When Alabama Athletic Director Bill Battle announced Sunday that men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant had been fired, most Tide fans responded by acknowledging that Grant was a good man, even a quality basketball coach, but it was time to move on.
Grant had a record of 117-85 in his six seasons at Alabama, only making the NCAA tournament once in 2012 and the NIT twice in 2011 and 2013. Following the 2012 NCAA tournament bid, Grant signed a contract extension to stay in Tuscaloosa until 2019. But by the end of the 2015 campaign, things were so clearly headed in the wrong direction that UA was willing to eat his $4 million buyout (offset by future earnings) in order to make a change.
“In this business, we are ultimately judged by wins and losses on the court,” said Battle. “And for a variety of reasons, we haven’t made satisfactory progress in that area.”
Battle is right, of course. College coaches are ultimately judged by their team’s record. But the hard truth is that Alabama’s situation is worse than just a string of mediocre seasons on the court. The Tide program in recent years has regressed to the point that very few people even seem to care anymore. Even on this year’s senior night, attendance at Coleman Coliseum was so sparse the announcer’s voice sounded more like a man yelling in a cave as the sound waves bounced off of the thousands of empty seats.
And it is that — the fact that Alabama’s basketball program has been reduced from a football afterthought to a virtual non-factor — that will make the next basketball coach’s job particularly challenging.
Battle acknowledged this in his statement announcing Grant’s dismissal when he said a “key component” of what happens next will be getting “all of our fans pulling in the same direction and to make Coleman Coliseum the best home court advantage in the SEC.”
Grant’s disinterest in doing the non-basketball things that most coaches have to do — press avails, community events, hobnobbing with boosters — is well documented. So you can bet Battle & co. will be looking for a coach with not only the ability to lead a team on the court, but also the willingness to engage with the community and students to rebuild the program off the court as well.
In short, in order to make other people care, Alabama needs a coach who really, really cares.
And that is precisely why Murray State head coach Steve Prohm is the ideal hire.
Prohm is a 40-year-old rising star in the coaching ranks who this season led Murray State to 25 consecutive wins and a stint in the AP Top 25 rankings, a notable accomplishment for a mid-major.
In his four seasons at the helm for the Racers, Prohm’s team has four 20-plus win seasons, including a big NCAA tournament win in 2012, and an impressive overall record of 102-27. They were 27-4 in 2015, making Prohm one of the hottest coaches in the country.
But as impressive as that is, there are other coaches who can match his on-the-court success. Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Dayton’s Archie Miller and VCU’s Shaka Smart, for example, have had as much or more success than Prohm in recent years.
But none of those guys would consider Alabama their dream job. As a matter of fact, there’s a pretty good chance they wouldn’t be interested in the job at all, considering they will each be in the running for high profile jobs at schools were basketball is the top sport.
And here’s where Prohm — an Alabama grad — separates himself from other potential candidates. He is a former Tide student assistant and student manager. He bleeds Crimson. He’s so loyal to his alma mater that he turned down a reported $1 million per year offer from Mississippi State, presumably so he could be in the mix for the Alabama job when it opened up.
At a time when Alabama desperately needs a coach who really, really cares — like, cares so much he’d turn down a million bucks in hopes that he may one day coach the Tide — there’s no need to scour the country for an up-and-comer who will at best make Tuscaloosa a brief pit-stop in his career.
It’s time to bring Prohm home.
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— Cliff Sims (@Cliff_Sims) December 3, 2014