After six seasons as the head coach of the UConn men’s basketball program, Kevin Ollie was relieved of his duties Saturday. Ollie took over a nearly impossible situation: becoming the guy to replace his former head coach and hall of famer Jim Calhoun. Ollie then did something that Calhoun failed to do: win the national championship in just his second year on the job.
Ollie took over a program that was forced to sit out postseason play due to academic restraints but now sits with a near perfect APR record. However, on-the-floor results consume the fan base and boosters, and catapulting the program back among the nation’s elite and winning the recruiting wars will be expected in Storrs.
Who might be the answer for the UConn men's basketball program?
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Over the past five years, the Atlantic 10 has been decimated by power conference programs snatching away top up and comers such as Archie Miller, Shaka Smart and Will Wade. The next could be Danny Hurley. The son of legendary St. Anthony’s High School head coach Bob Hurley, the Rhode Island head coach has done phenomenal work in turning the program into one of the league's best over the past two to three seasons.
No longer does VCU or Dayton rule the conference, as URI is a program that is trending toward a top-six bid in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Hurley has won close to 50 games over the past two seasons and was a minute away from defeating Final Four team Oregon last year in the round of 32. Hurley became the second youngest coach to 100 wins in URI history and has created for one of the more solid, well-built programs on the East Coast, regardless of level. He has also been no slouch on the recruiting trail, as the Rams boast the top non-power conference class this winter with the signings of two Rivls150 seniors. The Rams will lose a lot after this season with the graduations of five of their top contributors, and Hurley may feel as if he reached his ceiling in Kingston. If UConn beckons, call Storrs his next home.
The idea of keeping it all in the family was put to the test upon the replacement of Jim Calhoun in 2012. Now that Ollie is out, Steve Pikiell is the candidate that makes the most sense and for a variety of reasons. Born in Bristol, Conn., and suiting up for the Huskies for four years (one of which brought the program its first Big East title), Pikiell later found his first coaching job as an assistant on staff in Storrs during the 1991-1992 season. Could he be ready to come full circle with his coaching career?
Kudos to Rutgers for seeing the writing on the wall by giving Pikiell a contract extension two months ago, placing his buy-out at $5 million if he were to leave for another job. However, that might not be enough in holding the Huskies back from hiring the Scarlet Knights’ head coach. Signed through to 2024, Pikiell’s first two years in New Brunswick have been a bit rocky, but there have been signs of promise. Winning 15 games in back-to-back campaigns, next season could be the year that Rutgers sees its breakthrough in the Big 10. Pikiell has already begun to scrounge a few under-the-radar prospects from the high school ranks and recently picked up his first Rivals150 pledge in the form of Montez Mathis, who selected the Scarlet Knights over UConn in the fall. Pikiell is UConn through and through. Now it is up to the administration in Storrs to make it happen.
He might not have the background that some of the others in contention might have, but the winning pedigree that John Becker boasts is second to none. A self-made coach who initially paid his dues as the head coach of Division III Gallaudet before taking an assistant job then the head job at Vermont, Becker’s teams have won no less than 21 games, have finished third or higher in the American East and have now won the league’s regular season title in consecutive years.
Becker may not be the hire that wins over the masses, but he is a New Englander to the core. Born in Fairfield, Conn., the 49-year-old head coach has won at every stop along the way, and while the recruiting battles against the nation’s best may be difficult at first, Becker’s ability to take Vermont from league contender and into the area of a consistent NCAA Tournament team says enough. Becker might be thought of as more of a B-list candidate at first, but if he could provide the appropriate staff behind him to help him win battles on the recruiting front, success might not be too far behind.
How cold of a move would it be for UConn to steal Providence’s head coach, the guy responsible for making the program the best that is has consistently ever been? The Huskies need someone who doesn't just finagle wins in games they should have lost. They also need a killer on the recruiting trail who is familiar with New England basketball. Who else is a better candidate that Ed Cooley?
Headed toward his fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance - a first in school history - what Cooley has done in Providence is nothing short of impressive. Not only can he win the big-time recruiting battles, but he also has become one of the more underrated tacticians and developers of in-house talent. His program is not just a one- hit wonder, but rather a consistent bowling ball that plays an entertaining style that appeases his fan base and is appreciated further because his top stars are local products. Cooley created something special at Fairfield and Providence. It would be scary to see him at a program that is already recognized nationally for its basketball program.
He may not be the sexiest hire, but the work that Pat Skerry has done throughout his tenure at Towson has been nothing short of commendable. Winning just one game during his initial campaign, Skerry’s bunch then had one of the biggest turnarounds in college basketball history by winning 18 games the following season, transforming it into a perennial CAA contender. His teams rely on more under-the-radar local talent and blue-collared workers who scare opponents during the out-of-conference portion of the season.
Skerry has no direct connections to UConn, but he is a native New Englander who has cut his teeth throughout the region as an assistant coach at Northeastern, Rhode Island, Pitt and Providence. Since getting the opportunity to his lead his own program, Skerry’s teams have won 18 games or more after his first season at Towson. While leading a program in the CAA is dwarfed by such a highly coveted job that UConn provides, he has shown an unwillingness to take a back seat to anyone. He does not have an NIT or NCAA Tournament bid attached to his resume, but with a mentality on the recruiting trail that makes him one of the hardest working head coaches in the business and a personality that makes him a great fit in New England, Skerry isn’t really a far-fetched candidate.
OTHERS IN THE MIX
Where UConn goes is anyone’s guess and while Hurley, Becker, Pikiell, Cooley or Skerry could take the job, others that could also come under consideration include Albany’s Will Brown, Monmouth’s King Rice, or even former Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Unless it's Pikiell, the hiring will be one that goes outside of the UConn family.