In March of 2001, Stan Heath was featured by Sports Illustrated as one of the top five assistant coaches waiting in the wings for a head coaching gig.
He got a chance the following season, taking Kent State all the way to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Flash men's basketball team went 30-6 and Heath was considered one of the hottest mid-major coaches in America.
With interest from teams across the country, Heath took a job with Arkansas. Five years later, he was fired.
There are plenty of other examples that mirror Heath's journey.
Which leads me to my point. As Ohio's John Groce and VCU's Shaka Smart get ready to play in the third round of the NCAA Tournament this weekend, I say give me Groce over Smart to be the next Nebraska basketball coach.
Now before I go any further, let me say this. I'm not one of the kool-aid drinkers who feel the Huskers have any sort of chance to land Smart. But even if they did, Groce might be the better long term pick.
So why do I go against the trendy pick?
Smart could easily be more than just the flavor of the month. But it's hard not to question if the 34-year old was just in the right place at the right time.
In three seasons before his arrival, VCU posted a 76-25 record under Anthony Grant (current Alabama coach). Twice in those three years they went to the NCAA Tournament and even beat Duke in the first round in 2006-07, before losing to Pitt in overtime. The Rams were headed in the right direction. The program had momentum and quality players in their system.
To say Ohio was stuck in neutral when Groce took over wouldn't be fair, despite losing their leading scorer, rebounder, and three-point shooter from the year prior, the first year head coach did have three starters returning his first season in Athens. But, Ohio had only won two MAC titles since 1993-94. The program wasn't in the same state VCU was in prior to Smart's arrival.
In four seasons, Groce has been steady. Steadily improving. After a rough first year (15-17), they went 22-15 in his second at the helm, making the second round of the NCAA Tournament. After retooling and going to a CIT quarter-final last year, Groce has Bobcats in the NCAA tournament again, currently with a 28-7 record.
“The one thing you've got to look at is someone who has built up a program,” Nebraska associate athletic director Mark Boehm told the Associated Press a day after firing Doc Sadler. Groce appears to fit the mold. He has changed the way the nation looks at Ohio Bobcat basketball. So has Shaka Smart, but were the tools already in place for it to be done?
Plenty of other things would factor into a decision like this. Groce (currently making $250,000 a year) would be cheaper than Smart. It's likely $1 to $1.5 million would be enough to lure him to Lincoln.
At 40, Groce is more experienced, but likely has his best coaching years ahead of him.
Groce's time as an assistant at Ohio State also cannot be ignored. He's experienced Big Ten basketball. He knows how to recruit the Midwest, recruiting 1st round NBA talent like Daequan Cook, Greg Oden, and Mike Conley Jr. in the past. During his time at Ohio State, he was regarded by recruiting services as one of the best recruiters in the country.
The Shaka Smart brand isn't coming to Lincoln and while I wouldn't mind seeing it happen, something tells me John Groce would be a better hire.