The following is an email conversation I had with our resident men's basketball expert, Dan Swany, and he makes me feel better about where things are headed.
Seth C: Dan, I'm in some sort of basketball funk and I'm not sure where or how to get out of it. You're more optimistic than I am, what are your general thoughts about the basketball program in general? I think it's important to set a baseline of where you are about the team.
Dan Swany: First off, I am and always will be a Texas Tech basketball fan. I love Texas Tech, and I love the game of basketball. I will always believe each game when we go on the court that we have a chance to win. I don’t know if it being optimistic or rather probably being passionately delusional, but it’s the way my mind ticks.
With that being said, I think that our basketball program is probably at one of the lowest points it could be at right now. Not the lowest, but pretty close to the lowest. As soon as Pat Knight took over the program we took a turn for the worst after some good years with Bobby. I didn’t think Pat was the greatest coach, but he still could use his Dad for recruiting purposes and for tips on how to teach the game to college players. Pat obviously was in over his head for coaching at Texas Tech, and we the fans demanded his head in return for a proven winner to rebuild this program and bring us back to the NCAA tournament on a regular basis. I am probably still in the archives of then Double T Nation commenting at first that I was apprehensive about hiring Billy Gillispie, I had a few other names in mind at the time and they were guys that could recruit. Recruiting is the backbone to the rebuilding of a basketball program. Billy was a proven recruiter in the past, and as soon as he was named head coach I let his checkered past fall out of my mind and had his back all the way up until this last September. Hiring him was the wrong thing to do, as the episode that ensued after his first year as head coach was ugly which resulted in his resigning from the program. This made Tech take an even furtherer step backwards in the rebuilding process.
Chris Walker has had the incredible task at trying to get this program out of the dumps, and he is doing a decent job with what he has had to work with. But, I think my general thought on this program is that we are moving up as fast as we can and not moving backwards. Which makes me happy to keep cheering on the team, no matter how hard it is to see them getting clobbered in some of the games.
SC: I don't think anyone could every claim that you aren't one of this team's biggest fans. The work that you do is terrific and it's not just Texas Tech, but also the Big 12. I was thinking over the weekend that it seems that the school is going to have to take some steps to pull themselves up out of the bottom half of the Big 12. Whether it is Walker or someone else, I thought that we could take a look at some of the things that have happened at Texas Tech and also look at what we can do to improve the program in general. Not only that, but to think about how other programs have pulled teams from a last place team to a first place team relatively quickly.
My biggest gripe about what Walker has done is that he's somewhat changed gears midway through the season. He went from a run-and-gun philosophy to a grind-it-out philosophy as soon as the conference games got going. My thought was that regardless of what Walker had to inherit from Gillispie, I really wish that he would have figured out from the beginning that this team needed to be a grind-it-out sort of team so that they wouldn't be playing catch-up right now and figuring things out as we go along. As far as the best thing, and this is a bit long-term, is that Walker has two freshmen in his starting lineup in Gray and Hannahs. It may not be Walker, but it will benefit someone going forward. What's been your biggest complaint and biggest positive thus far?
DS: Thanks Seth, and some nice points you make! Chris Walker, the guy knows the game of basketball very well and he seems to really like teaching his knowledge of the game to players. His head coaching philosophy is a work in progress; as the situation was handed to him without a whole lot of time to prepare or really evaluate what he wanted it to be going into this season. He likes unity and togetherness on his team. Even though our guys play their hearts out for him, the team is usually outmatched in most of the Big 12 games we have played and will play this season. When you are outmatched in a game you have to use your abilities and expose the opponent’s inabilities to try and win. Coach Walker is working on this, and showed some real coaching prowess in the Kansas game. But, Coach Self on the KU bench also knows a thing or two about coaching and made adjustments in the second half to easily pull away and take the victory with having to sweat much after the first half.
I am talking about Coach Walker to show that I think he is a good basketball coach and given the circumstances that he inherited when taking over the program, he’s doing a fine job in my opinion. He has an interim tag attached to his name that doesn’t allow him to go and recruit top players to our program, and I believe this is the biggest key to start rebuilding a winning basketball program from the ground up. What high school kid with dreams of going to the NBA maybe in only one or two years at a D-1 university would commit to a certain school unless he knows the coaches recruiting him are going to work their asses off to help sell that player to the pros? None. High school basketball recruits can have a dream of going on to the NBA after one short season in college and making millions when they are 19 years old. They want a guy that will coach them just as hard as they sell them to the NBA scouts/organizations while they are on the team. I really believe that high school basketball stars pick the head coach over the university most of the time.
Example of a program that went from the bottom to the top relatively quickly is how Scott Drew helped rebuild the Baylor basketball program. Baylor basketball hit rock bottom when Carlton Dotson plead guilty to the murder of teammate Patrick Dennehy. This led to an NCAA investigation into multiple allegations of improper benefits to players and drug use within the Baylor basketball program. It happened in 2003 and Scott Drew was brought in to bring the program out of the gutter when Dave Bliss resigned because of the scandal. Baylor was on probation until 2010, and paid scholarships and paid recruiting visits were reduced until 2007. In 2008 Baylor finished 4th in the Big 12 at 9-7 and made the NCAA tournament. In 2010 & 2012 they made it to the NCAA Elite Eight. The rest is history that is still being written. Last NBA draft Drew had 3 players (Jones III, Acy, Miller) get selected to the pros, and has 2 (Jackson, Austin) this year that will probably be drafted as lottery picks. My point is that while I don’t like Scott Drew as a person, or think he is a great gameday coach, he can recruit. His recruiting got him players that were good, and this is what it takes to rebuild a program.
