NBA PM: Five College Coaches on NBA Radar

A look at the top five college coaches on the NBA’s radar and what it will take to get them out of their current contracts

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Sports Editor
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Five College Coaches on NBA Radar

As the field of competitors for the 2014 National Championship has shrunk down to 16, the college basketball coaching carousel is moving at a dizzying pace. With over 300 Division I men’s basketball programs throughout the country, there’s always a ton of movement throughout the coaching ranks year in and year out.

Everyone longs to be in a position like Duke’s Mike Kryzyewski. Throughout his tenure he’s had numerous of other job offers, but he built the Blue Devils program into one of the premier positions in the country. No one, not even the Los Angeles Lakers, could make him a good enough offer to leave what he has.

Typically, though, when NBA teams come calling, they get their guy. We saw it last season with Butler and Brad Stevens. Stevens was working his way toward sainthood at Butler, but the Boston Celtics were able to pry him away to be their head coach.

We’re at the time of year where successful college coaches’ stocks are rising while struggling NBA head coaches’ seats are heating up. With that in mind, we take a look at the five college basketball coaches who appear to be gaining the most attention from the big league:

Tom Izzo – Michigan State

According to ESPN’s Jalen Rose, Izzo is a candidate to become the full-time replacement for Maurice Cheeks as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. John Loyer is currently occupying the position in the interim, but the likelihood of him having the tag removed before were small and they have not increased much, if at all, since.

Izzo has long maintained that he’s a Spartan for life. He turned down the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2010 when they came to him with a reported five-year, $30 million offer. Just prior to that, Oregon was rumored to have offered him a deal that would have exceeded what John Calipari gets at Kentucky.

Izzo currently has a seven-year “rolling” contract that is automatically renewed at the end of every season. To put it simply, after he serves a year, an additional year is tacked on to his deal. After snubbing Oregon and the Cavaliers, Izzo received a $500,000 annual raise that pushed his yearly salary to $3.49 million. By winning a national championship, he could earn an additional $350,000 in bonuses. His deal also includes 25 hours of free private jet rental for personal use. He’s on record describing his buyout as “a couple of million.”

That contract is even favorable to the one Brad Stevens received from the Boston Celtics. That deal was worth $22 million over six years, which is slightly more annually, but an argument could be made that the auto-renewal language in Izzo’s agreement is worth more than the extra $176,666 Stevens is bringing in yearly. In years like this where Izzo’s team is contending for a title, he stands the chance to make even more than Stevens. This is while coaching less than half the games and being able to hand pick who he coaches, as well. That’s the luxury Stevens gave up with going from the NCAA to NBA. There are people above him who choose who he coaches. At Michigan State, the only voice that matters in all things involving basketball is Izzo’s.

If the in-state Pistons can’t lure Izzo away with a monster offer that could potentially also include a say in basketball operations with Joe Dumars expected to move on, it’s time for other employers to stop pursuing all together. He won’t be leaving. He came out today and denied interest in any jobs outside of his own, but that’s to be expected with his team in the midst of a battle for the national championship and no official offer on the table. With the right offer, the Pistons could at least earn some consideration, if he’s who they want to hire.

Fred Hoiberg – Iowa State

Since taking over his alma mater in 2010, Hoiberg has become one of the hottest names in basketball coaching. He’s turned the program into a national contender and this offseason he received a 10-year contract extension worth $20 million. His buyout to coach another NCAA program is $2 million, while it only costs him $500,000 to go to the NBA.

That annual salary puts Hoiberg well below the likes of Izzo, Coach K and Stevens. If an NBA team comes in and offers him $3 million, a 50 percent increase, he’d have to give it strong consideration, despite how comfortable and secure he feels at Iowa State – where he’s referred to as the “Mayor.”

It’s going to be very interesting to see if the Minnesota Timberwolves come after him this offseason in the event that they part ways with Rick Adelman. Adelman’s deal only has one year left on it and at 67 years old, he’s at the age where retirement is always a possibility. The team has underachieved this year. However, if he leaves it will likely be due to family issues more than a true desire to step away from the game or the Timberwolves losing faith in his abilities.

Hoiberg’s ties with the Timberwolves date back to his days there as a player in 2003-2005.

Afterward, he held roles on the coaching staff and in the front office. He left there in high regard and that has only increased as he’s taken Iowa State back to prominence as head coach. With the reputation of a player’s coach, Hoiberg could go a long way in helping keep Kevin Love in Minnesota long-term.

Former Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerr recently said that as soon as Hoiberg makes it known he’s open to NBA offers, he’ll start receiving them.

Kevin Ollie – UConn

When Ollie first took over for longtime Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun, he was earning $625,000 on a one-year contract. That deal was in place for about three months before UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel locked him up long-term with a five-year contract worth $7 million that runs through 2017-18.

