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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Looking for a basketball coach? Salt Lake's the place

USC will be hiring a new coach and UCLA just may be doing the same. There are plenty of potential candidates in Salt Lake City for the NCAA tournament, including Gonzaga's Mark Few, Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon and Arizona's Sean Miller.

March 20, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Mark Few passed on the UCLA basketball coaching job 10 years ago, but could he be up for USC's vacant position -- or the Bruins' potential vacancy?
Mark Few passed on the UCLA basketball coaching job 10 years ago, but could… (David Becker / Getty Images )

SALT LAKE CITY — Top collegiate athletic directors need many things but should not live without a back-door office exit or a secret list of coaching candidates in advance of their next football and basketball openings.

It doesn't matter if your coach just won a national title. He could leave for the pros.

Your coach could appear to be upstanding one day and the next day fall off a motorcycle with his mistress.

It doesn't matter if Coach X just led his school to the regular-season Pac-12 championship. It just might be time, you know, to make a change.

The worst kind of hiring preparation is to simply call last year's national coach of the year, or convince yourself Chris Petersen is finally going to leave Boise State.

It is not known whether athletic directors Pat Haden of USC and Dan Guerrero of UCLA keep secret coaching lists.

It is known Haden is seeking a basketball coach, and rumors abound about the future of UCLA Coach Ben Howland.

If Haden and Guerrero are interested, there's still time to get to Salt Lake City for this week's round of NCAA games. Because this place is crawling with talent.

It's a real winner's bracket, a veritable stop-and-shop.

Six of the eight coaches in here would look good stomping a floor at the Galen Center or Pauley Pavilion.

We're eliminating Rick Byrd of Belmont even though he's a longtime Bruins coach who doesn't call a timeout after every made basket.

Byrd has spent 27 years in Nashville and probably is not likely to take a phone call from the 213 area code. Byrd's No. 11-seeded team in the West is a popular pick to become the fourth team nicknamed Bruins to defeat Arizona this year.

We're also removing Southern University's Roman Bank from contention even though he has a record of 38-13 in two seasons. However, he could rise on anybody's list should his Jaguars upset No. 1 Gonzaga on Thursday at EnergySolutions Arena.

That leaves our Salt Lake Super Six:

•Mark Few, Gonzaga:

How is this for déjà vu? Ten years ago this week, in Salt Lake, I approached Few during the regional and sounded him out about UCLA as a replacement for Steve Lavin. The Times then dispatched its UCLA beat reporter to Spokane, Wash., for a sit-down with Few.

"It's flattering and humbling," Few said of the attention.

He ultimately passed on the job and UCLA hired Howland.

The problem now is what Few said 10 years ago when he was actually intrigued by UCLA: "I'm at the point of my career where I want to be at a place where you have a shot at the Final Four and can win the national championship," he said.

Few now has the best of both worlds: the nation's No. 1 team and a five-minute walk to his favorite fishing stream.

Chances of hooking Few now are slim.

•Steve Alford, New Mexico:

The onetime boy wonder of Indiana's 1987 title team is no boy anymore. Alford is finishing up his 22nd year as a college coach, first at Manchester, then at Southwest Missouri State, Iowa and New Mexico.

Alford has won 463 games, and this New Mexico team has a real shot to make the Final Four. If the UCLA job opened, he might have been my first phone call.

Except: New Mexico announced Wednesday that Alford had signed a 10-year contract through 2023.

•Tommy Amaker, Harvard:

The former Duke star and Coach Mike Krzyzewski protégé has done a good job refashioning his image after a choppy stretch at Michigan. Last year, Amaker led Harvard to its first NCAA tournament since 1946 and, yes, he is interested in USC.

•Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh:

He would be the perfect future UCLA coach if he weren't coming from Pittsburgh and didn't remain close friends with the guy who coached there before him, Howland.

So that makes Dixon the perfect coach for USC — everyone knows that. Dixon was born in L.A. and reportedly is still a member of the Screen Actors Guild.

•Gregg Marshall, Wichita State:

Here's a guy Haden and Guerrero might not recognize if he were playing a kazoo and wearing a sandwich board. He coaches at the wrong basketball school in Kansas.

Marshall doesn't have pedigree, but he has been an industry riser since his days at Winthrop. Marshall's last four win totals at Wichita State: 25, 29, 27, 26. He has led the Shockers to their best four-year stretch in history and is two-time coach of the year in the Missouri Valley Conference.

•Sean Miller, Arizona:

This is an L.A. longshot for now because, after initially botching the post-Lute Olson coaching search, Arizona plucked a winner from Xavier.

Miller will probably keep the Wildcats a national contender for years to come. He should never, ever, though, be removed from an AD's wallet list.

Things can happen and times change.

Do you know how hot the summers get in Arizona?

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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