IN THIS SERIES: Where Duke might turn after Coach K era
2022 Rankings: Top 75
THE LIST (in alphabetical order)
Chris Beard, Texas Tech head coach
Beard’s rise through the coaching ranks has been pretty remarkable. He’s now thought of as one of the top coaches in the country and he wasn’t even a Division I head coach until five years ago. His first big break in coaching came working as an assistant at Texas Tech under the legendary Bob Knight before bouncing around semi-pro leagues and non-Division I jobs as he perfected his craft.
In 2015, he took over at Arkansas-Little Rock, flipped nearly the entire roster in his first off-season, and then posted a 30-5 overall record that took the Trojans to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. After one season, he initially took the UNLV job for a couple weeks before the opportunity at Texas Tech presented itself again. Since taking over, he’s put together a 94-44 overall record at what is considered a tough position. The Red Raiders also made an appearance in the national championship in just his third season on the job.
Beard has proven to be an elite coach, but he’s also developed under-the-radar talent into NBA first-round picks, players such as Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, who was the No. 6 overall pick in 2019. He’s also elevated the Red Raiders to the point where the program is regularly in the mix for top 50 prospects. He’s also been one of the very best in the transfer market.
Hubert Davis, North Carolina assistant
Fans of college programs always seem to love the idea of hiring one of their own to be the head coach. That’s working in Davis’ favor here, but he also has the resume to back up the idea of this being a real possibility. After starring at North Carolina, he spent several years playing in the NBA. He later built a name for himself as one of the most talented college basketball analysts with a great personality.
For the past eight years, he’s been sitting on the bench for the Tar Heels as one of the assistants to Roy Williams and he’s become a very good recruiter. He has a great reputation with players for his coaching ability.
Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach
Donovan made the move to the NBA five years ago for the opportunity to coach Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but there have been rumors for a couple years now that a return to college basketball shouldn’t be ruled out if it’s one of the big jobs. North Carolina clearly fits that definition.
In 19 seasons as head coach at Florida, Donovan won two national championships and made another appearance in the championship game. He had his most recent appearance in the Final Four in 2014 and made the Elite Eight the three preceding seasons. His recruiting classes were usually ranked among the top in the country and he produced several NBA players. If he’s willing to make the move back to college, he’d be a home run.
Chris Mack, Louisville head coach
I’m of the opinion that Chris Mack is one of the elite coaches and recruiters in the entire country going back to his tenure at Xavier. In his nine seasons at the helm for the Musketeers, Mack won 215 games, which is an average of just under 24 per season, with NCAA Tournament appearances in eight of his nine seasons. Factor in the fact that he led the program through the transition from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East and it’s even more impressive. In his last season at Xavier, the Musketeers earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
As a recruiter, he’s reeled in talent from all over the country and has been very strong in the transfer market. It might be tough to make the move within the ACC, but it’d absolutely be worth the call.
Wes Miller, UNC-Greensboro head coach
The next two candidates go back to the idea of college fans loving former players taking over as head coach. But both will need Roy Williams to keep coaching for at least a few more years to make it a real possibility. Wes Miller has been dominant in the Southern Conference for the last few years at UNC-Greensboro and has been mentioned as a candidate for high-major openings, including Wake Forest this year.
If he’s going to be in play for the North Carolina job after Williams steps down, he’ll likely need to have some high-major head coaching experience under his belt. If he’s able to move up into an ACC or SEC job next year and has success early, he’s a real sleeper for this job.
Jerry Stackhouse, Vanderbilt head coach
Stackhouse has the most unique background of anyone on this list. He was a star for the Tar Heels and a star in the NBA. His first coaching experience came from coaching his travel program, Stackhouse Elite, in the Atlanta area with some North Carolina talent such as Brandon Ingram mixed in. He eventually made the transition to NBA coaching with stops as an assistant for the Raptors and Grizzlies along with being the head coach for the Raptors G League team, where he won coach of the year honors in 2017.
His first season as Vanderbilt's head coach was a bumpy one with injuries hitting hard and a roster in need of talent infusion. As with Miller, if Williams can coach for another few years to give Stackhouse time to build up his program, he could absolutely be a top candidate to be the next head coach in Chapel Hill.
Others under consideration
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, Stanford head coach Jerod Haase, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann and Florida head coach Mike White were also considered for this list. Word in coaching circles is that Bennett would be more likely to leave for an NBA job than another college job, especially within the ACC. White’s father is the athletic director at Duke, so that’d be tough to overcome. Haase, like Miller and Stackhouse, just needs some time to get the Stanford program rolling to be a legitimate candidate, but his time working as an assistant under Williams makes him intriguing. Holtmann is also a possibility if this drags out longer and he has more success with the Buckeyes.
Assuming each candidate would accept the job if offered, this is a really, really tough call. I’ve always been a huge fan of Donovan and the way he coaches and the way he recruited at Florida. He’s become an even better coach with his NBA experience, and now he could tell recruits he coached Durant, Westbrook and Chris Paul.
Assuming this decision gets made in the next few years, Donovan could easily coach 10-plus years in Chapel Hill, and he would likely hang another championship banner inside the Dean Dome.