Wiedmer: Vandy should try to lure Auriemma for men's team

Wiedmer: Vandy should try to lure Auriemma for men's team

March 30th, 2016 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, right, talks with player Katie Lou Samuelson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals at Mohegan Sun Arena, Sunday, March 6, 2016, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Before Vanderbilt hires anyone else to replace Kevin Stallings as men's basketball coach, the Commodores should first make Connecticut women's coach Geno Auriemma say no.

It's really that simple, as are the overwhelming reasons for such an unfathomably bold move.

For starters — assuming the Huskies hand Auriemma his record 11th NCAA title and fourth straight Tuesday night in Indianapolis — the 62-year-old coach will have more national championships than late UCLA men's coaching legend John Wooden, who won 10 in 12 seasons from 1964 through 1975.

Auriemma also will have won 24 straight NCAA tourney games, which would surpass former Tennessee Lady Vols coaching giant Pat Summitt's 22 straight. In fact, Auriemma has won so often in 31 seasons at UConn that his average record is now 31-4. Read that again: Thirty-one and four. That's his average. And should he win the title next week, those 31 years will have included six undefeated seasons.

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2016, file photo, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings watches from the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Florida in Nashville, Tenn. Pittsburgh hired Stallings away from Vanderbilt on Sunday, March 27, 2016, tasking him with rejuvenating a program that had stagnated during the final years under Jamie Dixon. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

...

Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Point is, Auriemma has done all he can do in the women's game. And amazing as his career has been, his salary, though nothing to sneeze at, is about $2 million a year. To put that in perspective, in the Southeastern Conference alone, where only Kentucky's John Calipari previously has won it all, there are at least four other coaches — Alabama's Avery Johnson, Auburn's Bruce Pearl, South Carolina's Frank Martin and Tennessee's Rick Barnes — who are north of $2 million a year. And none of those four reached the NCAA tournament this month.

Let Auriemma win it all in Indy and he'll have more national championship rings than fingers. He's at least to women's basketball what Wooden was to the men's game. And as even Wooden used to say near the end of his life, from a pure basketball standpoint, the women's game today is a better example of what Dr. James Naismith envisioned when he invented the sport, both its offenses and defenses more precise and better executed.

This is in no way to suggest that Auriemma would be interested in a career change.

As his close friend and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's coach Jim Foster — who was the women's coach at Vanderbilt for 11 seasons — wryly observed Tuesday: "Why would the assumption be that (the Vanderbilt men's job) is better than the job he has now?"

And if the Commodores — or possibly Georgia Tech — wouldn't substantially increase his salary, it might understandably be tough for Auriemma to seriously consider jeopardizing his bullet-proof legacy to try his hand at the men's game, which has arguably become far more dependent on the presence of future NBA first-round talent than X-and-O supremacy.

But money isn't really an issue at Vanderbilt, given its $4.1 billion endowment, its yearly SEC share of $30 million and its long-standing ability to generate basketball revenue inside the concrete block walls of magical Memorial Gym. The school could easily shell out between $3.5 and $4 million for the UConn coach and never miss it.

The issue is how committed the VU brass is to becoming a yearly Top 25 program capable of regular runs to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 or beyond. Foster proved long ago that you could guide the VU women to the Final Four. There's no reason the Commodores men can't get there, too, with the right man running the show.

Timing is everything in moments such as this. Not every school would be willing to take this gamble, however glittering Auriemma's career. Nor might Auriemma consider such a leap if UConn does the unthinkable and falters in the Final Four. Even an 11th title might not have him believing he's accomplished all he can in the women's game.

But there also comes a saturation point in all careers, regardless of the occupation. Let UConn win a fourth straight title next Tuesday and Auriemma owns the women's game as no one has ever owned it, or is likely ever to own it again. Beyond that, Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams thinks outside the box as much as any power five conference AD. After all, it wasn't all that long ago that Vandy didn't even have an athletic department, Williams more of a liaison between the coaches and former chancellor Gordon Gee than an AD.

And the Commodore Nation can quickly dismiss any concern that Auriemma would struggle to recruit against the Coach Cals and Coach Ks of the men's game. It was Geno Jugular who more than once beat out Summitt for players; so much so that she severed their regular-season rivalry over her belief that he might have overstepped recruiting rules to land Atlanta area great Maya Moore, who helped UConn to two national titles and an NCAA gender-best 90-game winning streak.

So if you think a man who could out-recruit Summitt for the women's game's best players couldn't convince mothers of the best young male players to entrust their sons to him, think again.

There's certainly nothing wrong with Auriemma remaining at UConn. There's nothing wrong with former Vanderbilt men's coaching great Eddie Fogler focusing the search he's leading on some bright young gun all but certain to succeed.

But at least partly because Fogler once said of Foster, "If any women's coach could succeed in the men's game, it would be Jim," it would certainly seem plausible for Vanderbilt to at least reach out to Auriemma before someone such as Georgia Tech does.

Or as Foster said when asked if the Commodores should pursue his longtime friend: "If you're trying to hire the best basketball coach, the answer is yes."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com