Officially, basketball elder statesman C.M. Newton keeps a hand in the game as a consultant for the Southeastern Conference. Unofficially, he's also the wise oracle approached by schools looking to hire a coach.I agree with Billy on this one.
That's what Oklahoma State did after firing Sean Sutton as coach. The Cowboys' athletic director, Mike Holder, knew he wanted to hire Bill Self of Kansas. Yet he still called Newton for advice.
"How'd you hire Rick Pitino?" Holder asked in reference to Newton's 1989 coup in hiring Pitino away from the New York Knicks.
Newton thought Oklahoma State had a chance to hire Self. OSU was Self's alma mater. The school could rightly say it not only wanted him to return home, but needed him to return home.
When Self decided to stay at Kansas, Holder called Newton for advice on what coach to approach. Newton pondered what coach could enjoy small-town life in Stillwater, Okla. What coach had proven ability to rebuild programs. And when Holder said he wanted to hire a young coach who could relate to players, Newton recommended Travis Ford.
"I'd known Travis for years," Newton said. "I knew him as a player. I tried to recruit him for Vanderbilt. Then I watched him play for Rick (at Kentucky)."
The clincher came in March as Newton, head of the revamped National Invitation Tournament, watched Ford lead Massachusetts to the championship game.
"I thought, 'Boy, this guy has really grown up and grown into the job,' " Newton said.
Last week, Oklahoma State hired Ford.
The hire made Newton think of when he suggested that Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley consider hiring Billy Donovan, who has led to unprecedented success for the Gators.
"I told Jeremy Foley, you're getting the next Pitino," Newton said. "I told Mike, you're getting the next Billy Donovan."
Newton sees this role as simply rendering an opinion, in his case an expert opinion. He's not looking to start a second consultant business.
Coach Billy Gillispie recently proposed a radical idea to his coaching staff: Why not put together a nonconference schedule consisting entirely of teams from major conferences?
His staff quickly shot him down.
"Because they probably have more common sense in that area," Gillispie said.
Scheduling can be a chore at the major-college level, and scheduling big-conference teams often requires return games. In order to play a significant number of games in Rupp Arena -- which is crucial to the Wildcats' revenue stream -- UK needs to play some games at home against smaller-conference foes who will play for a paycheck and no return home game the next season.
So the Cats won't be lining up all their opponents from the Big East, Big Ten and other power conferences.
From a purely competitive standpoint, though, the idea appeals to Gillispie.
"I like those kinds of games," he said. "I think players like those kinds of games. I know the fans enjoy them, as long as you win them all."
UK hopes to complete its nonconference schedule by May 1 and is close to wrapping it up, Gillispie said.