Not since Fred Snowden took over the Wildcats in 1972 has Arizona hired a head coach without head coaching experience.
And, thanks to the coaching trees of Lute Olson and Sean Miller, the Wildcats even have plenty of head coach experience in their Arizona “basketball family.”
But the way UA athletic director Dave Heeke explained his hiring strategy Wednesday, neither head coaching experience nor Wildcat experience might be necessary.
That gave further rise to the early speculation of Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd, while the names of former Wildcats players and current head coaches Damon Stoudamire (Pacific) and Josh Pastner (Georgia Tech) were among those also quickly popping up.
Heeke said UA would be hiring a search firm to “help us manage the process” and consider a variety of candidates.
“There are outstanding sitting head coaches and at the same time I think there are outstanding assistants who have been parts of programs that are excellent,” Heeke said.
Heeke also said “there’s certainly some incredibly outstanding individuals in basketball who have had a huge impact on our program and continue to do that throughout the coaching ranks.
“I would assume that they would be very viable candidates for this. This is a high-level job, a high-level program, and the current interest will come from a variety of places. And our goal is to find the right person that’s the right fit from Arizona basketball.”
Heeke said he is looking for a coach with “integrity, competitiveness and a genuine care for the student-athetes,” and told the current players as much during a meeting Wednesday morning that also included coaches and staff members.
“These are difficult times,” Heeke said. “It’s a challenging time when you have to make a change. This is part of the adversity. But we will move quickly and we will hire an outstanding coach. Our goal is to help them with their experience here in all facets of their college experience and beyond.
“We want them to meet their goals. We want them to compete for championships and we want them to excel at a high level. I told them that we are 100% committed to that and we will go out and find an excellent head coach for this program.”
At the same time, Heeke also has to find a coach who is willing to deal with what could be additional NCAA sanctions on top of the postseason ban the school self-imposed this season. Arizona’s NCAA infractions case is stuck in the NCAA’s Independent Accountability Resolution Process, and there is no known timeline over when it will be resolved. The IARP has yet to finish any of its six cases.
So where can Heeke turn? Early speculation focuses on these names:
Tommy Lloyd, Gonzaga assistant: Like his boss, Mark Few, Lloyd has been difficult to pull out of Spokane. The Washington native has coached at Gonzaga for 20 years, developing a reputation as one of college basketball’s best international recruiters. He’s turned down several Division I head coaching jobs already and has been designated the Zags’ “coach-in-waiting” if Few ever leaves.
Gonzaga AD Mike Roth told the Spokane Spokesman-Review on Wednesday that Lloyd has been seriously considered for many head coaching jobs in “multi-bid leagues” for the past five or six years.
“We’re committed to Tommy here and he knows that,” Roth told the Spokesman-Review. “We’ve made that public. If Gonzaga is committed to Tommy, where our program is, where it’s been built and Tommy has been such an important part of this, why wouldn’t any other school have him on their list, even high on their list.”
Damon Stoudamire, Pacific head coach: Nobody may better combine the playing achievements as a Wildcat player and college head coaching experience than Stoudamire, an all-American at UA who went on to become the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1996.
As a coach, Stoudamire’s stops included two years under Miller at Arizona before he went to Memphis to become an assistant to Pastner. He took at over Pacific in 2016.
Stoudamire is 71-77 with the Tigers, but had to take the program over when it faced NCAA sanctions and has to compete against Gonzaga and BYU at a school with high admissions standards. Stoudamire was named the WCC coach of the year in 2019-20 when the Tigers went 23-10 and finished fourth behind Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s.
Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech head coach: A walk-on, coach-in-waiting for UA’s 1997 national champions, Pastner has the most college coaching experience of any ex-Wildcat. He worked a number of roles under Lute Olson at UA, then coached under John Calipari at Memphis before taking over that program in 2009.
Pastner went 167-73 in nine years at Memphis and has gone 83-76 in five years as head coach at Georgia Tech, leading the Yellow Jackets to the ACC Tournament title and an NCAA Tournament berth this season.
Eric Musselman, Arkansas head coach: Had the Wildcats and Miller parted ways three years ago, Musselman might have been easier to hire. But since then, the former Warriors and Kings head coach has been restoring Arkansas’ program, taking the Razorbacks to the Elite Eight this season.
Mark Pope, BYU head coach: Similarly, Pope was a mid-major success in 2019, leading Utah Valley to a 25-win season. BYU then hired him away and Pope signed an extension last fall that carries him through the 2026-27 season. Because BYU is a private school, terms are not known.
Luke Walton, Sacramento Kings head coach: If Walton ever wanted to bail out on the NBA — and have his father call his ESPN games — he might be interested in returning to the alma mater he helped get to the 2001 Final Four and 2003 Elite Eight. But since taking a job under Pastner at Memphis during the 2011 NBA lockout, Walton has coached exclusively in the pros and has shown no public interest in college coaching.
Jason Terry, UA assistant coach: Terry is a wildly popular former player with Arizona and the Dallas Mavericks who has deep ties to his Seattle hometown, Tucson and Dallas as a result. He also served as an assistant GM for Dallas’ G League club and started a girls club-ball program before taking an assistant coaching job at Arizona this season.
Jack Murphy, UA associate head coach: Although he’s a native of Las Vegas who grew up a fan of Jerry Tarkanian’s Rebels, Murphy’s Wildcat blood runs thick. He graduated from UA, served as a manager and in a number of roles under Olson and worked under Pastner at Memphis. He also married the daughter of former UA AD Jim Livengood.
Murphy gained NBA experience as a Denver Nuggets assistant and spent seven seasons as NAU’s head coach, going 78-149 before joining UA in 2019. If he’s not considered for the head coaching job, Murphy’s work ethic and familiarity with the program could make him a candidate to carry over in the same role under a new head coach.
Miles Simon, Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach: The Most Outstanding Player of the 1997 Final Four while leading the Wildcats to the national title, Simon spent two seasons as an assistant under Olson and one with interim head coach Kevin O’Neill before embarking on a career working as a television analyst and trainer for NBA Draft prospects. He moved back into coaching in 2017.
Matt Brase, former Rockets assistant: Olson’s grandson played for Arizona, and has since become a head coach for the G League Rio Grande Valley Vipers and a Rockets assistant.
Bret Brielmaier, Long Island Nets head coach: A former role player for the Wildcats, Brielmaier is on a track to become an NBA head coach after working in the San Antonio Spurs organization.