In a surprising development, Missouri head coach Frank Haith decided to leave his SEC job after three years to head to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to coach the Tulsa Golden Hurricane of Conference USA. Much like Cuonzo Martin - who left Tennessee for California last week - Haith evidently became uncomfortable with the pressure associated with his position, and felt he might position himself better for the long term by changing jobs voluntarily rather than involuntarily.
Thus, two of the better SEC programs find themselves mired in a coaching search. But, could South Carolina also be forced into searching for a coach this offseason? PowerMizzou.com speculates 10 possibilities, one of which currently coaches the Gamecocks:
Frank Martin is not last on this list because he is considered the least likely. He speaks incredibly highly of Mizzou every time he has coached in Columbia and has been in the Midwest before due to his tenure at K-State. It has been tough going for Martin at South Carolina, but overall for his seven year head coaching career he is 145-92 with four NCAA Tournament appearances.
The site admits as much in its post that the connection between Martin and Missouri is tenuous at best, and this is driven more by his past praise for the basketball culture in Missouri than it is for anything that's been heard through inside sources in Columbia, Missouri. At least one commenter at RockMNation wants Martin (though that view is far from universal). Should the Gamecocks be worried?
My sense is no. Martin's got a good thing going in Columbia right now, with Sindarius Thornwell leading a young team and support from the administration, despite his suspension near the end of last season for an altercation with Duane Notice. He's paid well to do his job, and has so far been provided plenty of patience on the ground with what is a slow rebuilding process. While Missouri would likely afford him at least one or two years to get his system ingrained there, it's worth noting that Haith just fled that job because of pressure after three years. No matter how bad the team is next season, Martin likely will not be asked to leave Columbia after just three seasons at the helm (and let's note, the team should be the best of his three thus far).
With that noted, the opening at Missouri (and Tennessee) certainly impacts the Gamecocks. For the last two seasons, the SEC has sent just three teams each year to the NCAA Tournament, with Missouri and Tennessee making one appearance each (in each year, Florida and Kentucky filled the other two spots). With each of those programs potentially taking a step back, given player and coaching attrition, the space in the conference for a team to step in and become a perennial top 3-5 program has never been more gaping.
Much like Steve Spurrier was assisted in the Gamecocks taking the next step in the SEC by the turmoil in Tennessee, so Frank Martin now faces an opportunity that wasn't provided to Dave Odom or Eddie Fogler, who regularly faced a conference that was in the top 4 of computer rating systems during their tenures. Darrin Horn faced a weakened SEC and couldn't seize the opportunity. Can Martin use the recent struggles of other SEC programs as a means to elevate the Gamecocks in the conference (and thus national) conversation? It seems likely, but first, the Gamecocks need to make sure they retain his services. If the unexpected happens, they'll become the fourth SEC program this offseason to be forced to find a new leader.