As Tennessee’s basketball coaching search begins, don’t be surprised if it centers on this guy: UT-Chattanooga’s Will Wade.
Don’t scoff. Wade can coach, and despite his youth he has some pretty serious experience.
First, we should establish that Tennessee is not going to land a top shelf coach. Bruce Pearl isn’t coming back to Knoxville. Gregg Marshall isn’t going to leave Wichita State for Knoxville, and Brad Stevens isn’t going to leave his lofty NBA job to come back to the college ranks. Those “other names” that always seem to come up — like Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Xavier’s Chris Mack — aren’t coming to Knoxville either. (Neither is VCU’s Shaka Smart, in case you’re wondering.)
So where does that leave Tennessee? Looking for a mid-major (or even low-major) up-and-comer. Think guys like Stephen F. Austin’s Brad Underwood. Or Chattanooga’s Will Wade.
Wade is a young guy (he’s younger than me, so that makes him really young) , but he had already made his mark in college basketball before he became the head coach at Chattanooga in 2013. He spent four years on Smart’s staff at VCU, where he helped Smart build VCU into a national brand. In fact, he was Smart’s first hire after Smart took the head coaching job at VCU in 2009. The two had gotten to know each other during their time together at Clemson, where Smart was an assistant coach and Wade was a staff member at his alma mater.
While at VCU, Wade earned a reputation as a tireless recruiter, helping Smart and VCU lock down some of college basketball’s top recruiting classes outside the Power 5 conferences. During his time as an assistant there, VCU won more than 70 percent of its games and advanced to the 2011 Final Four.
Wade took over the Chattanooga program in 2013 and immediately made it better. The Mocs finished 13-19 the year before he arrived. In his first season, they finished 18-15 and earned an invitation to the CIT. This season, the Mocs finished with a 22-10 record, including 15-3 in conference play.
Wade is a Tennessee guy, having grown up in Nashville. His brand of basketball is fan-friendly — up-tempo, in-your-face.
And he’s cheap. He makes less than $200,000 at Chattanooga.
A lot of UT fans aren’t going to be happy with any coach not named Bruce Pearl. Even a lot of more reasonable UT fans aren’t going to be happy with a coach who doesn’t have national name recognition. But don’t be too quick to roll your eyes at Will Wade. A lot of programs could do worse. And given the current state of affairs in Knoxville, Tennessee could do much, much worse.