Richard Jefferson was a public critic of Arizona’s men’s basketball coaching search, at one point calling it a ‘a debacle.’
With the dust having settled around Tommy Lloyd’s hire, Jefferson is now pulling back the curtain on why he feels Arizona botched the search.
Jefferson and former Wildcat Channing Frye shared their thoughts with ESPN colleague Michael Wilbon on Road Trippin,’ a podcast they co-host with Allie Clifton.
For those who want to listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. the conversation on Arizona begins around the 25:00 mark, when Wilbon discusses his first visit to Tucson including driving up to the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium.
Wilbon, who spends much of the year living in Arizona, then discusses his longtime relationship with Lute Olson, dating back to Olson’s days recruiting the Chicago area as Iowa’s head coach.
The conversation inevitably turns to Arizona’s hiring of Lloyd around the 31:00 mark.
“I actually talked to coach Lloyd last night and I expressed to him you know, look, I fully support the program,” Jefferson says up front. “I fully support the hire. I love what you guys did at Gonzaga. You guys have built an amazing thing.
“But I want to talk to you about process, because I made a post on social media, and the thing about process was this, and I want to make sure because this is the first time I am truly talking about it: when a program like Arizona has a hire, it’s okay if you hire coach Lloyd. That’s fine. He’s not a head coach, he’s not this, but he is probably one of the best, most respected assistant coaches in the country and has been for a decade.
“My issue with this is not so much that the contract leaked and all the other stuff, but the fact that this is how it goes and I’m gonna explain it to people: when a coaching job like that offer opens up, you need to interview 10 alumni, not three. Because those 10 alumni, now they got to practice in being interviewed, they can put that on their resume, and now you are helping the Arizona legacy go further because you’re giving these guys these interviews, because you’re giving these guys these opportunities. So there was a shit ton of alums that were upset.
“Look the hire was ... people weren’t necessarily happy about the hire, but the fact that it got leaked when three African American candidates are still about to be interviewed, and there’s no African American head coach in the Pac-12 when 70% of the players are African American. And then you didn’t interview guys like Brad Billmeier, (Matt) Brase, who was coach Olson’s grandson. You didn’t interview all of the guys just to give them a shot, because now you’re helping grow the tree by allowing that interview, and there’s just a ton of people. It’s not Coach Lloyd’s fault, but I just think that the process could have been a lot smoother.”
It should be noted that the leaks Jefferson refers to weren’t substantiated, but they nevertheless clearly shaped the perception of the hire, particularly among alumni.
Wilbon takes hold of the debate and shifts gears to how Arizona missed out on capitalizing on the program’s national name.
“When you’re Arizona, your profile needs to be, you don’t need to be just a school of the west. You’re too good for that, right? But one of the ways you do that is to sort of showcase the talent, the tree, the people that coach Olson begat. Even if it’s a second-generation guy, one of his guys begat that guy. I completely agree with you that they missed an opportunity, let’s say it’s a week, let’s say you give it a week. That’s a week of local and regional news, that’s a week of like boom, I know Tony (Kornheiser) and I probably would have discussed it (on Pardon the Interruption). I would have said something because I’m a Lute (guy). I love Lute Olson. So there is opportunity I feel that was missed because they did not.”
Wilbon then says that Arizona should have brought in both Jefferson and Frye to consult on the hire, but such a move takes “institutional memory,” something the UA’s administration implicitly lacks.
“You and Channing, and you guys aren’t the only ones, but you are front and center out there and doing an incredible job as ambassadors. I know that’s not the job, but that’s still what you guys wind up being for your university, for your alma mater. So I’m 100% with that because again you can hire whomever you hire, but you showcase what you got, what you produce, what you’re about, what you’re selling. You do that and somebody didn’t have that marketing sense.”
Frye extends Wilbon’s argument by pointing to specific alumni Arizona interviewed but passed up on.
“If our players are or other guys that worked their way, obviously I’m gonna use Damon Stoudamire, right? Damon Stoudamire is going through the real grind. He didn’t just go get an automatic coaching job. He was president of operations (actually, director of player development at Rice) and assistant coach (at Arizona and Memphis) and then he was Coach of the Year in (the Big West) Conference.
“Then you look at Josh Pastner, then you look at these other guys, right? Most of these guys, and I’m just gonna speak this vaguely, all these guys want that job. That is the reason why they go through the grind, right? It’s awesome that Josh is at Georgia Tech. Obviously he loves it. Obviously Damon loves the job at Pacific. But if they were all given the opportunity to come back and put their imprint on the University of Arizona, it would be different. It would be that dream job, right? For me, if I ever got into coaching, obviously I got to see what’s happening at U of A, and then everything else is after that. Even if I got to take the lowest job on the totem pole and work my way up. I think we love the school that much. The school has given that much to us, and like we’re a family, so we wouldn’t want to see it go outside the family without due process and that’s where I agree with Richard.”
Frye’s stance mostly falls in line with what fellow alum Gilbert Arenas told Jefferson when Arizona was still in the process of hiring its next coach.
Frye, Jefferson and Wilbon round out the discussion talking about how Arizona missed out on not incorporating its alumni enough into the search.
Wilbon reminds listeners that Arizona basketball has been the “crown jewel” of the Pac-12, and therefore there’s “ways to flex without flexing,” while Jefferson tells Arizona’s administration that “if you don’t have the support of the names of the back of the jersey, the name on the front of the jersey doesn’t really mean anything.”
Frye ends with perhaps the most stinging liner. Hypothetically debating where he would tell a recruit to go for college, he’s torn between Arizona versus guys like Stoudamire and Pastner “who I know how they teach, who’s taught them and what they’re about. And that’s really it. When Richard and I say, ‘man, you’ve got to go to Arizona, this is what it’s like, you’ll be part of our alumni, you can do this or help me with this, that’s different when you reach out to young kids like that.”
The full discussion, about 15 minutes altogether, is well worth your time. It’s a clear reminder that even though Arizona alumni have publicly come to Lloyd’s support, there’s still a lot of bruised feelings underneath the surface.