Kent State plans to move fast to find a new head men's basketball coach in the wake of Stan Heath's departure for the University of Arkansas.
"Our timetable is going to be very aggressive," said Kent State athletic director Laing Kennedy. "I'm talking days, and we will have a new head coach for our men's basketball program in place."
According to Kennedy, the list of potential candidates already includes at least three names. While Kennedy was not ready to discuss those names, it's a safe bet Jim Christian is at the top of the list. The reason _ he has Stan Heath's endorsement.
"I recommended Jim Christian as the next head coach at Kent State," Heath said Thursday afternoon, just a few hours after he was introduced as the new head coach at Arkansas.
Christian, Oronde Taliaferro and Klint Pleasant were Heath's assistants at Kent State.
"Obviously, I'd like to keep my staff in tact and have them go with me to Arkansas," said Heath. "Yet if Christian has an opportunity at Kent State, I think he'd be wise to consider it. I definitely think Kent State would be wise to make him a candidate."
Kennedy said he had talked to the three potential candidates. One, he admitted, has ties to Kent State. That candidate is believed to be Christian, who boasts experience as an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh (1996-99), Miami of Ohio (1995-96), Western Kentucky (1990-92, 1994-95) and St. Francis (Pa.) College (1992-94).
When Christian was named as an assistant at Kent State, Heath called him "a proven recruiter with ties in the midwest and east coast. He is strong in scouting and game preparation as well as other areas."
In the two years prior to joining Heath's staff, Christian was a college basketball talent evaluator with Octagon Sports Marketing and Management in McLean, Va. He played college basketball at Boston University for two years before transferring to the University of Rhode Island, where he helped lead the Rams to the NCAA Tournament's 'Sweet 16' in 1988.
Should Kent State turn to Christian, it could help in keeping some continuity in a program that has seen two coaching changes in two years. Heath was hired last April to replace Gary Waters, who left Kent State after five seasons to become the head coach at Rutgers.
"It is a concern," said Kennedy. "You like stability. You like continuity in a program."
Finding continuity in coaching can be difficult for mid-major schools. There is always the danger of hiring an up-and-coming coach who only wants to use a school like Kent State as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Heath came to Kent State and in one year posted 30 wins, led the Golden Flashes to Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament titles and an NCAA Tournament run that ended in the 'Elite Eight.' After just under 11 months on the job, he moved on to Arkansas.
Despite the coach's short stay, Kennedy is convinced Heath did not use Kent State.
"In my opinion, coach Heath did not use Kent State as a stepping stone," said Kennedy. "There was an opportunity for coach Heath, as an assistant at Michigan State, to become a head coach at Kent State. He had every intention of fulfilling his contract. In the process of this business, when you are successful, you run that risk when you have a national program that has a terrific reputation, this is where people look (for coaches)."
Kennedy said he wouldn't have traded the thrill of this year's trip to the 'Elite Eight,' even if taking away the national exposure Heath received would have guaranteed him remaining to Kent State.
"When we were in the NCAA Tournament, Stan never in my opinion auditioned for a job," said Kennedy. "He wasn't out there presenting himself to prospective schools. He was out there representing our team, representing our school, and he did it extremely well."
After the success Kent State enjoyed, Heath's departure came as no surprise. Kennedy admitted he expected it. When Kennedy talked with graduating senior guards Andrew Mitchell and Trevor Huffman Wednesday, he said the players were not surprised.
"They seemed to be very understanding," said Kennedy.
Hopefully, Heath's recruits are just as understanding. Even as he was preparing to leave for Arkansas, Heath took the time to call his top two recruits _ DeAndre Haynes, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Detroit Southwestern High School, and Clifford Brown, a 6-5 small forward from Ferndale in suburban Detroit. He asked them not to go back on their commitments to Kent State.
"I talked to both of them, and I think a lot of it depends on who comes in as head coach," said Heath. "They certainly both like Kent State and want to be at Kent State."
Hiring Christian, who played a role in the recruiting of Haynes and Brown, could help convince both players to keep their commitments. Hiring another coach like Heath _ a charismatic assistant from a big-name program _ could also be enough to keep the recruits at Kent State.
Kennedy is already starting to add the names of potential coaches to his list. He said coaches who were in the running to replace Waters could be in the running again, and he admitted the search committee will strongly consider coaches with similar backgrounds to Heath.
"We look at (major) programs because they are successful programs," said Kennedy. "We say 'let's look at those people,' because many times the staff are the recruiters, the disciplinarians, they do the academic support work, and that's where you really find the people who are a good match for us.
"Right now I'm going to reliable sources for recommendations. What I'm going to be doing during Final Four weekend is communicating with references and potential candidates, and then we'll start our on-campus interviews as early as Monday."
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