Six coaching candidates Georgia Tech could consider

As he conducts his search for Georgia Tech’s next men’s basketball coach, athletic director J Batt may not stay inside the box. Prior to his hire at Tech, Batt was involved in coaching hires at Alabama as a membership of the executive leadership team, including the 2019 hire of Nate Oats to coach the Crimson Tide basketball team. At Alabama, Batt was the sport supervisor for men’s basketball.

Alabama is one of the most deep-pocketed athletic departments in the country and surely could have had its choice of coaches. With Batt helping make the call, AD Greg Byrne hired a candidate from a middle-tier conference (MAC) from far outside the Southeast (Buffalo) who had been a head coach for four years and at the college level for six. (Until recent weeks, Oats was seen primarily as a highly successful coach but now has come under fire for his handling of a shooting death near campus for which one of his players has been charged with capital murder while his star player – while not charged with a crime or, according to the school, considered a suspect – has continued to play.)

When searching for a successor to Geoff Collins, Batt showed a willingness to go against the grain as he showed, at the least, strong interest in Tulane football coach Willie Fritz, whose age (62) and sub-.500 record with the Green Wave made him something of an unconventional candidate.

So Batt’s choice may not be the obvious one. However, there are several possibilities that make sense for Tech. Four people in the college basketball industry, all familiar with Tech, offered up six suggestions for the opening.

Amir Abdur-Rahim, Kennesaw State – Abdur-Rahim may be the most obvious potential candidate of any. He has built a program from one win in his first season (2019-20) to the ASUN Conference championship and the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. Beyond that, he has done it with players from the state of Georgia. Of the Owls’ top seven leading scorers, six are from metro Atlanta high schools, an indication that he has the respect and trust of the state’s high school and AAU coaches.

Add in the fact that Abdur-Rahim himself is from metro Atlanta – he graduated from basketball juggernaut Wheeler High – worked at Tech (one year as a director of player development for then-coach Brian Gregory) and it makes ample sense. One question mark is that he has been a head coach for four seasons, and in a league that is at a different level in resources and competitiveness than the ACC.

Ron Hunter, Tulane – Hunter’s candidacy seems obvious. He has now built three winning programs at places that haven’t experienced much success otherwise (IUPUI, Georgia State and Tulane). At Georgia State, which had made two NCAA Tournament trips in school history prior to his arrival in 2011, Hunter led the Panthers to the tournament three times in his final five years and finished first or second in the Sun Belt’s regular-season standings five times in his final six seasons there. At Tulane, where he is in his fourth season, the Green Wave have earned back-to-back winning records in conference play for the first time since the mid-90′s.

Hunter has intimate familiarity with recruiting Atlanta and the state of Georgia and has won at a school (Tulane) with high academic standards that has not won with any regularity in more than 20 years. He is older than most hires – he’ll be 59 in April – but bringing almost 30 years of head-coaching experience can’t be a bad thing.

Pat Kelsey, College of Charleston – In 11 seasons as a head coach, Kelsey has a.674 winning percentage and has blown the top off this season. Picked to finish fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association before the season, the Cougars are 31-3, shared the conference regular-season title, won the CAA tournament and are headed to just their second NCAA Tournament of the century. At Winthrop College, where he coached 2012-21, his teams won four Big South regular-season titles in his nine seasons there. Kelsey also has the added badge of having coached in the ACC (as an assistant coach at Wake Forest).

It appears that Kelsey would be difficult to pry away, however. He recently signed a five-year extension that includes a reported $1 million buyout were he to leave. While that can be overcome, it could also mean that Tech (or any other school) would have to make an offer of the sort that it is not accustomed to making.

Ritchie McKay, Liberty – McKay is in his second run as head coach at Liberty, having coached there for two seasons and then resigning in 2009 after a 23-win season to become an assistant to Tony Bennett at Virginia. There, McKay contributed to the construction of a program that has dominated the ACC before returning to Liberty in 2015.

McKay has led a team that has known little success to 24.7 wins per year in the past seven seasons, including three ASUN tournament titles. He has recruited the Southeast and notably led the way for Virginia’s signing of Malcolm Brogdon, an unheralded recruit from Greater Atlanta Christian who became an ACC player of the year and an NBA regular. Like Hunter, he is older – he’ll be 58 in April. He may not be looking to be a head coach at a sixth different school.

Mike Rhoades, VCU – Rhoades has maintained the competitiveness of one of the top mid-major programs in the country. Rhoades was a lieutenant to coach Shaka Smart as the Rams began a streak of seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. He then went to Rice, where the Owls won 23 games in his third season – second most in school history. He returned to VCU after that and, now in his sixth year, has finished second, tied for second and first in the CAA in the regular season in the past three years. The Rams are going to their third NCAA Tournament in his tenure.

Rhoades took over a winning program at VCU and has built on the success -- which is a different job than what he would have at Tech. (He did yield a winning season in his third year at Rice.) He also has not worked at a power-conference school.

Bob Richey, Furman – The Paladins’ head coach since the 2017-18 season after being promoted from assistant coach, Richey has led Furman to winning records in all six seasons, finishing in the top three of the Southern Conference each year with an offensive scheme reliant on the 3-pointer. By winning the conference tournament this year, Furman is going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980.

Richey figures to be a sought-after coach – he was in the mix for the South Carolina job last year before withdrawing – and Tech could find itself in a competition with schools with more resources to offer. Both sides would need to figure out if the fit is right – Richey has spent his entire coaching career at small private schools.

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