Saturday, March 14, 2009

A "non-traditional" coaching candidate who finally got a sniff

A week ago, UT-San Antonio announced they'd found a coach for its fledgling program: 60-year-old Larry Coker, the same Larry Coker who'd guided the Miami Hurricanes to a 2001 National Championship and won 80 percent of his games at U of M over six seasons. He's now the coach at UTSA.

According to Frank Solich, who was fired as head coach at Nebraska in 2003 before being hired at Ohio in 2005, Coach Coker's move to UTSA "reinforces the notion that upper-tier jobs can be hard to come by for veteran coaches who have been fired. Ask Gary Barnett. Or Dennis Franchione. Or Bob Davie. Or Glen Mason. Or R.C. Slocum. Or Jim Donnan. Or Phillip Fulmer. Or Tommy Bowden. You get the idea."

There are plenty of guys out there who haven’t gotten a sniff,” Coach Solich said. “It’s a tough, tough business. For one thing, there’s a little stigma attached to you if you didn’t make it work at a program, or were fired. And the trend has gone toward young guys. You see it in the NFL. You see it in colleges. It just seems that once you’ve been in it for a while, and you’re an established guy, and all of a sudden you get removed from a position, it’s tough on you. I just thought I still had a lot to offer (as a head coach). I felt I was good at being a head coach.”

It also reminds me a little of Radford coach Brad Greenberg (pictured here), who "was a young assistant at American University and Saint Joseph's in the late 1970s and early 1980s but then took a detour to the NBA as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks and as a player personnel executive with the Portland Trail Blazers."

Coach Greenberg also had a "1-year stint as the 76ers' general manager/vice president of basketball operations. In fact, while Greenberg's stay in Philly was brief, he did make the most influential decision in recent Sixers history by choosing Allen Iverson with the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NBA draft. It was a franchise-altering choice, for which Greenberg never gets the full credit he deserves."

After being fired by the Sixers in April 1997, Coach Greenberg waited 10 years to get a college head coaching job. His brother, Seth, hired him at South Florida as the director of basketball ops, then took him along to Virginia Tech in 2003 where he served as associate head coach.

Along the way, "Brad applied for openings but says schools weren't much interested in a first-time head coach in his 50s."

According to Coach Greenberg, when applying for college jobs, "Some athletics directors would look at me and say, 'Wait a minute, this guy was an NBA GM. What does he want coaching my team? He's been dealing with agents and pros and flying on charter planes. Is he really going to be happy in a little, tiny office and getting on a bus?' "

In 2007, Coach Greenberg got the chance he'd been waiting for when he was hired at Radford, a Big South school 2o minutes from Va. Tech that had gone 8-22 the season before.

Radford President Penelope W. Kyle, who hired Greenberg as coach, said "it didn't bother her that he was a nontraditional candidate."

"That's why we hit it off," she says. "I was a nontraditional choice, too." She ran the state lottery in Virginia and, before that, was a business executive and a lawyer. She liked his NBA credentials.

When Coach Greenberg arrived at Radford two seasons ago, his team was described as "a laughingstock." Now the Highlanders are headed to the NCAA tournament.