Jason Kidd? Randy Bennett? What to make of UNLV coaching candidates

Two names have entered the UNLV coaching search over the last few days. Lakers assistant Jason Kidd and St. Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett. (Thanks to Sam Gordon of the Review-Journal and Mike Grimala of the Las Vegas Sun.)

But should either one be considered a good candidate for UNLV?

Jason Kidd is interesting. A hall of fame player with NBA head coaching experience. But there are two big question marks for Kidd. 

First, he has never coached at the collegiate level. Can he recruit? College basketball recruiting is something that simply doesn’t exist for coaches at the NBA level. How confident can anyone be Kidd will be a solid recruiter?

Hiring good assistants can help ease the concerns for recruiting, and maybe the name power of Jason Kidd is enough to attract good players. But regardless it is a question for Kidd or any coach that has not coached at this level.  

The second issue with Kidd is the Mark Jackson/Steve Kerr effect. Mark Jackson coached Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in Golden State. The Warriors made the playoffs in consecutive seasons, winning one playoff series and posting a 51-win season. 

But as soon as Mark Jackson was out and Steve Kerr was in the Warriors won 67 games and won the NBA title with a near identical roster. 

Mark Jackson hasn’t coached since. 

Jason Kidd is similar to Jackson. Kidd led the Milwaukee Bucks (with Giannis Antetokounmpo) to a 42-win season and a first round exit. The following year, Kidd was fired midseason after a 23-22 start.

The very next year Mike Budenholzer took the Bucks to 60 wins and the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Kidd’s career NBA record is 183-190. Lack of NBA wins is not a reason to think Kidd can’t coach a college team to victories. But there is a reason Mark Jackson isn’t a head coach somewhere else.

Meanwhile Randy Bennett’s tenure at St. Mary’s seems to be exactly what UNLV fans want. Continuity. Stability. Post season basketball. 

Bennett has been at St. Mary’s for 20 seasons (UNLV has had 7 head coaches actually coach a game in that time). He has made 7 trips to the NCAA Tournament and 7 more to the NIT. 

And Bennett built St. Mary’s into a power. The Gaels were 2-27 the year before Bennett took over. They only won 9 games in his first season, but have not been under .500 since. 

Now St. Mary’s has been to the NCAA Tournament or NIT in 13 of the last 14 seasons, with 2020’s canceled post season being the only reason it isn’t 14 of 14. 

Bennett is far from a sexy hire. St. Mary’s is one of the slowest teams in the country. And Bennett has only taken the Gaels to one Sweet 16. 

But if he can find a way to land the occasional top 100 recruit and keep his Australia/New Zealand pipeline healthy, it is easy to see Bennett establishing UNLV as a constant contender in the Mountain West.

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