Cal Basketball: AD Jim Knowlton's Big Assignment - Who's Next?

Possible Cal coaching candidates (from left): Kyle Smth, USF; Travis DeCuire, Montana; Russell Turner, UC Irvine.

There will be no shortage of candidates and speculation: Here are a few worth considering, and a few with no chance

New athletic director Jim Knowlton has made the first major decision of his administration: He fired basketball coach Wyking Jones, who had a two-year record of 16-47.

His next decision will be equally critical: Who does he hire as the Bears’ next coach.

(Click here for a story on why Knowlton had to fire Jones.)

Here are a few names that may — or may not — become legitimate contenders for the job:

Four that should be on Cal’s list

KYLE SMITH: The head coach at the University of San Francisco, Smith has led the Dons to three straight 20-victory seasons for the first time since a seven-year run that ended 37 years ago, in 1982. Smith, who will turn 50 in June, is 63-40 at USF. He has experience at a high-end academic school, having assembled a six-year record of 101-82 at Columbia in the Ivy League, including 25-10 in 2015-16. He has never directed a team to the NCAA tournament as a head coach, but was part of Randy Bennett’s staff for 10 seasons at Saint Mary’s. Richmond coach Chris Mooney in 2011 called Smith “the smartest man in college basketball. I think he has the best feel and overview of basketball programs and coaching of anyone I've ever met.”

TRAVIS DECUIRE: Former Cal coach Mike Montgomery’s choice as his successor in 2014 was DeCuire, his top assistant at the time. He spent six seasons in Berkeley, including four as associate head coach to Montgomery. Cal hired Cuonzo Martin instead and DeCuire, 48, landed the head coaching job at Montana, his alma mater, where he is 109-58 in five seasons, with three Big Sky Conference regular-season titles and NCAA tournament bids the past two seasons. The Grizzlies were 26-9 this season, losing to Michigan in their NCAA opener last week.

RUSSELL TURNER: In his ninth — and best — season at UC Irvine, Turner led the Anteaters to their first-ever NCAA tournament victory on Friday with a win over fifth-seeded Kansas State at San Jose. UCI lost to Oregon in a second-round game Sunday night. Turner, 48, is 188-128 and has won at least 20 games six of the past seven seasons. Irvine has won four of the past six Big West regular-season titles and finished this season 31-6. Turner showed interest in the Cal job two years ago, when Jones was hired. He led the Anteaters to their first-ever NCAA berth in 2015 before losing 57-55 to Louisville. Before UCI, he coached under Mike Montgomery at Stanford and with the Warriors.

NATE OATS: A 44-year-old native of Wisconsin, Oats has made a name for himself as coach at Buffalo, which was ranked in the AP Top-25 most of this season. Successor at Buffalo to Bobby Hurley, who left for Arizona State, Oats is 96-43 in four seasons, including 32-4 this season after beating ASU in the NCAAs on Friday, then losing to Texas Tech on Sunday. Oats won Mid-American Conference titles three times in four seasons and has never had a losing season. He signed a new contract after last season that extends through the 2022-23 season and has a $1 million buyout, according to, and reportedly has a base salary of $600,000 plus incentives. Last August, Oats bought a $999,900, 8,835-square foot Tudor-style waterfront home on Grand Island’s Gold Coast on Long Island.

That ship has sailed

RANDY BENNETT: Cal has given the historically successful Saint Mary’s College coach only glancing looks the past few years, and Bennett is now so entrenched in Moraga he’s not likely to be uprooted, even for a job just 12 miles away. Bennett, 58, has won 414 games and led the Gaels to seven of the program's 10 all-time NCAA tournament berths in his 18 seasons, including an unexpected bid this season. They'll erect a statue of the guy on campus when he retires.

Local legend but a longshot

JASON KIDD: Cal’s greatest player is a basketball savant and an NBA Hall of Fame point guard. He coached the Milwaukee Bucks for 3 1/2 seasons, so presumably he wouldn't require a huge contract. Without question, Kidd would delight the fan base, just as he did as an electrifying player. But Kidd, who turned 46 this week, does not have a college degree, and carries significant baggage, including ties to the controversial Todd Bozeman era and a past domestic violence incident.

A case of mutual disinterest?

ERIC MUSSELMAN: The Nevada head coach was mentioned as a possible candidate two years ago, but Cal didn’t want him then and he’s probably no longer interested now. It’s hard to imagine Cal overlooking the fact that Musselman, 54, hired former Bears assistant Yanni Hufnagel, who was fired after a sexual harassment case in Berkeley. And now the one-time Warriors head coach has a juggernaut at Nevada. The Wolf Pack was 29-5 this season and was ranked as high as No 5 in the AP Top 25, but lost to Florida in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Even if Cal was so inclined, would Musselman, 110-34 at Reno, even see this as a step up?

Coach they should want, but won’t get

WAYNE TINKLE: The Oregon State coach, part of Mike Montgomery’s coaching tree, has a record of 233-174 in 13 seasons, the past five at Corvallis. He led the Beavers into the 2016 NCAA tournament -- a virtual basketball miracle -- and a year later got a contract extension through the 2021-22 season. Who knows if Tinkle would even be interested, but the numbers make it almost impossible. Tinkle is due to earn $6.3 million in base salary the next three seasons and has a $1 million buyout if he leaves after this year. Add that to the $3 million the Bears must pay Jones and that’s a $10.3 million starting point before the conversation even begins.

Out of left field

LUKE WALTON: The Lakers head coach, seemingly fired on social media every other day, is more prominently mentioned as a possible UCLA candidate. The popular former Warriors assistant may also be an NBA guy for good at this point. But he is close with Warriors coach Steve Kerr, knows the Pac-12 as a former Player of Year at Arizona and he is young at just 39. But we don’t know if he can recruit and his winning percentage of .390 is the lowest of anyone who has coached the Lakers for more than two seasons.

A very imperfect perfect match

BILL WALTON: He’s never coached, he’s too old at 66 and, let’s face it, he’s a little nutty. But Luke Walton’s dad loves Berkeley and once said he would have played at Cal if John Wooden were coaching here. He would fit in socially and politically, and he would be an intriguing recruiter as one of college basketball’s greatest players ever. But seriously . . .

Comments (4)
No. 1-3

Re: Tinkle.... The Bears are on the hook for $3M to Wyking regardless of who they hire. And most other coaches will have a similar buyout...

But not sure why they would have to pay $6.3M OSU base salary...perhaps you just meant that it will cost the Bears over $10M to pry him away from OSU...

Either way, they're looking at likely $4M in buyout/payouts, and then will have to shell out salary too.

Jeff Faraudo
Jeff Faraudo


Bill Walton was, obviously, a joke. But Lavin isn't a bad thought. He has Bay Area ties, knows the Pac-12, has passion and recruits well.


Hire Lavin. He'll make them contenders immediately. Did it with St.J and would be a far better choice than any of the above listed "Wish List" guys. Lavin is a college coach and has another big run in his toolbox. And how and why would Bill Walton be on any list? Zero aptitude to teach/coach. Talks to hear his own voice. Coaching is hearing and listening first and foremost. Lavin!