It's been a bad year for Ohio State coach Jim O' Brien. After surgery
damaged one of his vocal cords, he was unable to speak above a whisper (he's
since recovered). And now, he's
lost his job after admitting to giving a recruit $6,000 several years
ago. His contract, like most of his peers we would assume, dictates that
he can be fired for violating NCAA regulations. So he's gone.
It's kind of a weird story. O' Brien says he gave the kid the money because
he was in a desperate situation, and on the one hand, you can understand
that. The kid was from Yugoslavia, and five years ago, pretty much
everyone there was devastated. Any team sport is, as Coach K says,
ultimately about relationships, and how rotten would you feel if you had a kid
here from another country who was in a terrible situation and there you were
with a million-plus income? What big deal is $6,000 dollars to you?
On the other hand, it's pretty cut-and-dry: no cash to players.
And if we had a third hand, there was some pressure on O' Brien this year
after his team didn't do well - surely his surgery didn't help things - and some
press grumblings that, in the words of Al Gore, it was time for him to go.
His interest in the St. John's job probably didn't help.
And for area fans, it gets interesting: among the three main candidates
mentioned is Herb Sendek. He's apparently on the short list, along with
Xavier's Thad Matta and OSU grad Bob Knight, who might not mind returning to the
Big Ten to settle a few scores.
The hottest of the three coaches is unquestionably Matta, who had a
sensational year at Xavier, just missing the Final Four when Duke took down the
Musketeers. But Knight is a legend, and someone with obvious ties and also
someone who has zero chance of NCAA trouble. That's almost certainly true
for Sendek as well, but his building at N.C. State has proven to be so
methodical that it might drive Ohio State fans crazy. There was a certain
amount of unrest this past season, and it's not like O' Brien has been a
flop. So our money is on Matta, but what's the point of mentioning Sendek
without speculating about what would happen at State if he took the job?
One sure candidate: Derek Whittenburg, who has had some success.
Thad Matta would be one as well, but he's not going to leave Xavier for just
Rick Majerus? He should be trimmed down by now and maybe ready to get
back into coaching. He'd be a funny fit in Raleigh in a lot of ways.
What State fans really crave, though, and one reason why Sendek has never
really gone over, even though he has steadily upgraded the program, is
Showtime. From Everett Case to Norm Sloan to Jim Valvano, State basketball
has always been about putting on a show. Who fits the bill?
Billy Tubbs is kind of old news, but he's on the right path. Rick
Pitino would be beyond huge, but he's unavailable.
We'll say this: if Sendek leaves, this is an immensely attractive job,
and the reason it has become one again is Herb Sendek. Stay tuned.