Originally created 04/01/04

Auburn narrows coaching wish list

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn has narrowed its basketball coaching search to between five and eight candidates, including UAB's Mike Anderson, but the point man for the process said Wednesday there is no clear-cut frontrunner.

Hal Baird said he has sought permission from athletic directors to contact his primary candidates, but hasn't conducted any interviews.

He wouldn't name any candidates, but the group likely includes Anderson and Tennessee-Chattanooga's Jeff Lebo, whose schools have been contacted by Auburn, and Virginia Commonwealth's Jeff Capel.

VCU athletic director Richard Sander did not immediately return calls Wednesday on whether he has been contacted.

"My feeling is there's a lot of people who can come in here and do a great job and it's not just one person," said Baird, an assistant to the president for athletics. "We very well may have someone tell us no. We'll have to see how that evolves. But that won't be the end of the world either."

Indiana's Mike Davis and Gonzaga's Mark Few - two prominent coaches mentioned as possible candidates by Auburn's interim President Ed Richardson - apparently are not on Baird's list of primary candidates. Officials at Indiana and Gonzaga said Auburn has not contacted them about permission to talk to their coach.

Baird said his top candidates are current head coaches, but he also has assembled potential candidates who are now assistants or out of coaching.

"We believe this job is attractive enough to attract a head coach who has had some success," Baird said.

UAB athletic director Watson Brown said Tuesday he had granted permission for Auburn to interview Anderson but planned to attempt to counter any offer to keep him.

Anderson's financial package is worth about $400,000 annually. Auburn was paying Cliff Ellis about $750,000.

Anderson led the Blazers to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament in his second season, including an upset of top overall seed Kentucky.

Baird said no announcement would likely be made before late next week. He will travel to the Final Four in San Antonio this weekend but said he wasn't sure if he would conduct any interviews on the trip.

Auburn is seeking a replacement for Ellis, fired on March 18 after failing to make the postseason for the second time in three years.

Auburn has also received permission to interview Lebo, according to Chattanooga athletic director Steve Sloan, who expects that to happen in San Antonio.

"There's nothing we can do. We're not even in the same financial world as Auburn," Sloan said. He said Lebo, who flirted with the Iowa State job last year, has a 10-year contract worth about $300,000 annually.

Lebo, 37, is 40-20 in two seasons in Chattanooga after leading Tennessee Tech to a pair of Ohio Valley Conference championships. He is a former North Carolina star.

Capel, 29, became the nation's youngest Division I coach upon his promotion two years ago and has posted a 41-19 record. The former Duke player led VCU to a near-upset of Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing 79-78.

The new coach will likely have to cope with NCAA sanctions. Auburn appeared before the Committee on Infractions nearly seven weeks ago, and the NCAA had indicated a verdict would likely come within five to seven weeks.

"There isn't any secret that the NCAA implications are going to be of paramount interest to a candidate," Baird said.

He also said the university is looking at upgrading the team's practice facilities and making some improvements to Beard-Eaves Coliseum.

Baird has consulted with head coaches, former players, athletic directors and others on various candidates.

"We're beginning a courtship with a number of people, and we're not sure they'll really like us and we're not sure we'll really like them," he said. "I think we'll really, hopefully identify those that are the best fit for this university."


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