His value has continued to skyrocket since the agreement, with his team now playing in the Sweet 16 after enduring a year-long postseason ban his first season due to poor APR scores. As a longtime point guard in the NBA, Ollie has plenty of admirers at the next level.

His contract has a descending buyout that was a massive $3 million last season, but is now down to $2 million. In 2015, it goes down to $1 million and it’s just $800,000 in 2016.

Among the fits at the NBA level that would be the most intriguing for Ollie are the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz. Mark Jackson seems to be wearing out his welcome with the Warriors and only has only one year left on his deal. The way his tenure is going could discourage them from hiring another former player, but Ollie brings more experience than Jackson originally did and jumps out as a particularly good fit with their personnel. Meanwhile, Corbin is in the final year of his contract with the Jazz and no contract extension talks have been initiated as of yet. That’s typically not a good sign and with a young roster Ollie could be the perfect guy to mold this team into a respectable contender again.

John Calipari – Kentucky

For years there have been rumors about Calipari making a return to the NBA. He went 72-112 during a three-year stint with the Brooklyn Nets that ended early in the third season after a 3-17 start. Afterward, he served as an assistant for the Philadelphia 76ers, but then took over at Memphis and built the program into the dominant force of Conference USA. Kentucky stole him away in 2009 with an eight-year, $31.65 million contract. Two years later they were awarded with a national championship.

Calipari has turned Kentucky into a hotbed for one-and-done talents. He gets the best of the best in recruiting because he not only heavily focuses on preparing his kids for the next level, but embraces them leaving when their stock justifies doing so.

In 2011, Calipari was awarded a two-year contract extension to make his total deal worth $36.5 million and run through 2019. He can net up to an extra $700,000 any year by winning a national championship. The contract also calls for free country club membership, two “late model, quality automobiles” with complimentary gas, and tickets to basketball and football home games.

The buyout language is unique in the sense that there is no defined buyout beyond this season in which it is $1 million. Afterward, though, Calipari would have to give up his retention bonus of $1 million in order to get out of his deal. So, it serves the same purpose and is the same amount.

With one of the top jobs in the country and a bad taste in his mouth from his first NBA experience, it’s going to take a high-profile job with a long-term commitment in order to land Calipari. Coincidentally, both the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are expected to be looking for a new head coach this summer. Calipari’s chances at either seem slim, though, based on the leadership in place. If the relationship between Chicago Bulls management and head coach Tom Thibodeau ever hits a breaking point, though, reuniting with Derrick Rose in the Windy City may be enough to draw Calipari’s interest.

Larry Brown – SMU

As recently as this offseason there were a couple of teams, the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, contemplating making Brown an offer. Although his SMU Mustangs came up short of making the NCAA Tournament, they did have their best year under Brown, winning 25 games. They’re poised to really make some noise next year with a strong recruiting class coming in, led by one nation’s top incoming freshmen in Emmanuel Mudiay.

Brown’s exact contract details have not been widely publicized, but he does have a multi-year deal in place worth around $2 million annually. Buyout terms are not known, but Brown has a reputation for moving around – so it’s highly unlikely he agreed to anything that he wouldn’t give him a reasonable way out.

With decades of coaching experience but some bad and unexpected break ups, Brown’s options in the NBA are somewhat limited. He had close ties to the Nets with Billy King there and a successful history with the 76ers. With those two options off of the table for at least the next couple of years, there’s a chance we may not see Brown in the league again. He’s said that he would prefer to return as a general manager, if anything. If the Los Angeles Lakers came calling this offseason about replacing Mike D’Antoni, though, the opportunity to coach one of the league’s biggest franchise could be too good for Brown to pass on. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak will have one of the more prominent voices in the Lakers’ coaching search. Not only is Brown a fellow Tar Heel like Kupchak, but he’s a veteran head coach who stands as good of a chance as anyone to have a strong working relationship with Kobe Bryant. Bryant wants to get back to competing next year and the hiring of Brown would signal to him that they’re in “win-now” mode.

With the struggles of Calipari, Pitino and other former college head coaches in the NBA, there is somewhat of a negative stigma that comes with hiring them. However, the group above have credentials that put their value above the stereotype. Odds are, though, we see more coaches make the move down from the NBA to college rather than vice versa. There are reports that Mike Woodson will be immediately offered a college head coaching job if he’s fired by the New York Knicks, while top Houston Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson is a candidate to take over at the University of Houston.

Alan is an expert gambling writer who works as one of the chief editors for Basketball Insiders. He has been covering online gambling and sports betting for over 8 years, having written for the likes of Sportlens,, The Sports Daily, 90min, and His particular specialisms include US online casinos and gambling regulations, and soccer and basketball betting. Based in London, Alan holds an MA in English Literature and is a passionate supporter of Chelsea FC.

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