The guys from Dunk City had quite a celebration after putting on the show of the NCAA Tournament and sending fans around the nation to their iPads in search of Florida Gulf Coast University.
It was the kind of joyful exuberance you love to see in March: a dancing, yelling, water-spraying celebration of youth and victory. And right in the middle of it all was their drenched coach, he with the interesting story and the golden future.
That it didn’t take long for Andy Enfield’s name to surface in connection with open jobs hardly was surprising. Enfield is the flavor of the moment in basketball, his star rising in the coaching fraternity with each of the two upsets his Eagles pulled off in their first visit to the NCAA Tournament.
If he goes somewhere else, though, odds are good it won’t be just for the money. Enfield should have plenty already from his stake in a software contract management company called TractManager, which he joined between coaching careers.
Imagine, though, if UCLA came calling. How could a young and ambitious coach turn down the head job at one of the most hallowed programs in college basketball?
It might not be all that hypothetical, since the Bruins are in the market. Ben Howland was bounced after 10 years — including three straight Final Four appearances — after his Bruins were bounced from the tournament.
File this one under “What have you done for me lately?” Howland had overstayed his welcome at UCLA, as evidenced by how fans stayed away from newly renovated Pauley Pavilion this season despite UCLA having Bishop Gorman High School standout Shabazz Muhammad and arguably the best recruiting class in the country.
There’s another opening at Minnesota, a pretty good spot to coach even if the school doesn’t have the basketball pedigree of a UCLA. Tubby Smith set Howland’s ouster in motion by defeating him in the tournament opener for both teams, only to get canned himself after Minnesota lost its next game.
After that loss, Smith talked about the good recruits the Gophers have coming in and his hopes for next season. Asked if he had any indication his job was in jeopardy, he said “No.”
A day later he was given a pink slip and a pat on the back. The university thanked him for his service, he thanked the university for having him, and after six years — five of which his team won at least 20 games — he was done.
No one is going to shed tears for either coach. College basketball is a big business that offers big salaries — Smith gets a $2.5 million buyout while Howland gets a $2.3 million parting gift — but with the big money comes big expectations.
Making the NCAA Tournament isn’t always enough anymore. Even winning a game in the tournament wasn’t enough to save Smith’s job.
Enfield will have to decide whether to enter that kind of world, where the pressure is on to win and win quick. There was no such pressure at FGCU, a young school that wasn’t even eligible for the tournament until last year.
What makes Enfield so attractive isn’t just that his team is in the regional semifinals. It’s how quickly he built the team, taking just two years, and how quickly it plays.
Part of the reason Howland was let go was his teams usually were defensive oriented and played at a plodding pace. That might win close games, but it does little to put fans in the seats — especially if they have to drive the dreaded 405 freeway to get there.
“I don’t like to slow the ball down,” Enfield said after FGCU beat San Diego State. “I like to let our guys play.”
The guys seem to like playing for him, too. They advertise themselves as being from Dunk City — aka Fort Myers — and they play like they’re in love with the game instead of like they’re afraid to lose a game.
Sherwood Brown stuck out his tongue and shook his dreadlocks after every big basket against San Diego State, and smiles and high-fives followed every dunk. When the game was close, the Eagles waved their arms and tried to get the crowd in Philadelphia on their side.
“They play with a swagger, and they have a right to do that,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “You can have that look and feel, but you have to compete and play to earn your spurs, and they’ve done that.”
They’ve played their way into one of the most improbable places anyone from FGCU ever could have imagined — center court at massive Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for Friday’s matchup against Florida. Few expect the Eagles to go any further, but few expected the No. 15 seed in the South to get this far, either.
Before the tournament started, Vegas bookmakers were offering $1,000 for every $1 bet that FGCU would make it to the Final Four, and they had to go looking for takers. The Eagles still will be the underdog in any tournament game, but they’ve already succeeded in making a name for a school few outside of Florida even knew existed.
Their coach has made his name, too, and that could mean trouble for Florida Gulf Coast. Schools will come calling the minute the Eagles are eliminated.
And then the coach who was once a businessman likely will have a big business decision to make.
Tim Dahlberg is a Las Vegas-based national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg.