On Friday afternoon, the expected came to fruition: Shaka Smart’s time as the Texas Longhorns head coach came to a close. However, in a move that benefitted both sides, Smart’s departure came with the news that he’s agreed to become the next head coach at Marquette. So not only did Smart get a soft landing and a fresh start back home in Wisconsin, but Texas avoided what would have been a $7.1 million buyout had the Horns parted with with him.
By most accounts, it was simply time for that marriage to end, and now that it officially has, Texas needs its next head basketball coach.
With the $338 million, state-of-the-art Moody Center set to open in a little more than a year and the program now starving for postseason success, this is a hire Longhorns Athletic Director Chris Del Conte simply has to get right and there’s no shortage of options and names being floated around.
Chris Beard, Texas Tech — For obvious reasons, Chris Beard’s name is going to be atop Texas’ coaching wish list until he simply tells them no. He’s built Texas Tech into a power throughout the past half-decade, which actively impacted Smart’s success on the Forty Acres, both on the court and from the perception of the progress being made in Lubbock compared to the general lack thereof in Austin. You can mention his role as a graduate assistant at Texas as a tie, but he also spent a decade as Bob Knight’s assistant in Lubbock, so his ties to Texas Tech certainly outweigh those to Texas.
Not to mention, included in Beard’s 9-3 NCAA Tournament record with the Red Raiders is an Elite 8 appearance in his second season and a National Championship appearance the following year, so he’s earned some tremendous job security and a $5.05 million salary to match. His current $6 million buyout for any Big 12 program reduces to $4 million on April 1, so if he is headed to Austin, we won’t know before then, but it’s pretty likely that Texas’ would have few if any issues enticing him with a raise that would make him the highest-paid coach on campus — Steve Sarkisian’s base salary is $5.2 million.
At the end of the day, this one should be fairly simple: If Beard wants the Texas job, it’s his. Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News reported a source calling Beard to Texas, “a done deal. One-hundred percent.” That said, few things in life are certain, especially not luring Beard away from Lubbock. Now we wait.
Eric Musselman, Arkansas — With Texas, Indiana and Oklahoma among those with job openings, Eric Musselman’s name will likely be mentioned often, and for good reason. Thus far, there’s been nothing that ties him to Texas’ opening, specifically, as his Razorbacks prepare for the Sweet 16 on Saturday after outlasting Beard’s Red Raiders last weekend, but he’s quickly become one of the hottest names in college basketball. After enjoying considerable success at Nevada, which included a first round NCAA Tournament win over Smart’s Longhorns in 2018, Musselman’s guided Arkansas to a 44-18 record in two seasons, including a 24-6 effort this season. He’s regarded as energetic, an excellent offensive mind, and a strong recruiter, so there’s certainly reasons for Texas — and any program needing a new coach — to have interest.
His buyout is $5 million, and if Texas does come calling, expect Arkansas to do everything they can to keep him in place.
Dana Altman, Oregon — If things don’t go according to plan with Beard, Dana Altman’s name will be mentioned more frequently. Like Musselman, the 62-year-old Altman has his program in the Sweet 16, adding another accomplishment to a lengthy list of accolades that includes a plethora of regular season and conference tournament titles dating back to the mid-1990s during his stints with Creighton and now Oregon.
The history of success is clearly there and his $3 million buyout is more than manageable, but could his role in Oregon being place on probation prevent Texas from pursuing him unless all other preferred options say no?
Royal Ivey, assistant coach, Brooklyn Nets — In the wake of Smart taking the Marquette job, Texas great Kevin Durant vouched for fellow former Longhorn Royal Ivey to get a shot at the open role. A former starting during Texas’ Final Four run in 2003, Ivey spent 10 years in the NBA before transitioning into various assistant coaching roles, during which he’s learned under Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City and David Fizdale with the New York Knicks. Of course, Ivey doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but neither did Juwan Howard before his alma mater, Michigan, hired him in 2019. Now in his second season, he’s guided Michigan to a 22-4 record, a No. 1 seed, and the Sweet 16, so there’s some intrigue about Ivey potentially enjoying his own success as a first-year head coach.
John Calipari, Kentucky — First things first: This is a pipe dream, but the chance of this happening isn’t exactly zero percent. Of those on the Kentucky beat, few are more plugged in than The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker, who had this to say regarding Calipari and the Texas opening:
“Here’s what we know: John Calipari and a large number of Kentucky fans are not on the same page after a 9-16 season that was the program’s worst in almost a century — and during which players expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and took a knee for the national anthem before a game at Florida. Calipari knelt with his players, then tried to walk it back after facing major backlash, then had to refute the idea he wasn’t supportive of the protest. It was, like the on-court product, a mess. So the relationship is strained on a number of fronts. “One-and-done fatigue” is officially part of the lexicon in Lexington. Is it crazy, then, to think Calipari wants a change of scenery? He said 10 years is probably the most any man should sit in the pressure-cooker at a place such as Kentucky, but now he’s headed into Year 13.”
As is, Calipari’s on what essentially amounts to a lifetime contract in Lexington with an option in the coming years to convert into a near $1 million special assistant role, so financially, there’s zero reason for Coach Cal to leave. If he somehow emerges as a legitimate option for Texas — The Ringer’s J. Kyle Mann said Texas would throw the kitchen sink at him but the interest is one-sided for now — it would likely require close to, if not a pay increase over his current $9.27 million salary, which seems unlikely even for Texas. Surprisingly, though, there is no buyout.
Cal’s name pops up for major openings, often NBA coaching gigs, every offseason and he always shoots them down. This will probably prove to be the same this time around, but as Tucker detailed, the stars could finally be aligning for a change of scenery and Calipari’s personality would thrive under the spotlight in Austin.
But again, this is a pipe dream.
Other Names to Know
Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State — By most accounts, Mike Boynton is a rising star in the industry. He can clearly recruit, landing projected No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham last cycle, and he’s proven capable of developing that talent and meshing their skillsets to provide results. With the Texas job open, expect OSU to do everything they can to keep him, but a variety of outlets have mentioned him as an option, and for good reason.
Grant McCasland, North Texas — A long-time Scott Drew disciple, McCasland is fresh off of leading North Texas to a Conference USA Tournament championship before capturing an upset win over 4-seeded Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He could be a name that emerges if Beard and other top options tell Texas no.
Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago — After guiding Loyola Chicago to its miraculous Final Four run in 2018, Porter Moser has the Ramblers back in the Big Dance and making noise in the Sweet 16. With three straight MVC titles and a 6-1 record in the Big Dance, Moser has a solid resume that’s worth a look.
Kelvin Sampson, Houston — It’s pretty unlikely that the 65-year-old Sampson leaves Houston, where he’s led the Cougars to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including two Sweet 16s. That said, Texas will always be a threat to hire coaches away from pretty much anywhere that isn’t a thriving blue blood program, so he’s another name who could emerge.
Unless Beard just isn’t happy in Lubbock anymore, which would be news to most, odds are he’ll remains in place and uses this interest to leverage another raise unless Texas swoops in with an offer that Texas Tech simply can’t match. And, as noted, Calipari to Texas is a pipe dream until proven otherwise. Elsewhere, options such as Musselman, Altman, and Boynton are probably more realistic options, but again, the Texas opening will likely push those athletic departments to cough up extra cash in hopes of keeping their coaches in place.
Texas can play the money game here, and they’re likely going to have to do just that.