First off, congratulations to Ben Jacobson and the UNI Panthers! You just gave CBS a lifetime supply of highlights for its “One Shining Moment” montage. I’m very happy for the Panthers, but I have to be honest. It’s always sweet seeing the Jayhawks get their hearts broken. KU has always been public enemy number one for me when it comes to basketball, with our neighbors to the east a close second.
We’re about to delve deep into the world of hypotheticals, so bear with me. Obviously, I’m not the only person to suggest what I’m about to suggest, but let’s break things down a bit further and assume for a moment that the following statements are true:
1. Ben Jacobson does not want to finish his career at UNI.
In my opinion, this is highly likely. Don’t get me wrong, he has a great thing going at UNI. But it’s not as if he’s an alum, and even that has proven to not be enough when it comes to keeping a successful head coach in Cedar Falls. Competitors like new challenges, and I think Jacobson just reached his zenith at UNI with this tournament run. I believe the only questions remaining are where will he go and how big will his pay raise be?
2. Greg McDermott would consider returning to his alma mater if the position was available.
Obviously, I can’t say this with any certainty, and I’m not sure you can unless you know the man personally. But there are a couple of obvious reasons that such a move wouldn’t be a complete shocker. One, he could go to Cedar Falls and coach his son for four years. Two, he could extricate himself from the hell that has been his four years in Ames. I think the question is how proud of a man is Greg McDermott, and does he believe in his heart that he can still turn things around at Iowa State? If there is any doubt in his mind, and if he can swallow his pride, I believe he would consider returning to UNI, regardless of the financial implications.
Now, if statements 1 and 2 were true, does Jamie Pollard get on the horn with UNI’s AD and offer to waive McDermott’s buyout if they’re interested? I have to believe that Pollard would jump at the opportunity to have another embattled coach taken off of our hands. No one will ever convince me that the statements Pollard made during his press conference supporting McDermott represented his true and honest feelings on the matter. In my opinion, that press conference and the drawn out silence that preceded it had the feel of an AD who explored his options and then came to grips with a sobering financial reality.
I know some have assumed that UNI would never take Greg back, but I wouldn’t be so sure, especially if the price was right. Let’s be honest. What is the likelihood that UNI would hire a coach from a reasonable list of candidates who would be more successful during his tenure at UNI than Greg McDermott was? Is it even a 50/50 proposition? Granted, UNI has enjoyed sustained success for several years now. But UNI can’t take that for granted and assume that it will continue. Enjoy the Sweet 16, but Jacobson’s successor should not be expected to sustain this level of success. That is not reasonable.
The primary reason I believe UNI would consider taking McDermott back is because he’s a known commodity. He’s a safer bet than most anyone who would likely make the list candidates, which will be comprised mostly of head coaches from small directional colleges and assistants. One obvious hangup could be the bigwig donors and whether or not any of them harbor ill feelings towards McDermott as a result of his 2006 departure. One man with a really big checkbook could nix this long-winded hypothetical with no more than a phone call.
As for the average fan, I’m not sure what they would think. I would ask one, but I don’t know where you find them outside of the Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro. My hunch is that there is likely a group of fans who feel they’ve moved beyond Greg McDermott to bigger and better things. While it’s true that Ben Jacobson has achieved greater success, let’s not forget that this is a program that just won its first NCAA tournament game since 1990 a few days ago. When you play in a conference that usually sends just one team to the tournament, you should never take those appearances for granted.
So, at the end of the day, I think there will be just one question remaining: Would UNI and Greg McDermott be willing dance partners once again? If so, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a dramatic display of falling dominoes in the coming weeks and months. If nothing else, it gives us something to talk about as we head into the desert that is the five or so months between the end of the basketball season and the start of the football season.