Bjork: WKU to move quickly in head coaching search

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Newly appointed interim Head Coach Ray Harper discusses the dismissal of former WKU Head Coach Ken McDonald at a press conference in Diddle Arena’s Media Room on Friday. Harper will be in consideration for the job full-time after his interim stint, along with a pool of other candidates.

Cole Claybourn

As of Saturday afternoon, Athletics Director Ross Bjork had not spoken with any potential candidates for WKU’s men’s basketball head coaching vacancy.

But he did say, however, that he had already received interest from coaches via phone and email.

Without specifying exactly what levels those coaches were coming from or how many coaches reached out to him, Bjork simply said they came from “all over the place.”

And so began, officially, the process of hiring a new coach, which Bjork said on Friday technically began immediately following a press conference in which assistant coach Ray Harper was named interim head coach.

As far as when he would hope to name a new coach, Bjork said “anything is possible.” He said that could mean making a hire before this season is over if it’s the right move to make.

“My view is that we’ll hire the best coach, whatever time that is,” Bjork said. “That’s how we have to approach it. There’s no definite deadline to hit. We want to move as fast as possible and not be defined by a timeline, based on the best candidate.

“What we will not do, though, is create a distraction for our current players. We will handle that process appropriately, whatever definition that is. We do not want to create a distraction for those guys.”

Bjork said he couldn’t answer whether or not making a hire before the season is over would in fact be a distraction for the players.

“I can’t really answer that because we’re not there yet,” he said. “I don’t know if we will be there. But we’ll protect their focus on this year because we don’t want to give up on this year.”

Harper will certainly get consideration for the job, which Bjork confirmed on Friday, although Harper said he didn’t look at his interim stint as an “audition” for the full-time job.

Harper’s focus shouldn’t be about the job, but rather on the team and finishing the season strong, Bjork said.

“His candidacy will come together at the right time when it’s appropriate for us and for him because we’re not giving up on this year,” Bjork said. “That’s the most important thing.”

So behind the scenes will be Bjork and others that he said he trusts in the “business of college basketball” to help identify and evaluate potential candidates.

Bjork said the entire process begins by gathering a lot of information and doing plenty of background checks. That starts with gathering names of candidates — ones that Bjork has in his mind and from those who express interest in the job.

He said that starts a “barrage of information” from fans, colleagues, coaches and emails.

“You have a profile that we have put together,” he said. “We’re also going to get some feedback from some of our key people, including former players and people that know basketball in this area and people that know basketball nationally.”

He said that could be anybody — officials, even, because they watch coaches.

There’s an obvious advantage to starting the process early, Bjork said. With several months left until the end of the season the window to make a hire is much larger than if the decision to let go of McDonald happened in mid-March and they were trying to make a decision quickly because of recruiting implications.

“Normally, if you’d make a change at the end of the year, that could be anywhere from mid-March to late March, and everything kind of swirls around the Final Four activity,” he said. “Hopefully we get ahead of that. That’s the plan. We’re way ahead of that now.”

A few names have been tossed around as potential fits for the job.

Former Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey, now an assistant coach under Billy Donovan at Florida, has been perhaps the most high profile name mentioned.

Pelphrey played at Kentucky and spent five years in the Sun Belt Conference with South Alabama. He led the Jaguars to an NCAA Tournament appearance in the 2005-2006 season.

Bellarmine Head Coach Scott Davenport has also been a popular name after he led the Knights to a Division-II National Championship last season.

Davenport told the Herald on Saturday that he was “flattered” that his name had been mentioned in regards to the opening, but said he hadn’t given it any thought because his focus remains on his team during the season.

Other names mentioned have include Louisville Associate Head Coach Richard Pitino, Minnesota Assistant Coach Vince Taylor, Virginia Commonwealth Assistant Coach Mike Rhoades and Vanderbilt Assistant Coach David Cason, to name a few.

Bjork stopped short of saying the McDonald era was a failure, and even though he wasn’t at WKU when McDonald was hired, he said former Athletics Director Wood Selig and those who helped him did their homework when hiring McDonald.

Bjork said WKU obviously doesn’t want the next coach to have the same fate as McDonald, but said there’s no scientific equation to finding the perfect fit.

“You can’t look at someone and say this person in five years will be x,” he said. “There’s no way scientifically to approach that, so it’s more of an art. I think what you have to do is trust your instincts, you have to trust your interaction with those individuals throughout the process, resources, individuals, networking, knowledge of other people that know that individual.

“So, to me, there’s no way to judge exactly how something’s going to work until it plays out.”

But there are certain qualities that Bjork laid out that he wants the next coach to possess. Some of those attributes include:

-Possessing an established core program identity

-Having great interpersonal relationships with student-athletes

-Establishing a track record of player development

-A commitment to academics

-A recruiting machine

-Supreme organizational skills and culture of discipline

-Passion for the game

-A proven winner

Bjork said as he and others define WKU’s profile, he’ll get feedback on whether or not those characteristics need to be adjusted “for certain things related to our history.”

“We’ll do our homework,” he said. “We will do the same process if we were coming off a Sweet 16 run or a Final Four run as we would coming off this season and last season.”