So to answer the question of my biggest gripe, it’s that our program won’t be able to rebuild at a quick pace until we are able to recruit and catch some star players to our program. Whether it be waiting until the end of the season and removing the interim label from Walker, or getting someone new, I would say I could complain about getting recruits to our school in our current situation. Also, I could complain about attendance at home games but I gave up on that until we generate some wins. I understand team wins is the only thing that will fill the United Spirit Arena. It’s always been this way. We could practice our three-point shot and free-throws to get better in those areas.
My positives are that we have some raw talent in the young guys, Tolbert, and Crockett. They will continue to get better and gain valuable experience in these Big 12 games this year. The positives might be a little harder to come by then the negatives right now, but we are not headed backwards which ultimately is the biggest positive. We have a team that tries hard to win and is usually fun to watch play. We could be a lot worse off than we are. If a program like Baylor can rebound their program as quickly as they did from way lower depths of scandal than we ever have been, then we have some inspiration for hope.
SC: I completely agree with you as to the speed of the process. It is without a doubt the most frustrating thing for me to deal with because it seems like Texas Tech has been spinning their wheels for way too long. My problem is how to solve it. If I think like a coach, my biggest goal is to get more talent on campus, but if I think like an athletic director, I'm not sure what direction I go. I think I've been on the side that in order for most teams to perform well, they have to pull in the talent. The rare exception is a guy like Bob Knight that could win with a junior high team (this is an exaggeration, but not by much). I know that if Texas Tech gives Walker more time, he'll most likely pull in some pretty talent. The other thing that bothers me is that the longer that Texas Tech waits, the further I see this program falling behind. So if I know that talent wins, for the most part, I am unsure as to whether or not Texas Tech can keep pace on the recruiting trails. Can this program out-recruit traditional basketball schools like the teams in the Big 12 north, or Texas, Oklahoma St. and now Oklahoma seems to be surging? I'm just not sure. Which brings me back to the thought that should this team hire the absolute best and brightest coach, regardless as to whether or not it is Walker, or keep Walker and let him try to recruit as much as humanly possible. So if you're the head coach, what do you do? And if you are the athletic director what do you do? Obviously, it helps to be realistic (i.e. Texas Tech isn't going to hire Bill Self).
DS: If I’m the head coach of the basketball program I understand that I have the daunting challenge of taking over a team that is on the bottom and making them rise to the top. But, the encouraging fact is that I get to create a team basically from scratch and put whatever touches to the program that I feel necessary for me to put my signature on it. I go into it knowing Texas Tech is a football school, until the basketball program can outshine the football team for a long stretch of time and I could be the person people point to as the one who did it. I think this is the reason Billy Gillispie wanted this job so bad, and knew he could have basically all the power to run this program without hardly any supervision. For an irresponsible person like Billy Gillispie to have all that power was a wrong choice. Thinking as I feel most head coaches would… I would look as a place like Texas Tech to be where I can make my mark in the college basketball world and then jump to a more historically prestigious basketball program. This is a sad reality to most of our fans, but I do recognize that if Texas Tech turns into a great basketball program the head coach will get offers from other schools continuously. Am I wrong in thinking this?
The head basketball coach would need to bring in the best talent possible, and also would need the best assistants and recruiters around. He would need to coach the hell out of the team but the #1 priority would be to get NBA talent on the team. He would do this knowingly that at his next big job he can sell the new program easily to high school players because of his ability to show them he can get them to the next level.
As the athletic director I would have to realize the same thing. If I get the best and brightest head coach out there and my basketball program starts shining, he will most likely up and leave as soon as he gets a bigger opportunity. Although, I know it bodes well for me as knowing that I was the one that made the hire. I understand the fact that my fate to move on to a different school as AD relies on how Kliff Kingsbury and the football program does over the next few years. But, to make the basketball team a NCAA contender is just an added bonus.
The AD always has to think that hiring the best and getting the program to the top is the #1 priority. He should know that getting a young up and coming guy would be the best possible choice, and someone that can pull in potential NBA talent. I think the AD needs to go on and jump the gun on Walker so he can relieve him of the interim status right now or go ahead and starts talking with potential hires. Maybe this is what is taking place right now, talks with potential hires. Or maybe the AD needs to tell Walker that he is going to be the guy next year and Walker can start recruiting. Either way, if it’s public or not I would like Walker to know if he has the job next season.
Anybody that follows college basketball knows that Brad Stevens or Mark Few are not going to come to our program. These guys are waiting for the chance to jump to one of the big dog programs in college basketball. I even know a lot of fans always bring up Buzz Williams that I feel would pass on our program until a bigger one comes along. There’s not many names out there that I would consider being realistic for Tech to win over. Who do you think realistically would to come to Tech? Scott Drew jumped to make Baylor rise after one head coaching season at Valparaiso going 20-11 and finishing 1st in the Mid-Continent Conference. I’ll tell you a name I like a lot, Steve Prohm of Murray State. He went 31-2 in his first season as head coach and won the Ohio Valley Conference. Murray State made the NCAA and lost in the second round to Buzz Williams’ Marquette team. He has the Murray State team this year so far at 14-4 with wins over Auburn, St. Johns, and Western Kentucky. He makes a base salary of $270,000, and last year Mississippi State tried to get him but had to go with a Clemson assistant coach instead. I honestly think Walker is the best we can get, or maybe a guy like Prohm as a long shot. The only other realistic chances are an assistant from a good basketball school that wants to make the jump a big 12 head coaching position.