The search for a University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball coach is at the seed stage, but there will be a lot of tilling and fertilization over the next few days.
There are mixed reports on Russ Pennell and James Dickey, former UCA players considered the top two candidates going in. There are reports things have cooled in both cases, possibly neither is seriously interested or there are issues and/or commitments that might prevent them from being active candidates. Or the pool of quality candidates is deeper than anticipated.
It seems that Brad Teague has been amazed at the number of applicants with strong resumes who have contacted him, or have had fellow coaches or friends contact him on their behalf. He had originally stated that his goal was to have a coach in place Friday, but only if one of the two on the immediate short list said yes.
It’s going to take longer than that. That could mean the top two might have already said "no thanks." It could also mean that some assistants have emerged with NCAA Division I experience (particularly as recruiters) warrant a careful and extensive look. Monday, the short list had expanded to five and I expect it will be fluid for a couple of days.
A few things to keep in mind:
• UCA, in its current financial straits and with a salary limitations by law, does not have a whole lot of money (even with some private funds) to throw into the mix. UCA officials have been in too much trouble lately not to play this one by the book.
• It’s a Division I job with the possibility of postseason next year. For young- to middle-aged assistants coaches in major programs, those in which they have a realistic shot don’t open up too often.
• You have to look closely at a similar hire by Teague, women’s basketball coach Matt Daniel, who was a rising young but experienced assistant at a major college program (Missouri) with Arkansas ties.
Keeping all that in mind and looking past either Pennell and Dickey, here’s analyzing some of the field, in no particular order, who could fit that template:
WES FLANIGAN, assistant coach, Alabama-Birmingham: The former Auburn star played at Little Rock Parkview. Confident and personable. Known as a great recruiter. Applied for the job the last time it opened. Familiar with his home turf. The skinny: He would be a strong candidate if interested.
STEVE FORBES, assistant coach, University of Tennessee: A former baseball star and sports information at Southern Arkansas University for a year, Forbes settled nicely into a career in coaching as a key recruiter at Louisiana Tech, Illiinois State, at Texas A&M for Billy Gillispie and at Tennessee the last four years for Bruce Pearl. The skinny: If he’s interested in talking (there is some indication he is), he would be on my short list.
JEREMY COX, assistant coach, South Florida: He’s best known in Arkansas as the coach of UA-Fort Smith in leading the school to a national junior college title in 2006. He has also served as an assistant coach at Texas-San Antonio in the Southland Conference. He served as an assistant and major recruiter for Gillispie at Texas A&M and Kentucky. He was on the bench when UCA played Kentucky in Lexington in 2007. Now an assistant for former UA coach Stan Heath. The skinny: Another coach with a strong pedigree who should be on the short list if interested.
TONY MADLOCK, assistant coach, Texas-El Paso: Former high school star in Memphis who played for the University of Memphis and later served as assistant coach at Arkansas State. He’s also known as a strong recruiter and has both Arkansas and Memphis connections. The skinny: He may be interested in getting closer to home and he’s another assistant with a resume that warrants a close look.
ROB FLASKA, assistant coach, Texas State: Formerly served as an assistant for Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and as head coach at Centenary. The skinny: May not have as much experience with a variety of coaching icons as some of these coaches, but he’s certainly familiar with Arkansas and the Southland Conference.
Other coaches familiar in the state who might actively pursue the job are Dennis Nutt (one of the Nutt brothers, former TCU star and currently a coach and fundraiser at Coker College in South Carolina; and Mike Newell, Arkansas-Monticello coach, former Arkansas-Little Rock and Oklahoma coach. Each could get a look, but I don’t expect either to appear on any short list. Newell has burned a lot of bridges in his career and I don’t expect he would get the kind of energizing reaction from the UCA fan base that Teague is seeking. Nutt was fired a few years ago when he was the head coach at Texas State.
Other speculations floating about are names that can excite some people (Scottie Pippen, Corliss Williamson, Joe Kleine) — but I don’t think they are either viable candidates or would be interested considering the realities and demands of the job. This is a job that requires active recruiting in personal vehicles and a lot of eight- to 12-hour bus trips. The teams often return home in the wee hours of the morning after a game and a long bus ride. That’s rugged for family situations. I consider those people "dream on," "unrealistic choices" for a number of reasons. I think they are too comfortable in their current situations and would have too much to give up as far as either lifestyle, family or both.
There may be a couple of others to emerge as solid candidates, but surprises as occurred with Daniel.
Those of us within Arkansas media, particularly with connections to the old Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference, mourn the passing of Ouachita Baptist University’s Mac Sisson, who died Monday of an apparent heart attack.
Sisson wore many hats at OBU: SID, communications director, teacher, mentor to many. He worked for years with the Miss Arkansas pageant.
He trained many a good student in public relations and journalism. To so many of us, he was the smiling face of OBU, a great ambassador for the university.
Back in the day when all news releases were created with an electric typewriter and a copy machines, Sisson was a master. He covered all the bases. He would send the same OBU release to every staffer on a publication in which he had a name, address and a title. What he did was actually the forerunner of the modern group e-mail list. The joke among the media was that you would show up for work at an Arkansas media outlet one day, then you would get a personally addressed OBU release from Mac Sisson the next.
When you covered an OBU game, taking care of you was Mac’s first duty. He would greet you by name with a smile and make sure the media had all the space, plugs, phone connections they needed. At a basketball game, there would be a box of popcorn and a soft drink either waiting for you at the table or available in minutes by request. And he or his assistants, like good servers at a restaurant, would check regularly to make sure you had everything you needed.
He was a consummate professional, a master of hospitality, a man passionate about his service and a wonderful, kind-hearted representative of the core values of a Christian institution.
It was a sad evening for me when I heard the news. I’m sure it was the same for many.
I certainly wish there were more of his type nowadays in the media business.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)