First-year Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk arrived with a sterling reputation, and he’s done terrific work cobbling together funding for a new football facility, which is expected to receive final approval in June from the University of Missouri Board of Curators.
Now, after asking coach Kim Anderson to step down Sunday, Sterk faces the first real test of his administration, which starts with a decision about the importance of the men’s basketball program.
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If the Tigers are serious about having a top-four Southeastern Conference program, it probably requires greater investment — not only in the coach’s salary, but also that of his staff and recruiting budget.
Early indications are that Mizzou is prepared to do just that.
The Tigers’ recent struggles and potential competition for a coach with North Carolina State already open and several other Power Five programs — LSU, Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, Washington and maybe more — likely or possibly opening up means the market could skew high.
That said, Mizzou remains a Southeastern Conference job, which means resources, and there are only 14 of them.
Its facility, 13-year-old Mizzou Arena, remains top-notch and its recruiting base is fertile.
So, who might replace Anderson? It’s early, but here’s a rundown:
THE SHORT LIST
CUONZO MARTIN, CALIFORNIA
Career record: 184-119 in nine seasons, including 60-37 in three seasons at Cal
2016-17 salary: $2.35 million
Why it makes sense: Recruiting at Cal is tricky because of the school’s lofty admissions standards. It severely limits the talent pool Martin, 45, is able to draw upon, which can be an understandably frustrating circumstance. The Golden Bears’ athletic department is also hemorrhaging cash, which is bound to result in belt-tightening that threatens to hamstring things like recruiting budgets. No sane person could blame Martin for seeking a life raft to escape a sinking ship. Martin’s contract includes a $1.1 million buyout, which drops to $1 million on April 15. It’s not cheap, but it’s probably not a deal-breaker either. Moreover, Martin — an East St. Louis, Ill., native and Purdue graduate who spent time in the NBA — thrived at Missouri State and Tennessee. He’s familiar with the Show-Me State and the SEC, has demonstrated recruiting chops and a winning pedigree from the Gene Keady coaching tree. Martin seems like an ideal fit.
Why it won’t work: Illinois covets him, too — though John Groce’s squad surged late in the season and he’s got a terrific recruiting class signed. Martin’s familiarity with the SEC could work in Mizzou’s favor or it could lead him to prefer giving life in the Big Ten a try, if the Fighting Illini is an option. He’s also light on postseason success aside from a CIT championship in his second season with the Bears and Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2013-14 during his final season at Tennessee.
TOM CREAN, INDIANA
Career record: 355-229 in 18 seasons, including 165-133 in nine seasons at Indiana
2016-17 salary: $3.22 million
Why it makes sense: Indiana is a hard job with borderline unrealistic expectations. Hoosiers fans — who believe they belong in the blue-blood conversation with Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and North Carolina despite decades of evidence to the contrary — seem to have lost patience with Crean’s tenure. He led Indiana to Big Ten titles in 2013 and 2016 and took Marquette to the Final Four in 2003, but Crean might be eager for a fresh start after nine seasons in Bloomington, Ind., including three Sweet Sixteen appearances. If Crean, 50, is looking for an escape (and there are reasons he might be), Missouri absolutely should give him a call to gauge his interest.
Why it won’t work: Crean’s life is at Indiana, where his oldest daughter, Megan, attends school and his son, Riley, has signed to play baseball. His contract only runs through the 2019-2020 season and includes a $500,000 buyout. Unless Indiana’s administration feels different than Hoosiers fans about Crean’s tenure, Mizzou could make an ideal “soft” landing spot for a proven coach.
