Wednesday, March 27, 1997
Candidates not lining
up for OSU job

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The usual suspects are acting awfully suspicious. The Ohio State basketball job remains open, and the A List stands for Apathy.

Andy Geiger, Ohio State's athletic director and one-man search committee, has succeeded in securing raises for South Carolina's Eddie Fogler, Clemson's Rick Barnes, Stanford's Mike Montgomery and Southwest Missouri's Steve Alford. What Geiger has not succeeded in doing is finding a coach.

Seventeen days since the firing of Randy Ayers, the plum job Ayers presumably couldn't handle is still vacant. The coaches Geiger has courted have looked on Columbus as leverage rather than a place to land. What started out strange is now bizarre.

Ohio State is the largest university in a populous state, a place that prizes athletics and pays coaches handsomely, and an institution one season away from opening a brand new basketball arena.

If it is not the best college basketball job in the country - that probably belongs to Dean Smith or Rick Pitino - it certainly should be coveted by almost any other coach. Yet six days before coaches are allowed to leave campus to start evaluating prospects - six days before the Buckeyes are placed at a recruiting disadvantage - the search for Ayers' successor is no more promising than the search for Atlantis.

The Columbus Dispatch and Des Moines Register reported Wednesday that Geiger had asked permission to approach Iowa State coach Tim Floyd. This would seem a waste of time. Floyd is widely acknowledged to be the coach-in-waiting for the Chicago Bulls, and has consistently spurned comparatively lateral moves.

What about Gillen?

Meanwhile, many of the most obvious candidates have been ignored. Providence's Pete Gillen, whose background and personality best fits Geiger's profile, said he had heard nothing from Ohio State as of Tuesday night. Xavier Athletic Director Jeff Fogelson said Wednesday he had received no calls from Geiger concerning Skip Prosser.

University of Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins, who has built a powerful program with fewer built-in advantages than he would have in Columbus, is more popular with OSU alumni than administrators.

The phrase commonly applied to Huggins' candidacy is that he carries ''too much baggage.'' (Translated: Too many junior college players; too few diplomas; too much screaming; the dubious decision to recruit Art Long.)

Some of this baggage, though, was forced on Huggins by circumstance and geography. From the standpoint of recruiting, UC is relatively land-locked.

Ten minutes south of Huggins' office is Kentucky, where college basketball is religion. Twenty minutes west is Indiana, where college basketball is war. Beyond the boundaries of Hamilton County - and sometimes inside of them - Ohio State is going to get the first shot at the state's top players.

Had Huggins not gone the junior college route at UC, he'd likely have lost his job by now. He has raised UC's national profile considerably, but not to the extent where he can compete with Kentucky or North Carolina for McDonald's All-Americans. He makes do with unfinished products, academic risks, ''tweeners'' and toughness.

Better money everywhere

But I digress. Today's question is not why Ohio State does not pursue Huggins, but why it keeps getting rejected by coaches who've never reached the Final Four.

''I think what it tells you is there there are a lot of good jobs,'' a Division I administrator said Wednesday. ''Maybe there are a lot of places where you can win the national championship. Ohio State is a good job, but is it better than South Carolina or Clemson? Obviously not.''

Once upon a time, a school of Ohio State's stature could spend smaller rivals into submission. But as college basketball has become more profitable, more second-tier schools have found the means to keep top-flight coaches. Rick Barnes' new contract at Clemson calls for annual compensation of $668,000 a year, plus tournament-based incentives.

''A few years ago,'' one former college coach said Wednesday, ''you could have gotten Adolph Rupp to come out of the ground for $600,000.''