Covering a coaching change may just about be the most maddening type of story in all of sports journalism.
Every person involved is operating to keep the curtain down so the general public doesn't see the messy workings that are going on behind the scenes. The best example of this comes during a high-level college football hire when the President or Athletic Director proudly boasts that State U. has landed their top (and only) candidate. Lies.
Sure, they might have landed the one guy they (President/AD) offered the job to, but that's to say nothing of the countless candidates who were courted by a corporate search firm.
What makes covering this type of story so maddening is that everyone has an opinion, but no one wants to attach their name to anything. Much like I wrote in 2012 following Bryce Drew's dance with Mississippi State, covering a coaching move is much like trying to grab hold of a shadow in the night.
Bryce Drew is going to be continuously linked to coaching vacancies. It's the price Valparaiso pays for having a young successful coach with a marketable narrative. Drew has heard from numerous programs in the last three years and those calls didn't stop just because the Crusaders failed to win the Horizon League this season.
The latest call came from Tulsa, a program which also courted Drew following the 2011-12 season before ultimately hiring Danny Manning. Drew reportedly backed out of a scheduled job interview with the Golden Hurricane at the last minute two years ago. Tulsa's job opened up again after Manning bolted for Wake Forest last week.
My first indication that Drew was in play for Tulsa this time around came last Wednesday when I received a text message tip that he was possibly going to interview with the Golden Hurricane. The tip came from a guy who knew a guy at a search firm. So in others words, a source that I didn't know and someone who I wasn't comfortable with using as a primary source. That's how this game works. You find out who you can trust (very few) and you do your due diligence on the information you can't immediately confirm.
Armed with a good feeling that Drew was a possibility for Tulsa (I had no reason not to believe my source's source), but with zero percent confirmation, I started making phone calls. Obviously Drew received the first call, not that he'd call me back. I reached out to a few others that I thought might have some knowledge or ability to confirm, but much as these things go, no one was talking. One of the issues hindering my reporting was geographic. I was in Las Vegas for a journalism conference and wasn't able to stop by the Valparaiso basketball offices to see if Drew was even in the building.
My next call was to Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World. Haisten wrote a newspaper article on Wednesday afternoon breaking down the top three candidates for the position and Drew wasn't on the list. I wanted to reach out to see if Drew's name had popped up during his reporting. Haisten made a call to one of his sources and called me back minutes later with news that Drew was definitely in play for Tulsa. I didn't/don't know Haisten's source, but now I had two second-hand sources saying Drew was a candidate at Tulsa. Unfortunately without anything concrete, that's not enough to base a news story around. Had I spoken to either source, it would've been different.
The Tulsa World ran a story linking Drew's name to the position, saying he "may be" a candidate. Given that the declaration of his candidacy wasn't definitive, the decision was made by my editors to hold off reporting what ran in the Tulsa World. Again, had I spoken to a source directly, this would've been different, but my sources weren't talking.
The weekend brought more unconfirmed reports of meetings in Chicago as well as knowledge that the Tulsa President and Athletic Director were meeting with a candidate in a neutral location. While I was hearing things from different directions, nothing was concrete and nobody was going on the record.
Several key moments occurred on Monday when I was finally able to piece all of the details together while Haisten also operated off a tip that Drew was fast moving up the candidacy ladder for Tulsa. It became clear by late afternoon from various sides that the ball was firmly in Drew's court if he wanted to make the move. (This of course will all be refuted when Tulsa finally makes a hire and the President or AD declares that they've hired their first choice. Ha.)
Knowing a decision was coming one way or the other by Tuesday at the latest, I sat down Monday night and really began researching on whether the Tulsa job would be the right fit. I shared my thoughts in a blog post on Monday night which ended with my opinion that Drew would ultimately stay with Valparaiso and continue to work with his talented freshmen class.
I ended the evening with a series of tweets reiterating that I hadn't heard anything from Drew in the six days since the first reports came out that he was in the mix at Tulsa. I tweeted that if he ultimately took the job, we'd hear from him and that if he didn't take the job, it would likely be a no comment and back to offseason workouts.
Imagine my surprise when my phone buzzed an hour later (well past everyone's bedtime) with a text from Drew telling me that workouts were starting at 7:15 Tuesday morning. Knowing he reads Twitter every now and again, I laughed when I realized this likely meant he was staying at Valparaiso. I fired off a reply that I'd see him there (I'm not sure if the text message was an invitation, but I was surely going if that's where the story was).
Our conversation was brief on Tuesday morning. I asked if he was staying and he gave me one of those looks that doesn't come with a quote. A look that seemingly said "Well, I'm at workouts with my team at 7:15 in the morning, of course I'm staying." Instead he followed by talking about how much he liked the guys on the floor and how eager he was to be with them next year. We talked about other things that were non-newsworthy. We take the same route to work and we both saw some traffic accidents on the way in. He mentioned that speculation continues to follow him and that a lot of that is due to the positive work his players put in on the floor. I stayed long enough to justify getting up that early in the morning (journalists keep strange hours) and then was on my way. My car wasn't out of the ARC parking lot by the time I tweeted that Drew was staying at Valparaiso.
The quotes Drew delivered on Tuesday morning didn't contain anything to get excited about. He never came out and said "I'm staying," but he delivered a look that said it all. Seven days of phone calls, countless unnamed sources, one incredibly hardworking reporter still hacking away in Tulsa and all it took was one look to answer every question I had.
Now watch him leave for Tennessee.