BRAD UNDERWOOD, OKLAHOMA STATE
Career record: 109-25 in four seasons, including 20-11 at Oklahoma State
2016-17 salary: $1 million
Why it makes sense: Underwood, 53, probably deserved more consideration when Frank Haith left — and he absolutely was interested in the job — but never emerged as a serious candidate despite a 32-3 record in his first season as head coach at Stephen F. Austin. He’s familiar with recruiting the region after stints at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, Western Illinois and Kansas State before accepting the Oklahoma State job last season. Underwood is a McPherson, Kan., native with deep reverence for Norm Stewart and the Mizzou basketball program. Would he want to trade one league with a ruthless master (Kansas) for another (Kentucky) that’s perceived as easier to compete in and win? Only Underwood knows, but it wouldn’t hurt Missouri to ask this time. Throw a big number at Underwood — somewhere in the $2.5 million range, if he’s your top choice — on a six-year deal and test how much he wants to remain in Stillwater, Okla., where star guard Jawun Evans seems destined to test to the NBA waters.
Why it won’t work: Oklahoma State would be foolish to let him go. Underwood helped the Cowboys rise from the nation’s 153rd-ranked team in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency to second in the country. Don’t be shocked if the Pokes rework his existing contract after a remarkable season, which included a nonconference win against Wichita State and 10 wins in 11 games during Big 12 play. Missouri had a chance to go after Underwood once upon a time, but that window’s probably closed unless Oklahoma State misplays its hand. The one concern from a contractual standpoint is that Underwood’s contract includes a $3 million buyout if he leaves for a non-Big 12 job before March 31, 2018, which might be too rich for the Tigers to entertain.
KEVIN KEATTS, NORTH CAROLINA-WILMINGTON
Career record: 70-27 in three seasons at UNC-Wilmington
2016-17 salary: $500,000
Why it makes sense: Keatts, 44, was part of Rick Pitino’s staff at Louisville for three seasons, including the 2013 NCAA championship team. The Seahawks have become a singular power in the Colonial Athletic Association during his three seasons at UNC-Wilmington. He’s young, a demonstrated winner and profiles as a strong recruiter. Keatts would fit well into the SEC coaching landscape and his contract includes a $200,000 buyout, which shouldn’t be a hurdle.
Why it won’t work: Keatts is likely to have a few destinations from which to pick, including some potentially closer to home for the Lynchburg, Va., native. It’s unclear where Mizzou might fall in his personal pecking order and Sterk might prefer a coach with high-major experience.
THE (UNREALISTIC) WISH LIST
GREGG MARSHALL, WICHITA STATE
Career record: 453-172 in 19 seasons, including 259-89 in 10 seasons at Wichita State
2016-17 salary: $3 million
Why it makes sense: Marshall, 54, led Wichita State to an NIT title in 2011 and the Final Four in 2013. The Shockers, who seemingly are a lock to reach a sixth straight NCAA Tournament this season, started 2013-14 with 35 consecutive wins before a two-point loss against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. Wichita State has won or shared four straight Missouri Valley Conference titles and five of the last six without finishing worse than second in the regular season since 2008-09. He’s done remarkably well with underappreciated talent and could take Missouri to great heights if he could land some four- and five-star prospects to go with his keen eye for supplemental talent and knack for developing players.
Why it won’t work: Marshall’s contract calls for a raise to $3.5 million in 2018 and runs through the 2021-22 season, so Missouri has to aim higher and offer more than five years to have any chance at reeling him in. That’s a hefty investment, but it’s also unclear how much, if anything, has changed since three years ago when Mizzou was unable to lure Marshall away. If Crean is gone, Indiana might look hard at Marshall. North Carolina State also might put on a full-court press for the South Carolina native’s services. Marshall’s previous stops include the College of Charleston as an assistant and Winthrop as head coach. He’s a guy who can pick his destination, if and when he decides to leave the Shockers, and it’s hard to envision him picking Mizzou unless Sterk is a sorcerer.
