Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Possible assistant coaching candidates

By Chris Dokish

I've been fortunate enough that when Dave Wannstedt, Todd Graham, Tom Herrion, and Pat Skerry were hired, I had all on my list of potential candidates. The only major Pitt hiring I did not have was Michael Haywood, who I investigated and did not list because I didn't think Pitt would make such a bad hire. Enough said on that one. This time it's a little more difficult because there is no one obvious hire.

The top contenders:

Dave Leitao- Will be 51 next month. Native of Massachusetts. Played for Jim Calhoun at Northeastern, then became an assistant for his former coach at both Northeastern and UConn. Later became the head coach at DePaul and then Virginia. Considered one of the best recruiters in college basketball over the last twenty years and recruited extremely well everywhere he's been, including DePaul where he had one of the top five recruiting classes in the country one season. The downside? Not everybody loves his personality. "Arrogant beyond belief," according to one college basketball insider who prefers to remain anonymous. "Gotta be somebody better. Dixon would regret that one". That may be why he just lost out on the starting job at Fairfield last week, a job that he is more than qualified for. But the fact remains, he was Dixon's first choice before Pat Skerry was hired so you would think he would ask again. Ed Cooley, new head coach at Providence, wants to land Leitao for his first chair, but you would think Pitt would be a better option for him.

Barry Rohrssen- Will be 51 in June. Native of New York City. Recently fired as the head coach of Manhattan after five seasons. "Slice", as everybody in college basketball knows him, was at Pitt from 1999 to 2006, starting as Director of Basketball Operations and ending as the Associate Head Coach. Most prized recruit at Pitt was top 50 prospect Chris Taft, but also landed the likes of Carl Krauser, Ronald Ramon, Keith Benjamin, and Levance Fields. He recruited well at Manhattan, too, but he proved to be overmatched as a head coach. Still, though, many in NYC were upset at his firing because his players graduated and he brought professionalism back to the program that his predecessor, Bobby Gonzalez, sucked away. The downside of hiring him back, however, is that he only recruits the NYC area and the city has been down in talent for a few years. Plus, Brandin Knight is already strong in northern New Jersey and could handle the city, too. At the end of the day, it just may come down to whether or not Dixon wants to go back to a guy he knows or if he wants to get new blood.

Leitao could turn down an offer if made, just like he did last year. Rohrssen probably would not turn down an offer. If the job does not go to either of the above two, then it's because Dixon wanted to go a completely different route. In that case, these are some possibilities:

Jeff Battle- 50 years old. Native of Philadelphia. Currently the top assistant at Wake Forest where he has been for the past ten seasons. Was an assistant at Xavier with Skip Prosser then followed him to Wake Forest. One of the top recruiters and assistant coaches in the country. Was passed over for Dino Gaudio when Prosser suddenly passed away, then was passed over again for current coach Jeff Bzdelik after Gaudio was fired. Bzdelik is currently on the hot seat and Battle may think if he stays around then he will eventually be named the head coach for the Demon Deacons. Was my personal favorite the last time (Skerry was second), but like last time, there may be extenuating circumstances that keeps him from leaving Wake Forest. His wife died of cancer three years ago and Battle didn't want to move his son away to a different place. That son is 17-years old this year. His top notch reputation as one of the best assistants in the country, as well as his ties to Philadelphia, would make him a huge hire.

Dino Gaudio- 54 years old. Native of Ohio. Like Battle, he followed Prosser from Xavier. Has a lot of head coaching experience, with Army, Loyola (MD), and three years at Wake Forest. A great recruiter who brought in the likes of Jeff Teague and Al-Farouq Aminu. He's currently an ESPN analyst and he's in no hurry to get a job. He'll probably wait to see if he can get a head coaching job somewhere but he's definitely worth a phone call. His recruiting skills and vast coaching experience would benefit Dixon greatly.

