Current job: Head coach, Lipscomb (since 2013)
Previous jobs: Head coach, Stetson (2011-13); assistant coach, Belmont
Career head coaching record: 135-119 (.531)
NCAA Tournament appearances: 1
NCAA Tournament record: 0-1
Vanderbilt, arguably, was the third-best college basketball team in the city of Nashville in 2018-19.
The Commodores finished the season ranked an awful 155th in KenPom. Second place, and well above them, was NCAA at-large team Belmont, which ranked 49th. And the best team in Nashville — according to KenPom’s algorithm — was the Lipscomb Bisons, ranked 42nd and playing NC State in the NIT quarterfinals tonight.
A home loss to Liberty denied the Bisons their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Their first ever came last year, and the man who coached that team, Casey Alexander, is the subject of our latest coaching search profile.
Why he’d be a good fit: Well, he wouldn’t have to move his family, for starters. And if he works out, he’d probably stay a while. The Chattanooga native and Belmont alum has spent basically his entire adult life in the Music City, save for a two-year stint as Stetson’s head coach. After graduating from Belmont, he immediately signed on as an assistant coach under Rick Byrd and stayed for 16 years. His tenure at Stetson was nothing to write home about, with a 24-36 record over two years, but that’s a place where basically no one wins — the Hatters have had just four winning seasons in the last 35 years. He took over a Lipscomb program that seemed to be stuck in the mud, and after three middling years he’s won 20, 23, and 27 (and counting) games in the last three years.
By all accounts he’s a very good X’s-and-O’s coach, much like his mentor and former boss, and even better, his teams play an exciting brand of basketball — his last three teams have all ranked in the top 15 in KenPom’s “tempo” category, and they’ve averaged over 80 points per game. In some ways, this would be about like hiring Rick Byrd, only 20 years younger.
Why it wouldn’t work: Well, okay, here’s where we start with the questions. That overall mark isn’t very good; coaches who win 53 percent of their games in a non-power conference usually don’t translate well to a power conference. Some of that is explained by coaching at a couple of schools that weren’t doing very well before he arrived (and that also usually have to fill their nonconference schedules with a lot of guarantee games, which often leads to inflated loss totals), but his 84-50 mark in the Atlantic Sun is just so-so. For comparison, Bryce Drew went 65-19 in the Horizon League, which isn’t a perfect comparison — Valpo relative to the post-Butler Horizon League being an easier place to win in conference than Stetson or Lipscomb in the Atlantic Sun — but it’s still not great.
And here’s the other concern: Alexander has never worked at a power conference program in any capacity. Granted, that was also true of the last guy we hired (and, well, look how that worked out), but the concerns seem to be more acute with Alexander — who doesn’t have a brother who’s currently a power conference head coach. Recruiting the kind of players you need to compete in the SEC works just a bit differently from finding overlooked kids at local high schools, and there’s a whole host of other bullshit that the head coach at an SEC school (yes, even Vanderbilt) has to deal with that the head coach at Lipscomb simply doesn’t. Basically X’s and O’s will only take you so far in this league.
Overall thoughts: The thought has always been that Alexander is angling to take over at Belmont whenever Rick Byrd retires (which might be sooner rather than later if local scuttlebutt is to be believed.) On the other hand, well, Vanderbilt can pay him a lot more than Belmont could ever afford to.
Would he be a good candidate for Vanderbilt, though? While there are obvious concerns about whether he can recruit at this level or handle the day-to-day operations of a major program, there really aren’t questions about whether he can coach. The best-case scenario for a coach like this looks something like John Beilein or Bo Ryan, where his coaching chops keep him employed long enough to figure out the recruiting (or, in Beilein’s case, to get to a job where the recruiting is done by the school’s brand name.) In the worst-case scenario, their coaching chops can’t overcome a roster that’s overmatched on a nightly basis. Those names are numerous and mostly unmemorable.
Alexander shouldn’t be at the top of Vanderbilt’s list by any stretch — but he’d be a name to consider if the bigger names on the list say no.