STEVE WOJCIECHOWSKI, MARQUETTE
Career record: 52-43 in three seasons at Marquette
2016-17 salary: n/a
Why it makes sense: Wojciechowski, 40, played point guard at Duke for Mike Krzyzewski and spent 15 seasons on his staff as an assistant. He led the Golden Eagles to a 20-win season in his second year on the bench and landed back-to-back top-20 recruiting classes. It’s worth calling to gauge his interest, but …
Why it won’t work: Wojciechowski already coaches in a better conference. The school spends more on its basketball program. He doesn’t have to throw elbows for the spotlight with football. Marquette’s also taken care of him. Wojciechowski signed a contract extension last season through 2021-22 despite coming off a 13-19 debut season. It’s unclear the terms of the reworked deal, so any buyout is unknown — and probably substantial. (Editor’s note: Spelling his name, especially on deadline repeatedly seems daunting, a factor I trust Sterk would weight into his decision-making process.)
CHRIS HOLTMANN, BUTLER
Career record: 112-83 in six seasons, including 68-29 in three seasons at Butler
2016-17 salary: n/a
Why it makes sense: Holtmann, 45, has led the Bulldogs to at least 22 wins in all three seasons. He also has won at least one NCAA Tournament game each of his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, who finished no worse than fourth with two runner-up finishes in the Big East during his tenure. Big-time recruiting remains somewhat unproven, but he’s shown he can cobble together a really good roster and maximize its potential. Those are traits that should translate extremely well at Mizzou and in the SEC.
Why it won’t work: He’s another guy who, if he decides to leave, can be discerning about the destination and Mizzou might not be high on his list. The Big East is a better basketball league, though he’d theoretically have more resources and exposure with the Tigers. It’s unclear what his salary and buyout are, but it’s safe to assume Mizzou could offer a significant raise. After a contract extension last spring through 2021-22, Holtmann’s buyout might be on the high side. He’s also never been a head coach or demonstrated success at a non-Bulldogs program (Gardner-Webb and Butler), which makes me wonder if he could succeed at a school with a feline mascot. (Editor’s note: Please don’t stop reading because of one terrible joke.)
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TONY BENNETT, VIRGINIA
Career record: 255-114 in 11 seasons, including 186-81 in eight seasons at Virginia
2016-17 salary: $2.1 million
Why it makes sense: Sterk hired him at Washington State in 2006 and the two share a mutual man-crush. Plus, it would seemingly be a lot easier to win the Southeastern Conference than the Atlantic Coast Conference, if Bennett’s tired of the rigors in the nation’s best basketball conference. He’s a slam-dunk hire if he’s interested in Mizzou. That said …
Why it won’t work: C’mon, guys — Bennett, 47, signed a six-year contract extension in May 2015, which includes three potential one-year automatic extensions through the 2023-24 season. The reworked deal, which starts at $2.1 million annually, includes a $3 million buyout. Bennett has established Virginia among the nation’s elite programs since his arrival in Charlottesville, Va. He’s probably not leaving. File this with the “let’s get Jay Wright from Villanova” nonsense from 2014 all over again.
FRANK MARTIN, SOUTH CAROLINA
Career record: 209-126 in 10 seasons, including 92-72 in five seasons at South Carolina
2016-17 salary: $2.45 million
Why it makes sense: Martin, 50, has tremendous respect for Missouri’s program and, when the Tigers are winning, there’s little argument it’s a better job. Having said that, South Carolina is drawing more than 13,000 fans at Colonial Life Arena and should make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 this spring. He’s built the Gamecocks from perennial cellar-dwellers into a solid contender during the last two seasons. That’s a good omen for those curious if he has the chops to turn around Mizzou, but it also begs the question why he’d leave a program that’s turned a corner for another needing an overhaul.
Why it won’t work: Love the idea, but there are 4.8 million reasons — well, really 5.4 million reasons — it won’t work. Martin’s buyout under terms of a contract extension through 2021-22 he signed last spring is $4.8 million after the 2016-17 season. Combine that with the $600,000 owed for the final two seasons of Anderson’s contract and that’s a hefty price that doesn’t even include Martin’s yearly salary moving forward. That’s a truckload of cash for Missouri casually to throw away. The optics are indefensible, especially with the wider campus facing the specter of massive cuts under new governor Eric Greitens’ budget plan.
