Evaluating Potential Candidates in USC Coaching Search

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Yesterday, I posted my recommendations for who USC should pursue as head coach. Both candidates – Jamie Dixon and Reggie Theus – were names thrown around by several of my colleagues who cover the Southern California basketball scene closely.

Now more names have emerged as potential candidates. Scott Wolf, who covers USC for the Los Angeles Daily News, posted this on his Twitter feed yesterday: “Some early names to replace Kevin O’Neill: San Diego State’s Steve Fisher, St. Mary‘s Randy Bennett (above), Long Beach State‘s Dan Monson.”

Today, Wolf tweeted that former Oregon head coach and current Pac-12 Network analyst Ernie Kent has shown interest in the job. That’s four very capable coaches that USC would do well with in addition to Dixon and Theus. Let’s evaluate each a bit further.

Fisher has done a magnificent job rebuilding San Diego State over the last 14 years. He’s a master recruiter who would attract top tier talent to USC and develop them in great players. Yet at 67 years old, I doubt he would want to switch jobs at this point in his life. Why he would leave a top-25 program for USC when he’s already done bringing Los Angeles-area players like Jamaal Franklin and Kawhi Leonard down South?

Monson probably would feel the same way. Although he’s younger at 51, he’s built Long Beach State as one of California’s top programs by recruiting players UCLA and USC overlooked. However, he’d actually be a great fit because he’s a shrewd evaluator of talent and with his track record of success at Gonzaga and Minnesota, he’d help USC improve over time.

Bennett is one of the hottest names in coaching searches due to the work he’s done at St. Mary’s the last few seasons.  I don’t think he’d want to leave his good job for USC, which isn’t as attractive as St. Mary’s. Considering that the West Coast Conference will be on television as much as the Pac-12 due to their agreement with Time Warner Cable Sports, there’s no reason for him to leave for a school that could hurt his visibility.

Finally there’s Kent. A coach who knows the Pac-12 well and was arguably one of the most successful Pac-12 coaches of the 2000′s. His last two years at Oregon were disappointing but he’s a great recruiter, teacher of the game and his teams were exciting to watch. That last point is key because USC today is known for being boring so they need somebody who can bring in some adrenaline.

My final opinion? Of these four, the Trojans would be better off pursuing Kent and Monson as guys they can get along with Dixon and Theus. Any one of those guys would help USC immediately so here’s hoping that athletic director Pat Haden shows sound judgment in the first major coaching hire under his watch.

Evan Barnes is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who has covered sports for the Los Angeles Sentinel, South Bay Daily Breeze and ESPN, among others. For more thoughts on the Pac-12 or anything else,  follow me on Twitter: @Evan_B

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