Given Monday night's Tulsa World report that Bryce Drew has potentially ascended up Tulsa's wishlist, the Valparaiso faithful should be preparing themselves for the inevitable that Drew will no longer be pacing the sidelines at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
I'm not saying that Drew is going to end up with the Golden Hurricane by the end of the week -- my gut says he remains at Valparaiso for the time being -- but it appears that Drew will continue to do his due diligence until the right job comes along.
Could Tulsa be that job?
The initial reaction among many Valparaiso fans/alums/administrators I've spoken with over the last five days is that Tulsa is nothing more than a lateral move. The common sentiment is that Tulsa is a Conference USA program that may have a bit more money but doesn't have the family connection that Valparaiso (and presumably Bryce Drew) values so highly.
People with that line of thinking should be prepared for a rude awakening. Tulsa is a stronger program both in current and historical context.
Tulsa is coming off a NCAA tournament appearance after winning the Conference USA tournament. The Golden Hurricane delivered impressive postseason wins over Middle Tennessee State and Louisiana Tech, the latter coming against a Bulldog team that finished the year 29-8. Tulsa returns seven of the eight rotation players which took the floor in a NCAA tournament loss to UCLA. The pieces are in place for Drew to hit the ground running.
On top of the talented roster, Tulsa is set to move to the American Athletic Conference this season, the same conference with defending national champion UConn, Cincinnati, Houston, SMU, Memphis and Temple among others. In short, it's a very strong conference that featured four NCAA tournament teams in 2014 as well as the NIT runner-up.
It's clear that Drew sees the writing on the wall as far as the NCAA tournament and the Horizon League is concerned. Green Bay dominated the regular season, knocked off a No. 1 seed in the non-conference and still was left on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. One false step in March during the Horizon League tournament and an entire season goes down the drain. One false step in the AAC tournament landed Memphis in the 8/9 game instead of waiting for an NIT bid.
Nolan Richardson essentially put Tulsa basketball on the map in the 1980's, becoming first coach in NCAA history to record 50 wins in his first two victories. (Bryce Drew recorded 48 wins in his first two years) The Golden Hurricane had five NCAA tournament appearances from 1982-87 and five more from 1994-99. Tulsa reached the Elite Eight in 2000 and had two more tournament appearances until an 11-year drought that was finally snapped last season by Danny Manning.
Tulsa has been a springboard job for several coaches including Richardson (Arkansas), Tubby Smith (Kentucky) and Bill Self (Kansas). All three coaches went on to win national championships after leaving the Golden Hurricane.
Tulsa has long struggled to keep coaches. Doug Wojick lasted seven seasons with the Golden Hurricane before being fired following the 2011-12 season. Prior to Wojick, the longest-tenured Tulsa coach was Joe Swank (1960-68).
So where does all this leave Drew? Bryce could easily travel the road of his father and plant a flag in Valparaiso. He apparently did that by signing a 10-year contract extension in December. I've not seen terms of the contract, but I've long thought the contract extension was given more to protect Valparaiso if Drew were to leave than anything else. I'd expect a sizable buyout coming Valparaiso's way if Drew were to leave as well as other concessions (such as non-conference home games against whatever school Drew heads to).
Bryce could also travel the road of his brother and wait for the right landing spot in a top-level conference. One can argue all day whether there was ever going to be another top program willing to give an unproven Scott Drew a shot after just one year as Valparaiso's head coach. Scott turned a terrible situation at Baylor into a golden opportunity and there should be no question that he's repeatedly earned his spurs in Waco.
The third path that Bryce could find himself walking down would involve a move to a higher stepstool program than Valparaiso. Other than Brad Brownell (Wright State/Clemson), Bo Ryan (Milwaukee/Wisconsin) and Bruce Pearl (Milwaukee/Tennessee), there hasn't been a big run of Horizon League coaches moving to grander opportunities. Moving to Tulsa would be a strong move for the coming years, but would more importantly set Drew up for the next job switch which would likely come no more than four years down the line. Manning, Self, Richardson, Smith and Buzz Peterson (Tennessee) lasted an average of three seasons with the Golden Hurricane before moving to a high-major program.
So why do I think Drew stays in Valparaiso? Call it a gut feeling, nothing else. I guess I want to believe that Drew will finish what he started with Alec Peters, Lexus Williams and the rest of the baby Crusaders. Drew has said all the right things about wanting to stay in Valpo and now that he is about to become a father, I just don't see him leaving this season. The fear of course is that the Crusaders could suffer through another 18-16 season next year and suddenly Drew is just another coach two years removed from the NCAA tournament. If Drew feels like his exposure window is closing, the time to move is now. If Drew believes the Crusaders have the talent to make another NCAA tournament appearance, then coming back home seems like the right answer. I drank the Kool-Aid on this freshmen class a long time ago and I believe the Crusaders will be battling for NCAA appearances for at least the next three years.
Now it's time to see if Drew thinks the same.