With associate head coach Bob Simon leaving Providence to join newly hired Avery Johnson’s coaching staff at Alabama there is now an open spot on Ed Cooley’s staff. That open spot is a big one as Simon was a tireless recruiter for Cooley and a very good X & O coach. I’m a little disappointed Simon left Providence for a lateral title and not to be a head coach but being the associate head coach for an SEC school will likely help his head coaching prospects. Simon also probably got a nice pay increase from that football money and that money will go farther down in Alabama than it would in Rhode Island.
This is a critical decision for Cooley and one that needs to be made soon as the second live evaluation period of April looms on April 24th. Here are some candidates that likely will be considered.
Jeff Battle was courted by Cooley 4 years ago right after Cooley was hired at Providence. Battle considered the offer but ultimately opted to stay at Wake Forest on Jeff Bzdelik’s staff. The main reason cited was that Battle didn’t want to uproot his son before he finished high school. That next year would be Jordan Battle’s senior year.
Cooley and Battle are very close friends to the point that Battle’s son calls Cooley “Uncle Ed”. Jordan is now a student at East Carolina University and that may mean 53 year old Jeff has more flexibility in making a decision to leave North Carolina for Rhode Island. Battle has spent the last year out of coaching after not being retained by new Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning. Battle spent 13 seasons at Wake as associate head coach for 3 different head coaches: Skip Prosser, Dino Gaudio and Jeff Bzdelik. Battle followed Prosser to Wake after being with Prosser at Loyola (MD) and Xavier. Battle’s specialty is guard development. Some notable names he has mentored are Chris Paul, Josh Howard, Jeff Teague, C.J. Harris.
If I had a vote in this process it would probably be for Battle.
Mike Jackson has been on Cooley’s staff from the beginning at Providence. Jackson is the Coordinator of Basketball Operations on Cooley’s staff currently and it wouldn’t be a big jump to move him up the bench to a recruiting assistant role. Jackson has 15 years of experience as a recruiting assistant, most recently at Michigan and Purdue. Jackson and Cooley are also close friends and Jackson moving up a seat wouldn’t be a terrible decision by Cooley as internal movement can be very good for overall staff morale. The players also like Jackson so that could also be a positive of a promotion for the Michigan native. Jackson’s connections to the Fab 5 team at Michigan are the reason Cooley was able to orchestrate a phone call for recruits with Chris Webber at the 2014 Elite Camp and also the main reason Jalen Rose was the MC at last season’s Late Night Madness festivities.
Cooley has often mentioned that he believes it to be a joke that Al Skinner isn’t a head coach anywhere. Cooley’s former boss and long-time mentor is currently an assistant coach at Bryant under Tim O’Shea. While this might be a nice hire for Cooley in terms of paying back Skinner for giving him a chance, my opinion is this would be a mistake for Cooley at this juncture. It wouldn’t be a mistake because Skinner isn’t capable. The mistake would be because Cooley should go for someone a little younger and more hungry. If Cooley wanted to bring Skinner to Providence at some point in a role similar to the one Gene Keady was in under Steve Lavin at St. John’s I would have no problem but to give him one of the coveted recruiting assistant positions doesn’t make a lot of sense to me at this point.
Milan Brown is an intriguing option if only because he has head coaching experience. Brown was let go at Holy Cross back in March and Cooley hired him to be a special assistant to him during the Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament. Brown was a head coach the last 12 seasons beginning in 2003 at Mount St. Mary’s and then the last 5 season at Holy Cross. A native of Hampton, VA, Brown has ties in that area to the Boo Williams AAU program and was very familiar with Rodney Bullock’s high school career when I met him in March. Assuming Jeff Battle is the first choice and he turns Cooley down again and Cooley doesn’t want to elevate Mike Jackson for whatever reason I’d be fine with bringing in someone like Brown. It would likely be a shorter term fix for Cooley as I have to believe Brown wants another head coaching gig ASAP.
As I made clear in the Jeff Battle section I think he is the best choice for Cooley to hire to fill the large shoes of Bob Simon. I also mentioned above that the decision is critical and the timing may also be a factor in that the second live evaluation period of April begins on Friday. Coaches only have so many chances to evaluate and be seen by their top recruits and it would be a shame to be a “man down” this weekend on the road if Cooley isn’t able to replace Simon before Friday. The next live evaluation period isn’t until July.
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