Trouble is brewing in the basketball program at Indiana University.
Meanwhile, at Vanderbilt, things couldn’t be better.
That combination has put Commodores coach Kevin Stallings in the center of national speculation that he might be the next Hoosiers coach if – and maybe when – current IU coach Kelvin Sampson is fired or resigns.
Sampson is under fire after the NCAA last week accused him and his coaching staff of five major recruiting violations. Such allegations at Indiana, which has a squeaky-clean image, are not sitting well among the Hoosier faithful.
According to reports, IU will decide on Sampson’s fate by the end of this week. Lists of potential replacements are surfacing, and Stallings’ name is on each one.
Asked Monday about the speculation, Stallings said, “Have they [Indiana] fired their coach? That’s probably not something we should be discussing.”
Stallings also had another response.
“I will say it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be the coach at Vanderbilt and to be 22-4,” he said.
The Stallings-to-Indiana talk isn’t likely to wane any time soon, however.
Last week, Stallings was asked about it while making an appearance on the Jim Rome Radio Show, which airs nationally. Former Vanderbilt coach Eddie Fogler, now a college basketball analyst, has said publicly he believes Stallings would be the first choice of Indiana athletics director Rick Greenspan should an opening at IU occur.
Greenspan, it should be noted, hired Stallings at Illinois State in 1993. They are known to have a good relationship and friendship, which will only fuel the flames of speculation if Sampson is dismissed.
In response to Rome’s question last week, Stallings said he didn’t believe Indiana would welcome a head coach with ties to Purdue. Stallings played at Purdue, IU’s main rival, and graduated from the school in 1982.
In addition, there apparently are some Indiana fans who feel the school, given its vast basketball tradition, could “do better” than Stallings. And perhaps they are right.
But ask yourself this: If UCLA hired Ben Howland, Kansas hired Bill Self and Kentucky hired Billy Gillispie, why wouldn’t Stallings be a viable and attractive candidate at Indiana?
Howland, Self and Gillispie had certainly accomplished no more in their careers than Stallings before landing plum jobs at some of the nation’s best basketball schools.
Stallings has guided Vanderbilt to two NCAA Sweet 16 appearances in the past four seasons and has the 22-4 Commodores ranked No. 20 nationally this week and on the doorstep of another nice seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
In addition, there has never even been a whiff of impropriety with Stallings when it comes to NCAA compliance.
Stallings, who grew up in Illinois, is considered a “Midwest guy” and seems to be linked to every job opening in the Big Ten each year.
Last spring, he was mentioned in connection with Michigan and Iowa, and one Iowa newspaper reported that a contract had actually been written up for him to be the Hawkeyes’ new coach before they hired Butler’s Todd Lickliter.
In 2004, Stallings had serious discussions at Ohio State before that job was given to Xavier’s Thad Matta.
Stallings has never said he’s unhappy at Vanderbilt, but then again, he’s never said he plans to be in Nashville until retirement. Perhaps wisely, he’s keeping his options open as all coaches do.
Bottom line, he survived some tough times at Vanderbilt when many were calling for his head and now has the program in the midst of one of its golden ages. The Commodores are winning games and graduating players. The last three recruits to sign or commit to VU are ranked among the top 100 nationally in their classes.
For those reasons, Stallings would be a logical choice to be on Indiana’s short list if that times comes – Purdue ties or not.
In just a few short weeks, the Vanderbilt administration might have a fight on its hands to keep Stallings in Nashville.
Brett Hait covers Vanderbilt athletics for The City Paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .