Current job: Head coach, UC-Irvine (since 2010)
Previous jobs: Assistant coach, Golden State Warriors, Stanford, Wake Forest, and Hampden-Sydney
Career head coaching record: 187-128 (.594)
NCAA Tournament appearances: 2
NCAA Tournament record: 1-2
It’s funny how much of a difference three years can make. It’s only been that long since the last time Vanderbilt had to find a new head basketball coach, but the candidate list is very different. Some of that, obviously, has to do with Malcolm Turner being the AD rather than David Williams. But a lot of it has to do with changed circumstances surrounding a lot of the coaches on that list. Some, like Kevin Keatts (then at UNC Wilmington), have moved up to bigger jobs and are off the table. (Some, like Will Wade, have moved up to bigger jobs and then rendered themselves completely unemployable.) Others, like Monmouth’s King Rice, haven’t moved up, but also aren’t as hot of a name any more: Monmouth has won 25 games, total, in the last two years and Rice would be a hard sell for the fan base at this point. And some, like Tommy Amaker, might actually be under consideration, but my thoughts on them are... basically the same as they were three years ago, and if you want to know what I think of Tommy Amaker, just click the link because I’m not writing it again.
And, of course, there is the cook at the chicken shop in Birmingham owned by David Williams’ cousin. If this drags on long enough, we might actually have to find his phone number and see if he still wants the job.
And then there’s Russell Turner. If anything, I was ahead of the game on identifying Turner as a candidate; at the time, he’d had some modest success at UC-Irvine, taking the program to its maiden NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015, but nothing that would get him on the radar of a power conference program. (That original profile, by the way, was among a few that spawned the rather humorous Anchor of Gold meme involving the Division III Old Dominion Athletic Conference. You can really see it in the Gregg Marshall profile from that year. Sadly, Sewanee is not a member of the ODAC.)
In 2019, his profile is even bigger after a 31-6 season and a first-round NCAA Tournament upset of Kansas State. This is the Russell Turner Coaching Search Profile 2.0.
Why he’d be a good fit: For starters, he’s basically the only coach from the 2016 search that I would consider hiring in 2019 (at least, among those who would realistically take the job right now; obviously, I’d love to have Kevin Keatts, but he’s at NC State and unlikely to leave.) That’s actually saying something. A lot of mid-major coaches will take the bigger job when they have the chance, because oftentimes, that chance will go away if they stay at the mid-major level.
If anything, Turner’s resume looks even more impressive now than it did then. An NCAA Tournament upset will do that, but even without that, since the 2012-13 season UC-Irvine is 162-89 for a .645 winning percentage. And they’ve dominated the Big West Conference, with an 89-27 record over that stretch, and they’ve won or shared the conference title four times. It’s an impressive feat at a school that had had very little success at the Division I level prior to his arrival.
And, of course, we’d be remiss not to point out that he did work at Stanford and is currently employed at a UC school, in case you needed to be real sure he knows what he’d be getting into at Vanderbilt.
Why it wouldn’t work: Well, Turner did get press for all the wrong reasons after Irvine’s second-round loss to Oregon on Sunday. While that’s probably a fixable issue (and one that’s sadly common among college coaches, if we’re keeping it a hundred), it’s also the kind of thing that suggests Turner might not be ready for a high-profile job.
In terms of on-court stuff, though? Turner’s KenPom profile shows a team that relies a lot on hitting the glass and taking away the two-point shot — Irvine ranked #1 nationally in opponents’ two-point percentage — but his teams don’t shoot the ball particularly well and don’t value possessions all that much. It’s not that dissimilar from what Mike Montgomery used to do at Stanford (unsurprising, seeing how Turner’s a former Montgomery assistant); it’s also not that much different from what Bryce Drew did at Valpo and tried to do at Vanderbilt. There’s proof of concept that a playing style similar to those deployed by Mike Young at Wofford or Casey Alexander at Lipscomb can work at Vanderbilt; on the other hand, the guy who tried a style similar to Turner’s crashed and burned. That doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t work, but it’s a departure from the tried and true.
Overall thoughts: I was pretty impressed with Russell Turner’s profile three years ago, but at that time, it was more as a fallback candidate in case some of the top targets fell through.
That made sense in the context of a search where Vanderbilt was targeting Gregg Marshall and had Will Wade and, ultimately, Bryce Drew under consideration (that Drew didn’t work out doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good hire at the time, by the way.) In a search where the top candidate, we think, is Johnny Dawkins... well, why not? The stylistic similarities to Drew are kind of a double-edged sword: while it hasn’t been proven to work here, it also might mean that the transition from Drew to Turner would be a bit easier. I can still make the case for Russell Turner even if his name hasn’t popped up on the radar.
(That said, uh, how does NIck Zeppos feel about his press conference?)