Sean Kearney- 52 years old. Native of suburban Philadelphia. Longtime right hand man for Mike Brey both at Delaware and Notre Dame, and has been responsible for recruiting and/or developing the likes of Troy Murphy, Ryan Humphrey, Torin Francis, Chris Thomas, and Luke Harangody. Replaced Ralph Willard as head coach of Holy Cross (over Tom Herrion, then at Pitt), but was fired after just one season. While the Crusaders finished 9-22 after being named the Patriot League favorite, many college basketball observers were appalled at the quick firing. Kearney was out of basketball last year, but his great reputation in college basketball, his Philadelphia roots, and the fact that he is a friend of Dixon makes him a viable candidate.

Scott Spinelli- 44 years old. Native of Massachusetts. Current top assistant at Texas A&M under Mark Turgeon. Also was the top assistant at Wichita State, also with Turgeon, and at Nebraska when Steve Pederson was the AD. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have ties to the east. Not only is he from New England, but he also started the program at The Winchendon School in MA, which just happens to be one of the best prep schools in the country for basketball talent. He also was a scout for one year for the Philadelphia 76ers and covered the Big East and northeast high school basketball. He is a well known and highly respected recruiter and assistant who is very close to landing a head coaching job.

Kenya Hunter- 37 years old. Native of Virginia. Former Duquesne guard is currently an assistant at Georgetown where he is quickly developing the reputation as one of the best young recruiters and assistants in the country. Between his first stop at his alma mater and the Hoyas, he was also the Director of Basketball Operations under Herb Sendek at NC State, and an assistant at Xavier, under Sean Miller. His ties to the Washington, DC area would be a great addition.

Matt Langel- 32 years old. Native of southern New Jersey. If Dixon decides that he wants to go for a rising young star instead of a longtime veteran, he may look to this former Penn star. Langel started at his alma mater under Fran Dunphy then followed him to Temple. He showed he was a great recruiter when he went all out to land Owls' star Juan Fernandez all the way in Argentina. With his connections in Philadelphia and by learning the trade from one of the best in the business, his future is extremely bright. He was recently one of the finalists for the Cornell job and being an assistant at a Big East power would be a no brainer for him for his resume. Now he just has to be asked.


At 10:40 PM, Blogger Pitt said...

Is Brandon Knight really that much of a long shot and is it time for him to move on for a better assistant spot?

He was the spark that started this whole ride (Golden Era of Pitt basketball), so I'd be disappointed to see him go but I guess the horse has to leave the stable some day.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

A long shot for what? He's still one of the top assistants. He's just 29 years old. Most No. 1 assistants at the top programs are around 40, if not 50. Knight will be a No. 1 assistant some day and probably a head coach, but not yet.

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Pitt said...

I think I came across wrong. I wasn't implying that he was being screwed...just that it's apparent he won't be the top assistant at Pitt anytime soon.

It's understandable, since Pitt is a perennial top 10 team right now and can attract top notch coaches. I do think Knight could be a top assistant elsewhere though, despite his age.

I guess the question was, is he better off waiting at a top program or going to a smaller program with a better title? and is he patient enough to wait his turn?

At 10:41 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

Usually, it's best to move on to a different school and a different coach just to expand your resume. If he ever gets into the position to be a head coach he has to show he can produce in a variety of situations. I'm assuming that eventually Knight will do that.

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Pitt said...

Chris, I'm curious what your take on Dante Taylor is. Do you think he is a most improved candidate or is he destined to never quite live up to the hype. I'm not talking NBA or anything but a quality All Big East performer or close.

I seem to a little more bullish on him in comparison to some other fans out there. I know he looks "sleepy" at times but I also saw a temper and a little of a mean streak this year. Plus, when he's on the floor he knows how to rebound and I never see him sulk or look disinterested when he is on the bench.

Just curious, if you think he makes a similar leap as other big men have from years 2 to 3.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

I've always said that in my opinion Taylor would eventually average around 12-14 ppg and 8 rpg, and I still think it. It's hardly a guarantee, but he's got talent and Dixon develops players, so it's a good educated guess. It's all up to Taylor. He will get the minutes so now he just has to be aggressive and focused.


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