Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood is a big boy. He knows how the game is played. He knows how we keep score.
I’m sure he has the hate mail to back all this up.
Livengood is fully aware he ultimately will be judged by the company he keeps.
In other words, the coaches he hires.
“We put our professional life on the line all the time in the hiring process, especially in the high-profile sports,” Livengood told me in August 2006. “They have to make it.”
Darn his luck, it doesn’t help his current dilemma that he once went off the reservation and hired football coach John Mackovic – a disaster. He has had only one at-bat since then, replacing Mackovic with Mike Stoops – a passing grade.
Now, Livengood’s first full-scale search for a basketball coach is going as swimmingly as a bowling ball in a lake.
At this point, Livengood isn’t just hoping a new basketball coach makes it; he first has to make the dang hire.
Time to put Plan G into effect.
USC coach Tim Floyd did hold a news conference Thursday, but it wasn’t in Tucson and it wasn’t to say he would love to be the next Arizona basketball coach.
Floyd is staying put at USC, and it sure does look as if Livengood just went down swinging in the bottom of the ninth with the UA basketball program stranded at second base.
It appears to be – and I will stress appears because nobody has had a strong handle on the behind-the-scenes machinations – that Floyd was the last candidate in Livengood’s comfort zone.
Floyd was an established coach who had earned his recruiting stripes and had posted reasonable success, especially considering his host of rebuilding projects.
Floyd was far from the perfect candidate – c’mon, you had to be worried about alleged recruiting improprieties at USC – but you could have made a case he would have worked out just fine here.
Instead, Arizona gets rejected again. This time, by a good-but-not-great coach at a good-but-not-great program.
Shades of the Houston game, it’s as if coaches across the country are lining up to step on Arizona’s face.
You better hope Livengood can rally as well as Chase Budinger.
How far does Livengood have to stretch to find the next guy?
Just on Thursday, Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl signed an extension at Tennessee. Butler’s rising star Brad Stevens also signed an extension. Georgia hired Mark Fox from Nevada.
Washington State’s bright, young Tony Bennett might have been very appealing to Arizona right about now . . . but Virginia lured him away earlier this week.
What’s the fallback plan? Floyd on Thursday, when asked what Arizona had told him during his visit to Tucson a day earlier, said: “They just told me that they would like to have me as their coach yesterday morning.”
It’s a couple of mornings later, and, at the least, Arizona’s lack of a new head coach is embarrassing.
At worst, the new coach could end up hamstrung by the public knowledge that he wasn’t on the initial short list of candidates. That will hurt public perception, and it certainly won’t help when he hits the recruiting trail.
Arizona’s coaching search might have spun off the track when Kentucky threw everybody a curveball by firing Billy Gillispie after two seasons.
Those Wildcats then tossed an unprecedented $4 million per year at Memphis coach John Calipari, who otherwise might have been listening to an Arizona pitch.
If that’s just a case of bad timing, well, too bad.
University president Robert Shelton has been immersed in the hiring process, but whatever happened or will happen, it all stops at Livengood’s door.
It’s his contract that is up on June 30, 2010, when he will be 65. He said recently he wouldn’t mind going longer than that – if Shelton and the Board of Regents were willing.
Unless Livengood comes up with a great save, chasing away the swelling dark clouds, that won’t be much of a decision.
AND THE NEXT COACH IS . . .
Some names that UA fans have thrown around as the possible next coach now that Tim Floyd turned down the Wildcats:
Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s
Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Scott Drew, Baylor
Mark Few, Gonzaga
Lon Kruger, UNLV
Sean Miller, Xavier
Reggie Theus, not coaching