Drake sets tone for coaching search with press release…
If the search for Drake’s next men’s basketball coach is as well thought out as Monday’s press release, the program should be in good shape.
It’s a popular knee-jerk take in sports to say someone “won” a press conference, but the statement issued by athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb scored major points when it comes to public relations:
“We have initiated a national search for a head men’s basketball coach with an unwavering goal in mind — to develop the competitive program that our University, student-athletes, alumni and loyal supporters deserve,” Hatfield Clubb said in part of the statement.
She added, “Our national search already has one strong candidate — our acting head coach Jeff Rutter. We appreciate what coach Rutter has done for the Drake basketball program the past few months and we are pleased that he will apply for this position.”
To summarize: If nobody dazzles the Bulldog powerbrokers, they have a guy in-house who checks most of the key boxes.
Rutter has earned a lot of good will over the years – not only at Drake, but as an assistant at Iowa State and Northern Iowa – and there is something to be said for continuity, especially with 10 of 11 players returning.
But it’s also tough to ignore a nine-game losing streak.
So, Hatfield Clubb made the smart play, giving herself a chance to survey the landscape in a transparent way, without alienating Rutter and those who support him.
Rutter could bolster his candidacy by winning Thursday’s Missouri Valley tournament opener against Bradley.
If the Bulldogs shocked St. Louis and reached the semifinals, it could sway some skeptics.
What’s more likely to happen, however, is an early exit for Drake and weeks of speculation about the program’s future, with the names of potential candidates such as Darian DeVries being inserted into legitimate headlines and various sorts of click bait.
Meanwhile, Hatfield Clubb will continue to walk a political tight rope while trying to find a coach who can pull off an improbably balancing act.
The Bulldogs need someone who can occasionally lure players as talented as Rayvonte Rice to Des Moines, identify undervalued prospects such as Josh Young, develop the skill set of a Bucky Cox and blend them with academic heavyweights such as Reed Timmer.
They’ll also need to bring a schematically creative, outside the box, approach like Dr. Tom and Keno Davis.
And then, there’s an additional caveat: If you spend a decent amount of time in the Knapp Center, you’ll hear a lot of talk about “the student-athlete experience.” It’s a serious subject to Hatfield Clubb and by all accounts a huge plus in Rutter’s favor.
She wants players to leave Drake with positive memories – which is morally reasonable, but not always atop the pyramid for success in today’s cutthroat climate of college sports.
If all that sounds too good to be true, well, maybe it is.
Drake has hired seven coaches since 1988, and Dr. Tom was the only one who transcended the negativity and altered the Bulldogs’ trajectory.
It took him four years to have a winning season, so even Davis couldn’t pull off a quick fix.
Reversing Drake’s fortunes will take time, and Hatfield Clubb’s statement set the right tone.