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Basketball Coaching Search: Bryce Drew Officially Signs with Vanderbilt, So...Now What?

With his apparent top two candidates off the market, AD Mike Bobinski is in a bit of a predicament with this coaching search.

Georgia Tech AD Mike Bobinski
Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

There was lots of speculation late last week and into the weekend that Valparaiso's Bryce Drew was the top target in Georgia Tech's search to replace recently-fired head coach Brian Gregory. (Program insider Kelly Quinlan of JacketsOnline put together a very thorough piece outlining the primary candidates under consideration and where things stood, making a very good argument for why Drew would be the primary target. Others, including AJC beat writer Ken Sugiura, explored that possibility as well.) By Saturday, there were some indications that Drew joining on at Georgia Tech was a done deal, and would be announced early this week.

Somehow, the wheels fell off of the whole operation over the weekend. Duke assistant and "Plan B" target Jeff Capel publicly removed himself from consideration on Sunday, and on Monday, Drew was reportedly headed to Vanderbilt after a change of heart. It was over 24 hours later before that change of heart was made official, but as of Tuesday afternoon, he had officially signed with the Commodores:

So...yeah. Just when we started to think that the coaching search was coming to a close, and got excited about the candidate in question, we find ourselves seemingly back at square one. "Plan A" is going to Vanderbilt. "Plan B" is staying at Duke. Now, it's up to Mike Bobinski to find another coach (who will be fully aware that he's "Plan C", at best) and convince him to take the job at Georgia Tech which will unquestionably require some rebuilding, and take it at an affordable rate for the still cash-strapped GTAA.

By all appearances, this coaching search has quickly gone from "well-executed" to "kind of a mess".

So, where does this leave Georgia Tech?

There are plenty of candidates still out there, but they're mostly surrounded by a lot of questions of some variety -- even the simple question of whether each would be considered an upgrade over the departed Gregory. Here are a few options:

Boston Celtics assistant Jay Larrañaga was a name floated earlier last week as someone who Georgia Tech had contacted and could be considering. Although his father, Jim, is the head coach at conference foe Miami, the younger Larrañaga was once thought to be next-in-line as head coach of the Celtics, until Brad Stevens was hired to replace Doc Rivers. Overall, Larrañaga is thought to be a strong head coaching candidate somewhere, although he lacks significant experience as a head coach, and even more questionable is his lack of track record at the college level -- especially in recruiting. It could work with the right staff in place around him, but there would be major questions about this hire from the get-go.

Another option that has been mentioned is UNC-Wilmington head coach Kevin Keatts, a former assistant (and briefly was named Associate Head Coach) to Rick Pitino at Louisville. In two years under Keatts, the Seahawks have had a pair of winning seasons and a pair of postseason appearances, breaking a streak of six straight under-.500 seasons (when they won more than 10 games only once) and eight straight seasons without a postseason appearance. In only his second season, Keatts took the Seahawks to the NCAA Tournament, where they managed to give 4-seed Duke a scare before losing 93-85. He is a notoriously strong recruiter and has strong ties to the Hargrave Military Academy, which consistently produces some of the top basketball talent in the nation. (Whether players from HMA could regularly get into Georgia Tech is a different issue, but the point remains that Keatts is familiar with recruiting very talented players.) The biggest question surrounding Keatts stems from his time at Louisville, where he was heavily involved in the recruitment of several players who were allegedly involved in the Katina Powell scandal. With the investigation at Louisville ongoing, and Keatts' involvement (including associated sanctions) still undetermined, he may not actually be an option at all, and would be a risky hire at best.

In an article Tuesday afternoon discussing possibilities, Sugiura brought up UT-Chattanooga head coach Matt McCall. McCall just completed his first season as head coach of the Mocs, when the team went 29-6 (15-3 SoCon) and won their conference tournament, before being eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Indiana. The biggest problem with McCall's resume is that it's very limited -- he's only 34 years old, and this was his first season as a head coach after seven years as an assistant between Florida Atlantic and Florida (where he spent a total of six years working under Billy Donovan, including his two years as the team's Director of Operations). Now, there's no doubt that his first season at UTC was successful, but McCall didn't exactly turn the program around -- it was set up for success after two seasons under Will Wade where they went a combined 40-25 (27-7) and finished second in the conference both years. Hiring McCall would almost feel like "taking a flyer on" a head coaching candidate, in a sense -- there's upside and it could work, but it's not a move that would be particularly confidence-inspiring.

The other name being brought up for consideration is Winthrop's Pat Kelsey, whose primary connection is that he was an associate head coach at Xavier (his alma mater) under Chris Mack from 2009-2011, when Mike Bobinski was serving as AD there. Kelsey also spent time previously as an assistant at Wake Forest, and has spent the last four seasons as head coach at Winthrop. In that time, the Eagles are 76-52 (41-27) and have had three straight winning seasons, most recently tying for the conference championship before falling in the finals of the conference tournament. While Kelsey has a longer track record of being a D1 head coach than McCall or Keatts, his teams' track record, while not disappointing, aren't awe-inspiring either. They lack a postseason appearance, and their biggest win in his tenure was likely a win at Clemson in November 2014 -- one of only two wins ever over Power-5 programs during his time at Winthrop.

There are always other possibilities too, such as assistants at top-performing programs or head coaches at other high-performing mid-major programs. Ideas are very much welcomed in the comments.

Something to keep in mind is that any of these candidates would be asked to step into a role as a head coach at the highest level of college basketball -- the ACC, where they'd be competing against several Hall of Fame-level coaches each year and would need to consistently bring in good talent to keep up. They'd also be stepping into a role with a team that's in need of rebuilding, having lost 5 graduating seniors that accounted for over 75% of the team's scoring, 65% of its rebounds, and just under half of its assists, not to mention over 62% of the team's total minutes played.

If I had my personal choice of the above candidates, I have no idea what I'd do. It feels like Larrañaga is the biggest unknown (due to his lack of experience within the college basketball realm), Keatts has the highest ceiling but is a major risk of collateral damage from the ongoing investigation at Louisville, and McCall likely has the most pure "bust" potential. That leaves Kelsey as the safest hire of the bunch, as uninspiring to the fan base as it would potentially be.

Mike Bobinski has his work cut out for him.