The Red River rivalry that rarely lacks for drama on the court or on the gridiron just got a whole lot more interesting with a surprising twist as Texas basketball coach Shaka Smart, less than 24 hours after Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger retired, was hired on Friday to become the next coach at Marquette.
It’s the first time since 1967 that both Texas and Oklahoma are on the hunt for a head basketball coach in the same offseason.
Smart leaves the Longhorns program after six seasons where he took them to three NCAA Tournament appearances in five possible seasons, finishing 109-86 overall and 52-56 in Big 12 play. The clean split comes less than a week after Texas was stunningly bounced in Round 1 as a 3 seed by 14 seed Abilene Christian.
Texas invested heavily in Smart and his staff to ensure he’d find similar regular-season and postseason success in Austin as he did at VCU, where his “havoc” defense helped lead the Rams to two conference tournament titles, five NCAA Tournament appearances and a magical Final Four run in 2011 as an 11 seed. But Smart never won a tournament game in his Texas tenure. Instead, his six-season ride was riddled with stunning first-round exits like a last-second loss to Northern Iowa in 2016, an overtime loss to Nevada in 2018 despite a double-digit second-half lead and a loss last week to Abilene Christian after a late foul gave the Wildcats an opportunity to hit game-clinching free throws in the final seconds.
With the resources at Texas’ disposal and the program’s proximity to star recruits in talent-rich Texas, this vacancy should be considered one of the best in the country. As such, the Longhorns administration will have an opportunity to chase big names during its coaching search in an effort to lure someone to town who can find Texas-sized success.
Here is a quick list of names to watch as Texas begins that journey.
After a brilliant season at Little Rock in 2015-16 as head coach where Beard took them to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and won 30 games, his success and coaching star has only ascended at Texas Tech. In five seasons with the Red Raiders he’s 112-55 overall with three NCAA Tournament appearances in four possible seasons and two Elite Eights and a Final Four under his belt. One tricky part may be his buyout — it’s reportedly only $2 million if a team outside the Big 12 were to hire him away but double that if a Big 12 team were to swoop in, as of April 1. Another snag may be his salary: USA Today data lists him as one of the five highest-paid coaches in the sport. But since Smart and Texas got a clean break (and because this is Texas we’re talking about here) that money is there if Beard is willing to leave Lubbock.
Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago coach
If there’s a mid-major coach primed to make a leap up to this level, it’s Moser, who has Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16 for the second time after a 2018 run ended in the Final Four. Moser underwhelmed at Little Rock and was fired from his next job as Illinois State’s coach, but he’s 63-18 against league opponents since 2017-18 and in line to be a worthy candidate when Loyola’s season comes to an end.
Musselman had a wildly successful four-season stint at Nevada that included three regular-season conference championships and a 110-34 record before Arkansas plucked him from out west in 2019. Since then, Musselman’s acquitted himself well by reinvigorating the Razorbacks behind an up-tempo style of play. His experience — and success — at both the college and NBA level would make him a prime candidate if he were to leave Fayetteville after two seasons. But Arkansas is still fighting in the NCAA Tournament, which ultimately could mean so long as his team is still rolling, the price tag for Texas could keep rising and the appeal of leaving a good gig for one under an intense microscope with higher expectations in Austin decidedly less so.
Joe Golding, Abilene Christian
From toppling Texas, to coaching Texas? That would be Golding’s path after his Abilene Christian team ousted Smart’s Longhorns on March 20 in a first-round stunner. It’d be more than just a fun narrative. Golding’s got the credentials to be a high-major candidate after taking the program to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearances at the Division I level (2019, 2021) in history and securing a win in the Big Dance to boot. Oh, and here’s a fun little quote he had last week after the win:
“Ultimate respect to the University of Texas and Coach Smart. Had an incredible year this year. Very talented team. We have the utmost respect for them. Just want to say that.”
He’s 134-114 since taking over the program in 2013 but 67-23 his last three seasons.
Grant McCasland, North Texas coach
McCasland is a long-time Scott Drew disciple who has been head coach at North Texas since 2017, where he recently guided the Mean Green to their fourth-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and first-ever NCAA Tournament win by upsetting No. 4 seed Purdue in Round 1. He’s 79-51 overall with a regular-season and postseason conference title and knows the lay of the land in the region having played at Baylor and coached at Baylor, Arkansas State and North Texas.
Royal Ivey, Brooklyn Nets assistant coach
A former Texas player in the early 2000s, Ivey spent a decade as a pro before cutting his teeth as an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Blue, Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks and now with the Brooklyn Nets. Hard to envision Texas prioritizing Ivey with no head coaching experience, but also easy to see why he’d be an appealing option with Juwan Howard’s recent success at Michigan on a similar trajectory.
Rick Pitino, Iona
If this coaching search was based solely on coaching chops, Rick Pitino would be No. 1 on this list. He’s a Hall of Famer and two-time national champion. But Pitino comes with some baggage, which is why he’s at Iona to begin with. His alleged misdeeds at Louisville are still under NCAA scrutiny and there were multiple scandals during his time as the Cardinals coach that Texas would have to either gain more clarity on or, frankly, overlook. Still, a 782-277 career record and bullet-proof resume on the court is appealing even if the rest of what comes with Pitino is not.