The Detroit Free Press is reporting that the University of Michigan has fired their Men's Basketball coach, Tommy Amaker, after six seasons as head coach.
I'm honestly stunned. Despite writing last week that I wanted Amaker gone, I had no expectation that Michigan would actually fire him. Athletic Director Bill Martin is always hesitant to get rid of coaches, and Amaker's wife Stephanie is powerful within the University and is very close to University President Mary Sue Coleman.
Yet, Amaker is gone. And it's the right move. I've said before (and I'll say it again) that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Amaker. He is as good of a representative for a program as you can have. Great in the community. Great recruiter (though he never lived up to his lofty recruiting reputation here). Great ambassador for the basketball team and if the University was serious about raising money to rebuild or renovate the ailing Chrysler Arena (which they desperately need to do) he would have been the perfect pitch-man and leader of that effort.
Unfortunately for Amaker, on the court, he just couldn't get the job done. I won't rehash all of the same points I made from my post last week, but needless to say, players did not improve under Amaker's watch and the team languished in the world of the NIT, never making it to the true March Madness.
What likely made the decision easier was that Amaker lost his team, which seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago. Players, obviously frustrated with going to the NIT, again, sounded off publicly.
"You're always happy to keep playing, but nobody wants to play in the NIT,'' senior Lester Abram said. "It's just something you have to do.''
It also probably didn't help Amaker that only 3,100 people showed up to Crisler Arena to watch their first round NIT game against Utah State. And perhaps, more than anything else, that indictment sealed Amaker's fate. Because, besides the lackluster on the court performance, there is no doubt that the Michigan basketball program, where the Fab Five once seemingly ruled the basketball world and not just Ann Arbor, is dead. Interest is basically non-existent in the student body. While Lloyd Carr garners anger and wrath from football fans when the Michigan football team struggles, the basketball program is saddled with something even worse than fan anger. Complete apathy. Sure, there was an underground movement to oust Amaker, but most Michigan basketball fans simply didn't care whether Amaker would return. And there aren't that many Michigan basketball fans left to begin with, as evidenced by the sad NIT turnout.
Michigan Basketball needs a coach to come in and not just turn the program around, but turn the student body around and get students excited about basketball again. Sure, winning games will help, and will get fans back and interest heightened, but a coach can do more than that. A coach can bring an energy and enthusiasm all of his own making. As I've believed for years, that man should be Tom Crean, currently of Marquette, formerly Tom Izzo's top assistant at Michigan State. I honestly don't believe there is a better man for the job. Now that Michigan made the right move by firing Amaker, they must make the right move in hiring the next head coach.
Otherwise, the program will never turn around.
Late Afternoon Update: ESPN has a list of potential replacements, and sadly, Tom Crean does not appear on their initial list.
According to ESPN.com's Andy Katz, some of the names up for consideration to replace Amaker include Washington State's Tony Bennett, Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery, former Golden State Warriors coach Mike Montgomery, UNLV's Lon Kruger, West Virginia's John Beilein, Xavier's Sean Miller, Cal's Ben Braun as well as ESPN analysts Rick Majerus and Steve Lavin.
Katz also reported that Kentucky coach Tubby Smith could be a candidate, if he's available.
It's not that I mind the list of coaches ESPN has. Montgomery and Lowery are especially good candidates. And if Tubby Smith becomes available, he would be a natural choice. Ben Braun is another great candidate. He coached for 11 seasons at Eastern Michigan and made the NCAA Tournament with them three times. That's pretty impressive. On the other hand, Majerus and especially Lavin scare me. Majerus is a great coach, don't get me wrong, but I don't know if he's got it anymore. And Lavin is not the face of the program I'm looking for. Too Hollywood.
And another name Michigan fans bring up a lot is alumnus and very successful NBA coach Rudy Tomjanovich. I love Rudy T. I wanted the Pistons to hire him numerous times. But, with all due respect, he's done. His last stint with the Lakers was a disaster, and he lasted less than half the first season. If we needed a guy to take us over the top, and turn is from a Sweet 16-type team to a championship team, he's the guy. But, to build a program? He's not that guy. At least not anymore.