After five days of relative quiet, Valparaiso Crusaders head coach Bryce Drew seems to have emerged as the leading candidate in the search for a new men's basketball coach at Vanderbilt.
On paper, it certainly makes sense why Vanderbilt would want Drew to be its head coach. Anchor of Gold profiled Drew on Thursday and the short version is that: he's won 72 percent of his games at Valpo, he's won his conference four out of five years, he probably wouldn't cost too much money, and at 41 he's young enough to be called an "up and comer."
There is, of course, an obvious reason why Drew's name did not surface until Friday: his team's season did not end until Thursday night in the NIT finals. But there may be another reason why Drew's name is coming up now, and it's probably more complicated.
Vanderbilt has employed a high level of secrecy in its search process to this point. There's a good reason for that: potential candidates may not want their names getting connected to the Vanderbilt job, as to be seen chasing another job would look bad to recruits if you wind up back at your current job in the end. This is perhaps part of the reason why VCU coach Will Wade took his name out of the running early on; if he hadn't signed an extension with VCU, it would have been obvious that he was pursuing the Vanderbilt job and players he's recruiting at VCU would rightly question how long he will be at that school.
So, for those keeping tabs... #Vandy has reached out to Duke assistant Jeff Capel, Valpo's Bryce Drew and Monmouth's King Rice.— Steve Layman (@SteveLayman) April 2, 2016
Aside from Drew, that's an underwhelming list. But it's extremely likely that the names the public knows about are very different from the names who are actually connected to the search.
It's a version of three-dimensional chess. We discussed Capel the other day, but as an assistant Capel has nothing to lose by being connected to the Vanderbilt job: Duke recruits probably don't really care if Capel takes another job. (Coach K, obviously, is a different story.) As far as Drew goes, Vanderbilt may have strategic reasons for wanting Drew connected to the job.
Drew would be a solid hire for Vanderbilt. He's not a big name, but he's performed well in five seasons in the Horizon League and it's probably time for him to move up. But Drew has also been connected to the job opening at Georgia Tech, and from that perspective, also being connected to the Vanderbilt job may get the Yellow Jackets to step up their game knowing that if they don't, he'll be Vanderbilt's next head coach.
On another dimension, if Vanderbilt really does have a candidate in mind who's currently mulling the job, pushing Drew as the leading candidate may get Mystery Candidate (we'll call him "GM") to make up his mind before Vanderbilt changes its mind.
It's possible that Vanderbilt actually is going to hire Bryce Drew (particularly if "GM" does, in fact, turn down the job), but if Vanderbilt is not going to hire Drew, the next best thing is to ensure that he lands at an ACC school. That would effectively take him out of the running for the next open head coaching job in the SEC.
As far as King Rice goes...
Eddie Fogler and King Rice are both Carolina guys, and they likely go way back (Fogler took the Wichita State job shortly before Rice's senior year of high school.) It defies all logic that Fogler would meet with a candidate for the Vanderbilt job in a public place... unless, of course, he wanted to be seen. And then there's this:
If Bryce Drew takes Georgia Tech job, it's very possible that Pat Kelsey will be the next lead candidate. #Vandy— Kara Hammer (@KaraHammer) April 1, 2016
Are we noticing a pattern here? Publicly, the only candidates connected to the Vanderbilt job are Bryce Drew and a herd of underwhelming candidates. We haven't profiled Kelsey because his hiring would be out of left field; as Winthrop's head coach, he's gone 76-52 in four years and hasn't made the NCAA Tournament.
You can believe if you want that Vanderbilt's search list consists of Jeff Capel, Bryce Drew, King Rice, and Pat Kelsey. But those are probably just the people that Vanderbilt wants you to believe are candidates. With the clear strategic reasons for playing things close to the vest, these names are mere chess pieces in a greater game that Vanderbilt may ultimately win.