Livengood’s Second Chance

The fate of Arizona’s future rests on the shoulders of an AD that by-and-large has been more of a program curator rather than director. His job has been simple, sit back and watch as the softball, swimming and diving, and men’s basketball programs have had perpetual success year after year. Unfortunately, when the time has arisen for him to step up and make some executive directives he is largely known for making mistakes. He botched the Dick Tomey situation and the football program didn’t sniff a bowl game for ten years. He made matters worse by rushing to sign the first coach he could – John Macovick – which turned out to be the biggest mistake of his time at Arizona thus far. It took him seven years to find a suitable coach to turn the baseball program around. And he’s gone through several women’s basketball coaches during his tenure at Arizona.



Livengood’s track record has improved recently though. After what may have been a decision to try and be quick and decisive in hiring Macovick, Livengood eventually turned things around under Mike Stoops. Livengood stood by his choice and allowed Stoops to gradually turn the program around until they reached their first bowl appearance in ten years. He’s furthered his stock with the hiring of Andy Lopez as the baseball coach. Arizona’s baseball program has seen continued competitiveness under Lopez and doesn’t look to stop anytime soon.

All things considered, the mistakes and successes, the unrest amongst Arizona’s devout regarding the most pivotal decision in the past 25 years of Arizona athletics is completely warranted. After all, it was just 13 ½ months that Livengood named Kevin O’Neill the successor of the Arizona basketball program, and 15 months since he botched the PR about Lute Olson’s leave of absence. Livengood has been granted a second chance that he likely won’t see again. So for the sake of the basketball program, fans, alumni, boosters, and for his own job, he’d better not screw it up for the second time in less than two years.


Can we really trust the guy who named Kevin ONeill the successor to make the right choice on his second chance? (Photo from Getty images)

Can we really trust the guy who named Kevin O'Neill the successor to make the right choice on his second chance? (Photo from Getty images)


Fortunately, Livengood appears to have a plan outlined already, and hasn’t made any brash decisions by promoting an interim coach or assistant coach to successor, tipping his hand as to who he is looking to hire, and by devoting to hiring only a recently successful coach. Those guidelines are a great start for Livengood, but they are nothing more and don’t ensure that he’ll actually make good on his second chance.

Over the course of the remaining college hoops season I will outline a few coaches that I believe ought to be on Livengood’s short list, but before I can do that I have to spell out my desire for how this program will look without its Hall-of-Fame coach orchestrating it masterfully. From there I will be able to go into which coaches I think would be good fits for the program, along with coaches who are likely to be considered but ought to be avoided.

On a side note, I’m sure you’ve noticed the AZ Star has been running articles once a week in regards to their Coaching “A-List” to pick from. They’ve featured Tubby Smith, Jamie Dixon, Rick Pitino, and Lon Kruger thus far. Only one of these guys would remain on my list. Can you guess who?


8 Responses to “Livengood’s Second Chance”

  1. 1 Todd January 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    I have no idea who would be on your list. If I had to guess, it would be Dixon. It is interesting how the tide ebbs and flows with interim coaches. First everyone loved O’Neill. Then, he was hated. The same no doubt will be true of Pendell if it is not true already. Both coaches have given it their all. I give them credit for that.

    I think it is an interesting time to be a Cats fan. There is no better test of loyalty than watching your team struggle, particularly a struggle that might last many seasons, as this one is poised to do.

    Nonetheless, when I think of the ideal new coach, I think of a young guy, someone in his late 30’s or early 40’s. I see a coach who has proven his ability to find some success without stellar talent, a true measure of a teacher. For some reason, I keep returning to the same name, which will no doubt be an unpopular choice, but that is why I’ll share. No, it’s not Gene Hackman. It is Tony Bennett. At least grant him an interview. I think he would be sure to impress.

  2. 2 naterb January 28, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    I’m not so concerned with the age of the coach as much as I am with a positive track record. What have they done at individual programs? Once they were successful, were they able to sustain it from year to year, or was it simply a team and not a program? etc. etc.

    I honestly don’t see Tony Bennett as being a solid program coach. He inherited a solid start from his dad and made it work by implementing an emphasis on a Princeton offense. Now that all of his inherited players have disappeared, WSU is back in the bottom 3 of the conference again.

  3. 3 Todd January 29, 2009 at 7:33 am

    I knew it wouldn’t be a popular idea. About age, in my opinion youth brings two benefits: 1) Longevity. With success, a young coach can be around for a long time. 2) Creativity. I think youth brings greater flexibility and creativity in coaching. Older coaches tend to be more stuck in their ways. Again, this will probably not be a popular sentiment.

    About Bennett, you are right that he is not having a great year after losing a few key players. You are also correct that his approach to the Coug’s has mirrored that of his father… good ol’ Wisconsin Bennett ball. I like two things. Fundamentally, he is a defensive coach. Even without a bunch of natural scorers, defense will keep you in games. Second, his first year at Wazzu was a thing to behold. He had basically the same team as his dad, but he took them to the tourney, something Dick did not do. They had a great year.

    In Tucson, he would have a chance to recruit top talent, something that is simply not possible in Pullman. Anyway, I knew I wouldn’t find much support for this idea, but I thought I’d throw it out anyway.

  4. 4 Big Sneezy January 30, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Mike D’antoni is obviously the best choice. Either that or pull someone from the college coaching dungeon: Steve Fischer, Paul Westphal and Jim Harrick come to mind. (Anyone remember when Kelvin Sampson was all but the heir apparent?) Or, we could go the longtime assistant route: Jim Rosborough, or maybe even Bill Guthridge or Craig Esherick. Maybe we can stir up some controversy in Florida, and forge some unflattering emails from Urban Meyer complaining about Billy Donovan. Barring that…clearly the only available option at this time is to poach the next young, dynamic Big 10 coach who goes to the Final Four.

  5. 5 naterb January 30, 2009 at 12:32 am

    Nothing against NBA coaches, but I for one would rather see a coach who is familiar with the college game already. The ties to the NBA are invaluable when it comes to recruiting, but it takes a certain pinache to be a good college coach and a different kind to be a good NBA coach.

    There’s no telling who will get the job at this time, despite all the rumors of Pitino’s wife researching real estate in Tucson. So I’m not even going to attempt to see who they will actually sign, but I certainly hope that we can trust Livengood when he says that he’s only searching the top tier coaches with success this year.

  6. 6 Davd C January 30, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Are those rumors about Pitino’s wife have any truth?

  7. 7 Davd C January 30, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    and for what possible reason would dantoni want to leave new york and come coach in tucson arizona? i hope you were being sarcastic big sneeze

  8. 8 naterb January 30, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    David – who knows if they have any validity to them or not. I do know this, that as soon as Hansen & the AZStar started talking about them was a few days after the rumors surfaced.
    I heard it from my Uncle who knows the RE Agent that she met with. So essentially I’ve heard it third person – of which I don’t put much validity into, even if it is my Uncle who told me. So really there is no way to tell if there is any truth to them or not, but that’s the essence of a rumor.

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