Now that Texas A&M basketball is officially in the search for a new coach, who is your favorite option to replace Billy Kennedy?
After a miserable 14-18 season in which they went 6-12 in conference play and didn’t beat a single team in the top half of the conference, Scott Woodward has decided to move in a different direction at head coach for Texas A&M basketball.
Frankly, although Billy Kennedy is an outstanding human being who lead the program to two of its five total Sweet 16 appearances ever (40 percent for you math majors), this was a long time coming.
Kennedy had strengths. He was a good recruiter, especially in the transfer portal, and was always able to get his players to give it their all for him. However, those alone won’t allow for sustained success. Recruiting elite talent is all well and good if you can do it consistently. John Calipari isn’t an offensive genius, but he consistently gets the top classes in the country so he can give his players some freedom to do their thing on the court.
This is mostly what Kennedy did when he had success. He had elite talent (Top 5 recruiting class in 2015, Top 20 in 2016, Top 30 in 2017, with starter transfers Danuel House Jr., Jalen Jones, and Duane Wilson coming in those years.
However, outside of those two Sweet 16 seasons, the Aggies missed the Big Dance every other year with Kennedy at the helm. This coming after A&M had qualified for the tournament for six consecutive years under Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon and made the Sweet 16 with Gillispie once.
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The truth of the matter is the Aggies need a coach with a system designed to get the most out of three and four-star recruits. They won’t get the elite players each and every year like Kentucky or Duke. It’s just the reality. That’s why when the subject of the coaching search comes up (and has come up over the years), you always hear of head coaches from mid-majors who have made noise in the tournament.
Gillispie came from UTEP. Turgeon from Wichita State. Kennedy from Murray State.
However, this time there are intriguing names from more than just mid-majors. Texas A&M’s top target is reportedly Buzz Williams, who is from Texas and played college basketball at Texas A&M-Kingsville.
He spent three years as an assistant coach under Gillispie before eventually moving on to Marquette in 2008. He spent six years there and made the tournament five times. They advanced to the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite 8 once. He accomplished more in six seasons than the Texas A&M program has ever.
Williams is currently the head coach at Virginia Tech (No. 4 seed in the tournament this year) and it’s unclear if he’d be willing to leave a traditionally good basketball school in the ACC, typically the best conference for college basketball. The Hokies have made the tournament in each of the last three seasons.
Another big name is Houston’s Kelvin Sampson. He’s been the head coach of the Cougars since 2014 and had more than 20 wins in every year except his first. He’s also been the head coach at Oklahoma and Indiana and spent time in the NBA as an assistant with Milwaukee and Houston.
Sampson had an incredible run with Oklahoma. They made the tournament in every season except one during his run from 1994-2006, still won 20 games that lone season, and advanced to the Sweet 16 once, the Elite 8 once, and the Final Four once (three separate occasions). This led to the Indiana job but he lasted just two years and was fired due to NCAA violations.
Houston has been a redemption tour of sorts, and the Aggies have deep enough pockets to steal him from the Cougars. Houston is currently a No. 3 seed in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Of course, A&M could go the mid-major route if they so choose. There are enticing candidates like Gregg Marshall (Wichita State), Nate Oats (Buffalo), Matt McMahon (Murray State), Mike Rhoades (VCU), and Eric Musselman (Nevada), all of whom are coaching teams in the tournament (except Marshall, whose resumé is unquestionable).
The Aggies will wait until the tournament is over to make their move. Who they get is anyone’s guess, but there are a couple of leading candidates for sure.