CHRIS COLLINS, NORTHWESTERN
Career record: 70-57 in four seasons at Northwestern
2016-17 salary: $1.4 million (estimated)
Why it makes sense: After two losing seasons, Collins led the Wildcats to a 20-win season in 2015-16. He was rewarded before the season with a contract extension. He got Northwestern (briefly) into The Associated Press top 25 earlier this season, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in seven years in Evanston, Ill. He’s got a tremendous pedigree as a player and assistant coach at Duke.
Why it won’t work: He’s got a tremendous pedigree as a Duke assistant coach, but Missouri fans may not be over the Quin Snyder era yet (I kid!). Truthfully, given that Collins is a Chicago native and finally has a good thing going at Northwestern, it’s hard to fathom why he’d give that up for a fixer-upper in Columbia.
FRED HOIBERG, CHICAGO BULLS
Career record: 115-56 in five seasons at Iowa State
2016-17 salary: $5 million
Why it makes sense: “The Mayor” had tremendous success at Iowa State, where his reverence within the fan base meant he could do no wrong. He won’t get the same latitude at Missouri, but he’s a well-known figure in Columbia, too. And the success wasn’t an illusion. The Cyclones went 115-56, including four seasons with at least 23 wins during his five-year tenure. Hoiberg, 44, also led Iowa State to at least one NCAA Tournament victory in three of four appearances with a Sweet Sixteen berth in 2014.
Why it won’t work: He’s in his second season coaching the Chicago Bulls after signing a reported five-year, $25 million deal in July 2015. His name picked up steam in college basketball circles as the Bulls floundered to a 26-29 start and locker-room in-fighting reached the press, but the ship has steadied. Hoiberg’s squad is well-positioned to return to the playoffs after missing out despite a 42-40 record in his debut season with Chicago a year ago. Besides, it’s worth asking if his transfer-heavy approach would be a great fit at Mizzou, if he’d want to jump back into recruiting with little financial incentive to do so and if he ever wants to deal with recruiting players again after a stint in the NBA.
LORENZO ROMAR, WASHINGTON
Career record: 391-283 in 21 seasons, including 298-195 in 15 seasons at Washington
2016-17 salary: $1.7 million
Why it makes sense: Romar, 58, can recruit. Nobody questions that, and Missouri needs an elite recruiter who can hustle to land top-notch talent. There’s plenty to mine in St. Louis and Kansas City, though the Tigers haven’t landed much of it in recent years. Bringing in Romar, who was 51-44 in three seasons at Saint Louis University during 1999-2002, might mean Michael Porter Jr. returns to Columbia for his (presumed) one season of college basketball. It would put butts in the Mizzou Arena seats and provide an immediate injection of enthusiasm among the fan base, reversing a recent attendance slide.
Why it won’t work: Unlike the previous coaches in the “we’re not sold” section, whose interest in coming to Mizzou is uncertain, Romar probably would take the job — especially if he’s fired by the Huskies. The bigger question is should fans in Columbia covet Romar. The potential is there for an amazing season if Porter — the nation’s No. 1 2017 prospect according to 247 Sports, ESPN and Rivals — returned to his hometown, but if Romar can’t sustain winning (or flops again even with Porter on the roster), how long might it take for the program to recover from another massive setback? Would Romar find the success that’s eluded him in the Pac-12 by coaching in the less-rigorous SEC? Or would it be more of the same — oodles of talent with scant NCAA Tournament appearances (much less success) to show for it?
