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Anchor Drop, March 25, 2019: Awaiting the new coach

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NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Texas A&M vs Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning.

The last time we had to cover a coaching search three years ago, we were pretty well prepared to have to do it: it had been rumored for well over a month that Vanderbilt was going to be in the market for a new head coach. This, however, was unexpected. Making a coaching change this soon into a head coach’s tenure was, in almost every way possible, a very un-Vanderbilt move. In fact, the only real comparison I can think of was Rod Dowhower in 1996, who got fired after back-to-back 2-9 seasons to open his career, and that involved a new athletic director and a very questionable hire from the jump. The assumption as recently as... well... 30 minutes before it actually happened was that Bryce Drew would be getting another year.

The media blowback, too, was swift. We documented some of it on Friday afternoon, and that wasn’t even the last of it. (Raise your hand if you’ve been blocked by Tim Brando on Twitter. Somehow, we didn’t.) Of course, the dirty secret is that the media reaction to Tulane’s third-year coach Mike Dunleavy and Cal’s second-year coach Wyking Jones getting the ax was... much less severe. In fact, in both cases, most of the media thought they should have been fired. It appears that if the media thinks you never should have been hired to begin with, they’re fine if you get fired whenever.

What it all means is this: Malcolm Turner has to absolutely nail this hire. I mean, that was a given, but it’s really true when you fire a coach that a lot of people outside the program think should have been retained. (Whether that’s the correct assertion isn’t really the point here.) I don’t necessarily think getting rid of Drew was the wrong move, by the way, but now Turner’s put himself in a position where missing on the next hire could set the program back a decade. (So far, it doesn’t appear that any of the three recruits or any of the returning players are out — several outlets reported that Austin Crowley had asked out of his Letter of Intent, but that appears to have been based only on speaking with his father, and Austin’s Twitter page still lists himself as a Vanderbilt commit. So, too, does Scotty Pippen’s, and Dylan Disu told Adam Sparks that he intends to wait out the coaching search before making a decision.)

And so far, the only name that’s been connected to the job is John Thompson III. Of course, given that Malcolm Turner kept it quiet that he was preparing to fire Drew until, well, he actually did it, something tells me we’re not going to hear much smoke coming from McGugin until it’s done.

It’s just a brave new world in which Vanderbilt got rid of a coach a year before it had to, instead of waiting until a year or two after it probably should have.

On to the other news... you’ve probably heard that the baseball team swept Florida over the weekend. That’s good. Men’s tennis had a rough weekend, losing 7-0 to Florida and 6-1 to South Carolina to fall to 3-4 in SEC play and 13-6 overall. Women’s tennis also lost 4-3 to South Carolina, but turned around to beat Florida 4-3 on Sunday. They’re now 6-2 in the SEC.

Women’s bowling lost in the finals of the Southland Bowling League Championship on Sunday. They’ll await Wednesday’s NCAA Selection Show, though they’re almost certain to be in as the #1 team in the country.

Lacrosse beat Butler 19-2 on Sunday to improve to 8-2 on the season. They’ll open conference play at East Carolina next Sunday.

Women’s golf opens the three-day Lamkin Invitational today.

Off the West End

Well, the NCAA Tournament is down to the Sweet 16, and four SEC teams — Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, and Auburn — are still alive. For Auburn, it’s their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2003; for LSU, they’re playing in the second weekend for the first time since 2006. And for the league as a whole, this is the first time it’s had four teams in the Sweet 16 since 1996 (!)

As far as things go, this is an incredibly chalky second weekend. All of the top three seeds in the tournament advanced to the Sweet 16 (though Duke tried its best to blow a second-round game against UCF, and Tennessee went to overtime with Iowa after leading by 25 in the first half), as well as two of the 4-seeds. And one of the 5-seeds in Auburn. The top 14 teams in KenPom are all in the Sweet 16, and just two teams outside the Power 5 are in it. And what qualifies as “Cinderella” here is an Oregon team that was ranked #14 in the preseason AP poll and made the Final Four as recently as two years ago.

In other words, this had better be good, because honestly the first weekend kind of sucked.