Today is the first day of the Shell Houston Open. If you remember, last year the first day had to be postponed because of some nasty winds that had blown into the Houston area. Suffice it to say that if there is a strong breeze in the Houston area on this first day of the Shell Houston Open, it's from the collective yawn elicited by Mack Rhoades' first big hire as Athletics Director of the Coogs, with former Texas Tech coach James Dickey getting the call to replace Tom Penders as Cougar head basketball coach.
Rhoades came to Houston last year from Akron with a reputation as a dynamic fundraiser and a track record that suggested he was someone who could "get it done" when it came to upgrading Houston's archaic facilities; after all, he had done just that at Akron, of all places. Fundraising and facilities are just part of the AD game; hiring is a big part also, and right now if one has to somehow balance out the other, Rhoades may want to have architects start drawing up plans to build Jerry World II somewhere along Scott Street to make up for this hire.
Now, to be fair, Mack Rhoades knows that winning this coaching search is not about winning April, so to speak. The Cougar P.R. machine was going to have a tough time spinning any hire that wasn't named "William Clyde Gillispie." The proof of Rhoades' clairvoyance (or lack thereof) will be in how well schooled the 2010-2011 team is tactically and how well Dickey builds the necessary recruiting bridges to the local high schools (if he hasn't called over to Yates just to say "Hello" yet, that's a red flag).
"Why Dickey?" is a question that Rhoades will have certainly have to answer, but "Why not Gillispie?" is the question everyone WANTS answered, and it may be one to which we never fully know the answer. Was Gillispie too expensive? Did he really want the job to begin with? Did Mack Rhoades, who had worked with Gillispie at UTEP, know too much? What we do know is that as this week started, two names were hot in C-USA -- Tim Floyd to UTEP and
Billy Gillispie to U of H. One happened, one didn't. U of H fans I've spoken with this morning frankly would have been happy with either taking over here in the 713.
Now, make no mistake, Tim Floyd comes with his own set of issues, but certainly if it were a Cougar pin on Floyd's lapel at a presser this week, that would have been preferable to whatever dog and pony show is taking place today over at U of H. Floyd brings a track record of success, he brings a track record of recruiting big-time players, he brings buzz. He also has at least the hint of NCAA stench on him after the O.J. Mayo Era (and what an era it was) at USC.
But putting aside the big names that have their own sets of issues, why not a hot young assistant coach? Why not pump some energy and life into Hofheinz Pavilion, and let some young buck announce his presence with authority? Is it a fear that if you hire that prodigy, and he succeeds (gasp! God forbid!), then he'll move onto something bigger and better? Or
were the options with no head coaching experience (Chris Walker, Rodney Terry) just not all that impressive? We don't know, but we're all anxious to find out.
Longtime Coog fans want to rightfully see the program restored to respectability; to think that this can be a program that is regularly booking late March travel plans (no, the CBI doesn't count) like the early `80's is pie in the sky, but to think that they can't be one of two or three
teams perennially repping C-USA in March Madness is absurd. They absolutely can.
Looking for a suitable program to compare U of H to? Well, I'd point you to St. John's. There are differences to be sure, namely St. John's having the allure (for recruits) and challenge (for coaches) of playing in the Big East and U of H being a football school first, at least today they are. But at their core, they are at a similar point in their respective histories -- two storied programs who have been scratching two sticks together in the wilderness of college basketball for the better part of twenty years now, conducting a virtual Gong Show of coaches trying to replace Lou Carnesecca and Guy V. Lewis.
St. John's swung big (Paul Hewitt, Fran McCaffrey), missed in very public fashion, but still would up with Steve Lavin, about as good a hire from a P.R. standpoint as you could make with years of ESPN face time and multiple tournament visits with UCLA, especially after St. Johns' missing on choices one through whatever. Will Lavin succeed at St. John's? Who knows, but St. John's won the battle this week.
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The only thing way Mack Rhoades wins the battle today is if he steps up to the microphone, screams "APRIL FOOL'S!!", hits Dickey over the head with a chair, pulls back the curtain and reveals Billy Gillispie in a Cougar-red suit, and the two of them stand over Dickey's carcass (face down in a pool of his own blood) with Rhoades holding Gillispie's right arm in the air in the "here's the winner" pose while "Whiskey River" blares over the loudspeaker. Not only would this cement Mack Rhoades as the comedic genius to end all comedic geniuses, but I would immediately be submitting my application for whatever job they want to give me in the U of H athletics department.
I give the "chair to the head" scenario no more than a 20 percent chance of happening, fifteen at best. I think y'all are stuck with James Dickey, and he with you. Let me know where to send my wedding gift, Coog Fan.
In the meantime, I've got to head out to the Shell Houston Open to do my show. DAMN, it's windy out today.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. on the Sean & John
Show, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.