THE MID-MAJORISH GUYS*
WILL WADE, VCU
Career record: 89-43 in four seasons, including 49-18 in two seasons at VCU
2016-17 salary: $1.4 million
Why it makes sense: Wade, 34, is a fast-rising star in the coaching ranks. He led VCU to a 25-win season and first-round upset in the NCAA Tournament after taking the reins when Shaka Smart went to Texas. That season included the Rams’ first Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season title, a feat Smart never accomplished. VCU finished second behind Dayton this season, but Wade has again led the program to 24 wins. He previously went 40-25 in two seasons with Tennessee-Chattanooga. Wade initially proved his recruiting chops during two seasons under Tommy Amaker at Harvard before serving on Smart’s staff for four seasons at VCU.
Why it won’t work: Man, he’s young. Legendary coach Norm Stewart started his 16th season at Missouri the day after Wade was born, but it’s hard to find a reason not to like Wade other than that. His buyout — $1 million this season — is reasonable, considering he signed an eight-year extension through 2023-24 last spring. Missouri may prefer a more-established and proven coach, but if Sterk goes the up-and-comer route, then Wade’s a must-call guy.
PAT KELSEY, WINTHROP
Career record: 102-58 in five seasons at Winthrop
2016-17 salary: $220,000
Why it makes sense: To be clear, if Missouri’s search gets down into this territory, it means other coaches have turned Sterk down. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to land a quality coach. Kelsey, 41, has led the Eagles to back-to-back Big South Conference titles and at least 23 wins each of the last two seasons. He spent time at Wake Forest under Skip Prosser and Dino Gaudio before serving as Chris Mack’s associate athletic director during 2009-11 at Xavier. He owns three 20-win seasons in five years at Winthrop.
Why it won’t work: Missouri and the SEC is a big jump from Winthrop and the Big South. He failed to lead the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament during his first four seasons, so he’s short on postseason experience (though he was on five tourney staffs as an assistant and got Winthrop into this spring’s Big Dance with a Big South tourney title on Sunday).
DAN MULLER, ILLINOIS STATE
Career record: 103-64 in five seasons at Illinois State
2016-17 salary: $401,200
Why it makes sense: Muller, 41, led the Redbirds to a share of the Missouri Valley Conference title with Wichita State this season. Illinois State has never won fewer than 18 games in five seasons under Muller, including two 20-win seasons during that span. This season has clearly been his best as the Redbirds are 27-6 overall, even after Sunday’s loss in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney final against Wichita State, with 20 wins in the last 22 games. Muller has familiarity with the SEC after spending 11 seasons as an assistant at Vanderbilt under Kevin Stallings during 2001-12.
Why it won’t work: Muller has no NCAA Tournament experience, leading Illinois State to the CBI semifinals in 2014 and the NIT second round in 2015. That’s not the kind of track record likely to make Mizzou swoon.
KERMIT DAVIS, MIDDLE TENNESSEE
Career record: 374-229 in 19 seasons, including 303-179 in 15 seasons at Middle Tennessee
2016-17 salary: $565,000
Why it makes sense: Davis, 57, is the son of Kermit Sr., who coached seven seasons at Mississippi State in the 1970s. He’s only had one losing seasons in 15 years as Middle Tennessee’s coach, including five 20-win campaigns in the last six seasons.
Why it won’t work: He’s something of a lifer now at Middle Tennessee State, where he’s been since 2002 and twice led the Blue Raiders to the NCAA Tournament, and wouldn’t be a splashy hire. Mizzou can probably do better.
KELVIN SAMPSON, HOUSTON
Career record: 480-265 in 24 seasons, including 55-38 in three seasons at Houston
2016-17 salary: $1.4 million
Why it makes sense: Sampson, 61, is a proven winner. He won big at Oklahoma, going 279-109 in 12 seasons with 11 NCAA Tournament appearances. Sampson’s Sooners won a share of the 2005 Big 12 title and posted 10 top-three finishes. There were also three Sweet 16 berths, including a Final Four appearance in 2002. He went 43-15 in parts of two seasons at Indiana …
Why it won’t work: That’s when his unrelenting habit of making impermissible calls to recruits got him in hot water again with the NCAA. Allegedly lying to investigators didn’t help, leading to his midseason “resignation” from the Hoosiers despite a 22-4 record. It doesn’t seem like Sterk’s style to bring in a guy with baggage — and Sampson’s five-year “show-cause” penalty during 2008-13 certainly qualifies as baggage, even if it’s forgivable (the rules he broke have since changed and his conduct would no longer be considered a violation) and he’s kept his nose clean at Houston. Besides, former Mizzou athletic director Mack Rhoades hired Sampson at Houston and it’s just not worth the jokes on Twitter to travel that road. Age also might be an issue if Sterk’s thinking about a long-term fit with the program.
