You’re welcome, Ross Bjork.
With Andy Kennedy riding into the sunset at Ole Miss, you’ll still probably shell out the big bucks for a search firm and its sweet, sweet plausible deniability. But if you want to limit that expenditure just a tad, in addition to these guys floated by Red Cup Rebellion, here are the mid-major head coaches to call as you replace the winningest head coach in Rebels history.
Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State University
The third-year Bucs coach fell off the Gregg Marshall tree and has done Gregg Marshall things in Johnson City. Forbes finished with identical 14-4 SoCon records in his first two seasons, and appears headed to a better finish this season. ETSU is riding a 16-game winning streak, which includes a 13-0 start to league play. The Bucs have been dominant defensively the past two seasons, and got a No. 13 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament after a 27-7 campaign.
No matter how this year ends, it may be more impressive. ETSU lost three key pieces to graduation — including all-league first teamer T.J. Cromer — and had a projected starter, forward Jeromy Rodriguez, suffer a season-ending injury over the offseason. Nonetheless, the Bucs haven’t missed a beat and are still the class of the SoCon. Forbes’ name has been floated for big-time jobs before — Missouri, Memphis — and the proven coach and recruiter should be on Ole Miss’s radar.
Chris Jans, New Mexico State
Another Marshall disciple, Jans has high upside. The former Wichita State assistant got his first chance as a head coach at Bowling Green in 2014-15. He led the Falcons to their most wins (22) in 13 years, but was let go after one season after video surfaced of him acting inappropriately in a bar. He returned to WSU, and this season got a second chance to lead a program by landing at New Mexico State. It’s been a tremendous year. Jans had a major recruiting coup when he signed graduate transfer Zach Lofton, and has elevated the WAC’s best team to greater heights. The 22-3 Aggies knocked off Miami during the non-con, and with a solid RPI (49) and KenPom (43), are in the at-large discussion. Many high major programs might be hesitant to hire a coach with just a one-year track record at his current school, but Jans could be worth the risk.
Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee
Speaking of long track record, the 16th-year Blue Raiders’ coach is a name to consider in any coaching search until he’s not. The Mississippi State alum turned a major corner in recent years, winning at least24 games in five of the last six seasons. This has included two wins in three trips to the NCAA Tournament. He’s also developed two SEC castoffs — Arkansas’ JaCorey Williams and Alabama’s Nick King — into POY-type performers in CUSA.
Would Davis actually leave Murfreesboro? Would the Bulldog actually be considered by Ole Miss? His name was floated during the LSU job search last offseason, and if he’s interested in making the high-major jump, the timing might be perfect for the 58-year old.
Nate Oats, Buffalo
The Wisconsin native has spent his career decidedly outside of SEC territory, but should be considered nonetheless. He took over for Bobby Hurley in 2015-16 and promptly brought the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament. Behind some dynamic recruiting, Buffalo has been the class of the MAC this season, and has well-regarded prep prospects Ronaldo Segu and Jeenathan Williams joining the team next season. That upward momentum has been built on an exciting, up-tempo style that Rebel fans may have gotten used to under Kennedy.
Ron Hunter, Georgia State
Hunter’s star may not be as bright nationally as it was when he was tumbling off a stool after his Panthers upset Baylor in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. But the seventh-year Georgia State coach has continued producing results in Atlanta, with a 20-win season last year and 19 wins thus far this season. He’s the man responsible for discovering and developing George Hill at IUPUI, and has another budding NBA prospect in sophomore guard — and one-time Mississippi State signee — D’Marcus Simonds. He’s done a good job making a mark on high school recruiting in Georgia, and could be a nice under-the-radar hire.
Bob Marlin, Louisiana
With a streaking team (21-4) built on high major transfers, the Ragin’ Cajuns could well be the flavor of the month in March, if they can hold serve in the Sun Belt Tournament. Those coaches tend to get looks, but Marlin has proven to be more than a flash in the pan. He built a dominant program at Sam Houston State before coming to Louisiana eight years ago, and since 2005, across both schools, he’s had just one season with a losing record in league play. That consistency has come with some major player development chops. He turned Elfrid Payton from a largely un-recruited high school prospect into a lottery pick, and has another former player — Shawn Long — in the G-League. Like Davis, the proven program-builder is 58, but should be a hot name nonetheless.
Rod Barnes, CSU Bakersfield
Okay, this isn’t serious. But Rebel fans have to appreciate what their former coach has built across the country. Barnes took a ramshackle program fresh off a Division I transition and turned it into one of the grittiest teams at the mid-major level. The ‘Runners won the WAC Tournament two years ago, and followed it up with a regular season title last season. It’s been a fall-back year after some important personnel losses, but freshman guard and Oxford-native Jarkel Joiner is at the front of the rebuild.