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Evaluating Potential Head Coaches for the Cincinnati Bearcats

There are a lot of names being thrown around, but which candidates should be serious contenders?

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bearcats have a job opening. Unlike other fields, they can’t just go post the job on LinkedIn. Despite that, to find their next men’s basketball head coach, the Bearcats will need to go through a list of thoroughly qualified candidates and figure out who the best pick is to lead the program forward.

Since Mick Cronin departed for UCLA just a few days ago, it would be ridiculous for a serious front runner to emerge already. Athletic director Mike Bohn should make sure not to rush this process. Cincinnati basketball is one of the most consistent programs in the country but that doesn’t mean just plugging anybody in the driver’s seat will keep things going the way they have been.

In the absence of a serious front runner (at least as far as this writer knows), there are still a cavalcade of rumors swirling around. As we prepare to deal with plenty of additional rumors in the coming weeks and possibly months, let’s take stock of the candidates that have emerged in the first few days of the search based on the most scientific of measures: speculation and rumor! To do so, we’ll be examining resumes as well as how well they would fit at UC while trying to project how likely their hiring currently appears.

Nick Van Exel

Van Exel is a former Bearcat star who could be a great hire similar to how Memphis brought in Penny Hardaway for this past season. Van Exel’s coaching career consists of stops as an assistant through the NBA and NBA G-League, including his current post with the Memphis Grizzlies. He is actively applying for the job, so there is absolutely no question that this is a job he wants. Being a former player doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you can succeed as a coach, but the fact that Van Exel is making it perfectly clear that this is where he would like to be should be taken as a positive. He deserves as much consideration as anybody.

Fit: 10 out of 10

Likelihood: 8 out of 10

Darren Savino

UC’s associate head coach under Cronin, Savino might not stick around if he isn’t promoted, especially since Cronin has left him a spot on UCLA’s staff. Savino would be a low-risk and sensible pick. The transition of power would be virtually unnoticeable since he has been working within Cronin’s system for years. The players already know him and have gone to battle with him as a coach. In addition, the potential for a drastic change in philosophy would be muted since Savino would likely continue Cronin’s particular brand of basketball. It could also help with recruiting, showing a bit of consistency at the top even with such a departure as Cronin’s. I’d imagine Bohn will be giving Savino a serious chance to earn this promotion, even if it isn’t the splashiest of hires.

Fit: 10 out of 10

Likelihood: 7 out of 10

John Brannen

The Bearcats already took Northern Kentucky’s court for a year so why not sign away its head coach? Brannen’s connection to UC ends at NKU’s proximity to Bearcat country, but that doesn’t mean he can’t coach. After a 9-21 finish in his first season with the Norse, he has led them to three-straight 20-win seasons, including NCAA Tournament appearances in two of the last three years.

Fit: 8 out of 10

Likelihood: 9 out of 10

Matt McMahon

While Brannen seems like a coach who would welcome the step up from NKU, it’s possible that McMahon is satisfied with his place leading Murray State for the time being. He might not have Ja Morant back next season but he very recently signed long term with the Racers and has won back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference titles as their head coach. McMahon would potentially bring a new style to the Bearcats, as his Murray State squad was one of the top 100 teams in the country in terms of tempo last season, according to KenPom. However, I’m not convinced that the Bearcats will be able to lure him away.

Fit: 8 out of 10

Likelihood: 4 out of 10

Frank Martin

Martin has been a pretty great college coach and he once did the assistant thing at UC. He has since coached at Kansas State and South Carolina where he has combined for 246 wins, five NCAA Tournament appearances and a Final Four run. His coaching style would fit right into what the Bearcats have been used to, as his teams are often defensively impressive units, ranking as high as third in the nation in points allowed per 100 as recently as 2017.

This sounds like a match made in heaven, right? According to Jeff Goodman of Stadium, the Bearcats think so. Well, the only problem is that Martin already has a job. He’s still coaching at South Carolina and although he does have a history with the Bearcats, it’s unclear whether that will be a big enough draw to make him change location.

Fit: 6 out of 10

Likelihood: 6 out of 10

Updated: Make that a zero out of 10.

Thad Matta

Even though Matta formerly coached at Ohio State and as an assistant at Miami-Ohio, we can probably forgive him for those transgressions. He has been out of coaching since leaving Ohio State in 2017, but he won 337 games in 13 seasons with the Buckeyes and had two Final Four appearances. His recruiting chops also yielded such standout players as Jared Sullinger, Greg Oden and Deshaun Thomas. He was in the UCLA conversation, according to Los Angeles Times, before Cronin got the call so his hiatus is something he might be trying to end in the near future.

Fit: 5 out of 10

Likelihood: 5 out of 10

Erik Martin

Martin was listed as a possible candidate, along with Matta and others, by the Cincinnati Enquirer. If the Bearcats are desperate to rekindle the magic of the Bob Huggins era, then Martin would be a good pick. He not only played under Huggins at UC but has coached with him as well, serving as an assistant at West Virginia for more than a decade. Martin doesn’t have much head coaching experience to speak of, especially at the Division I level, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t take a step forward and lead the Bearcats effectively.

Fit: 7 out of 10

Likelihood: 5 out of 10

Andy Kennedy

Before Cronin there was Kennedy but just for one year. Kennedy had the unenviable task of following Huggins and he did lead a team that won 21 games. Since that 2005-06 campaign, Kennedy had been coaching Ole Miss before he left the program partway through the 2017-18 campaign. The Rebels only went to the NCAA Tournament twice during that time, so if the Bearcats are hoping for somebody with a sustained record of postseason success, Kennedy might not be the right pick, even if he does have some support.

Fit: 4 out of 10

Likelihood: 4 out of 10