Kellogg, Robic could be next Tiger assistants to move up
By Dan Wolken
March 1, 2007
EL PASO, Texas -- Neither John Calipari nor Tony Barbee likes what is going to happen tonight. For two hours at the Don Haskins Center, they will be forced to suspend a relationship that goes back to Barbee's sophomore year of high school. They probably won't even make eye contact until tonight's game between the University of Memphis and UTEP is over, when they can once again embrace at center court, and, as Barbee said, "tell each other we love each other, like we always do."
Though facing a former assistant is an unpleasant experience for Calipari, it could become a more common occurrence in the future.
Just consider: Barbee, a Tigers assistant from 2000-06, got the UTEP job at age 35 in large part because of Memphis' success last season. So with the Tigers once again bullying their way into the top 10, it stands to reason that assistants Derek Kellogg or John Robic could be plucked off Calipari's staff this spring.
"That would be great for those guys," Calipari said.
At 48, Calipari's coaching tree is starting to expand quickly.
After a rough experience taking over for Calipari at UMass, Bruiser Flint has turned Drexel into a strong contender for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. Though Barbee's Miners are 14-14 this season, he's already won more games than he was supposed to, and the future is promising with a strong recruiting class on the way. And finally, former Calipari assistant Steve Roccaforte is well-positioned to make his mark at Lamar.
So who's next?
Robic has already been a head coach from 1999-2005 at Youngstown State, a difficult job that was made tougher when his program moved up from the Mid-Continent to the Horizon League.
And Kellogg, 33, clearly fits the Barbee mold as a former UMass player and Memphis assistant who works the recruiting trail as effectively as any assistant in the country.
"The one thing you can't do is really press for a job or worry about what's coming next," Kellogg said. "But obviously, the success of the program and the way we've done things and working for a guy like Coach Calipari makes you more of a candidate for potential head coaching jobs.
"The biggest thing with coach is, he wants everybody in his circle to be successful and have an opportunity, and the one thing he wants is that you do it when the time is right and for a job you can have success at."
Another key reason Robic's and Kellogg's names could pop up for openings is Memphis' style of play. Only a handful of college teams have adopted the "Attack, Attack, Skip, Attack, Attack" offense, developed by Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg, but it's starting to gather admirers.
"I think it really is attractive because kids want to play wide open," said ESPN analyst Tom Brennan, the former Vermont coach. "Coaching is breeding. There really is something to that. Back in the day, Bear Bryant's guys all got jobs, and Mike Krzyzewski's guys all got jobs and Coach Knight's guys all got jobs, and Cal is one of those guys now."
Barbee said working with Calipari was good preparation for his first head coaching job, and not just from a basketball standpoint.
"The places we've been, being with Cal, you're not at one of the top five jobs in the country," Barbee said. "We've learned to do it at places where it's not expected like Memphis, UMass. I was at Wyoming and Youngstown. You had to be creative."
With every game Barbee wins at UTEP this year, the chances of Calipari losing one of his assistants becomes greater. But the head-coaching opportunities Kellogg and Robic may encounter aren't necessarily tied to his immediate success.
And Calipari said he would never stand in the way of an assistant getting that opportunity, no matter how much he'd like to keep his staff in tact.
"Derek is doing an unbelievable job, and John Robic deserves a job where you can win, and not Youngstown State," Calipari said. "He deserves a better job than that, and I think he'll get another one. And if that happens, I'll be ecstatic for him."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365