STEVE FORBES, EAST TENNESSEE STATE
Career record: 49-19 in two seasons at East Tennessee State
2016-17 salary: $205,000
Why it makes sense: Forbes, 51, is familiar with the SEC after five seasons as an assistant at Tennessee under Bruce Pearl. An Iowa native, he knows the region from a recruiting standpoint after spending five years at Barton (Kan.) Community College, including three as head coach. He also worked on Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State staff two seasons before going to East Tennessee State in 2015, where he received a raise after going 24-12 last season. The Buccaneers have been even better this season, posting a 25-7 record that included a win at Mississippi State (one more SEC road victory than Anderson had in three seasons with Mizzou) entering Sunday night’s Southern Conference tourney championship against Samford. Forbes was a key recruiter under Pearl, but he was fired amid the NCAA investigation that prompted Pearl’s three-year show-cause penalty during 2011-14 and earned Forbes a one-year show-cause penalty. During his two-year NCAA hiatus, Forbes led Northwest Florida State, a junior college, to back-to-back NJCAA Division I runner-up finishes.
Why it won’t work: Forbes has some of the same issues as Sampson. The baggage of the NCAA violations might mean he doesn’t even get consideration from Sterk if Mizzou looks into the mid-major route for its next hire.
KENNY PAYNE*, KENTUCKY ASSISTANT
Career record: 0-0
2016-17 salary: $750,000
Why it makes sense: We called it “mid-majorish” to include Payne, 50, here. He wants to be an NCAA Division I head coach and is rumored to have interviewed for the Mississippi State opening when Ben Howland was hired two years ago among other interests. Payne doesn’t have to leave Kentucky, but a big-time job like Missouri almost certainly would be attractive enough to lure him away. He’s been the Wildcats’ ace recruiter and that’s bound to be among the top priorities — an ability to land top-tier talent — for Sterk in evaluating a new hire. He’s looking for a shot and presumably would jump at an opportunity like the Mizzou job.
Why it won’t work: He’s never been a head coach at any level, serving as an assistant at Oregon during 2004-09 before joining John Calipari’s staff at Kentucky in 2010. Recruiting at Missouri is tougher than recruiting at Kentucky, which boasts the most wins and second-most national championships in NCAA Division I history.
ERIC MUSSELMAN, NEVADA
Career record: 49-20 in two seasons at Nevada
2016-17 salary: $400,000
Why it makes sense: Musselman, 52, spent most of his career in the professional ranks. He was the Golden State Warriors’ head coach for two seasons and spent 2006-07 as the Sacramento Kings’ head coach, posting a 108-138 career NBA record with no playoff appearances. Musselman’s buyout is $1.15 million buyout if he leaves voluntarily before Sept. 1, which seems exceptionally high for a contract with such a low base salary ($300,000), but it’s probably not necessarily a deal-breaker for Missouri. During two seasons at Nevada, he’s overseen back-to-back seasons of at least 24 wins, including a CBI championship last spring.
Why it won’t work: After spending 2014-15 as an associate head coach at LSU, he’s likely to be high on their list presuming Johnny Jones is fired. Would Musselman want to return to Baton Rouge, La.? I don’t know, but that familiarity certainly could work in favor of an LSU-Musselman marriage. It seems like a stretch he’d be a great fit at Mizzou, but there’s enough to like on his resume to justify possible interest.