Doug Gottlieb, for the most part, has no coaching experience, and admits it’s not an ideal scenario that plays out too often in the world of college basketball. Yeah, it’s probably a long shot. But if Kansas State were to open the door and hire the ESPN college basketball analyst for the Wildcats’ head-coaching vacancy, he believes he’d do well.
“I’m pretty self aware and I understand that the idea is not necessarily out of left field, but it would not technically be the norm for an athletic director,” Gottlieb told The Mercury in a phone interview on Thursday. “But I do believe if given the chance I would do it pretty well.”
Gottlieb, a former point guard at Oklahoma State who owns the school record for career assists, has a strong desire to be the next head coach at K-State. And as it turns out, a couple of people associated with K-State have gauged his interest in the job.
“I have not spoken to (K-State athletic director) John Currie, but I have spoken to some people at Kansas State ,” said Gottlieb, who has been with ESPN since 2003. “I had a conversation with a couple people about the job. I told them about how good of a job I thought it was. I think Kansas State is in an elite place right now.
“They said something along the lines of ‘it kind of sounds like you’d be interested in it.’ And I said ‘hell yeah I am. Why not?’”
The question is, would Currie take this risk? Would the third-year athletic director think outside of the box and, at the very least, give Gottlieb a phone call?
“Look, nothing great has ever happened without somebody taking a chance,” said Gottlieb, who played at Oklahoma State under coach Eddie Sutton, one of the best coaches in the history of college basketball. “They took a chance on Frank (Martin) and he hit it out of the park.
“I think if a guy hadn’t coached before — but somebody who people believe knows the game well enough to coach and is smart enough to surround himself with really smart people who have been head coaches and need a gig — because that’s what I’d do. I’d love the opportunity.”
Gottlieb’s father, Bob, served as an assistant coach at K-State under Jack Hartman from 1971-73. And couple that with Doug’s college career in Stillwater, Okla., and there’s a simple conclusion: Gottlieb has Midwest values, knows the landscape of the Big 12 very well, and understands and values the tradition of K-State basketball.
“My dad and mom speak glowingly about their time in Manhattan,” he said. “It feels very much like Stillwater. It’s a league that I love. I love the competiveness of it and I love the home-court advantage Bramlage now provides. Heck, it’s one of the best home-court advantages in the country. I think it’s a heck of a job.”
Gottlieb brings more to the table than just his knowledge of the game, which is evident. He also is a big name, and with all the time he’s spent at ESPN, he’s a face that pretty much every recruit in the country recognizes. Not only that, but his father runs a major recruiting assistance program called Branch West, which is located in southern California. The service helps place kids at college programs all over the country, so essentially, Bob is an advocate for the players who come to him.
“I have instant-name recognition due to being at ESPN for a decade,” Gottlieb said. “Also, the ability within the Midwest to be young enough that people are actually able to remember me having played.
“Knowing recruiting as well as I do, so much of it is about relationships with the players, relationships with the AAU coach, relationships with high school coaches. How much or how little I may know people on a daily basis, they all feel like they know who I am, kind of what I’m about and how I handle things.”
This isn’t a matter of arrogance, it’s simply a fact. Gottlieb points to guys like current North Carolina State head coach Mark Gottfried, who spent the previous two seasons as a college basketball analyst on ESPN after being fired from his head-coaching position at Alabama. His current recruiting class is one of the best in the country, featuring two five-star commits.
Then there’s Steve Lavin, who joined ESPN after being fired as the head coach at UCLA in 2003. He spent several years as a college basketball analyst for the network before becoming the head coach at St. John’s in 2010. His first recruiting class with the Red Storm was one of the best in the country.
Point being: ESPN is one of the most successful sports networks in the country, so guys like Gottlieb can have recruiting advantages because when you flip on the channel, he’s often in front of the camera talking basketball.
“If you look at the last two analysts to leave here, and granted they had prior head-coaching experience,” Gottlieb said. “But Steve Lavin and Mark Gottfried — not only have they won immediately when they went to their new schools, but they also landed top-five recruiting classes in areas of the country they had never recruited before.”
Then there’s Fred Hoiberg, the head coach at Iowa State. In just his second year with the Cyclones, he has completely turned the program around. The thing is, much like Gottlieb, Hoiberg had never been a coach prior to landing the Iowa State job.
“Fred Hoiberg opens up a massive door for the argument of people who have never coached before,” Gottlieb said. “Either you can do it or you can’t do it. There’s obviously some of the time spent where you have to learn the intricacies of running a program, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn on the job and it doesn’t mean you can’t do the job.”
Gottlieb speaks with confidence and has a plan. He spent nearly 10 minutes on the phone Thursday just breaking down how he’d utilize Jordan Henriquez, Rodney McGruder, Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling. He discussed how he’d make them better, from helping Rodriguez become a better decision-maker, to getting Henriquez to pin his guys lower in the post for some easier baskets.
He would keep the strength program where it is, hoping to retain strength coach Scott Greenawalt, because he recognizes how critical that aspect is. He would try and get the Wildcats to play a little faster, looking to score even more than they already do in transition.
And the very first thing he would do if he became the coach is to attempt to keep the current roster intact.
“I can tell you that I’ve studied this thing as intently as anybody ever studies it,” he said. “I will tell you one of the most important things you do when you take over somebody else’s team — even if it’s a bad team — you make those guys who stay feel welcome because they’re going to be recruiting for you. You bring kids in on official visits, you need your veterans to buy in. You make them feel like they’re a part of something.
“You should never utter the words ‘Hey, when I get my guys in here.’ No, they are your guys. That’s part of taking the job. Especially at Kansas State, where you’re coming off a good year. The first thing you do is you re-recruit your own players, then you have to re-recruit the players that have signed. Once you’re stable there, you pour over the tapes and ask yourself ‘What are we missing? What can we add? How many scholarships do we have?”
Gottlieb understands the importance of a veteran coaching staff, and as a matter of fact, already has an idea of who he’d hire as assistant coaches if he got a head-coaching job. He would approach Doug Wojcik, the head coach who was just fired at Tulsa. He’d gauge Matt Doherty’s interest, one of the better recruiters in the country who was just fired by SMU. And he’d look at Andy Ground, his old high school coach who is now the head coach of Saddleback Community College in California, one of the top junior college programs out West.
“If you haven’t been a head coach, you surround yourself with a couple of guys who have been head coaches at a high level,” Gottlieb said. “They help you in terms of the day-to-day stuff of running a program. Then you surround yourself with good recruiters. You take a little less money to begin with, and you allow your staff to work as a whole. I’ve always believed you’re only as good as your staff, so you put together an all-star staff of guys and you get after it recruiting.”
All of this talk may be a moot point — an unrealistic scenario that Currie won’t want to approach. But if he does, there’s one certainty: Gottlieb, who has served as an analyst for several K-State games over the past few years, has a plan, and he’d love a chance to implement it at K-State.
“I know the players at K-State, the people around the program, the history of it,” he said. “Most times you go and you talk to somebody about a job and you’ve got to do some homework and put some notes together. I don’t have to do that for K-State.
“Whoever they hire — even if it’s not me — I think it’s become a heck of a program and hopefully they’ll keep it going. But for me individually, it’s a job I’m really, really intrigued by.”