By Jeff Munn
It’s been nothing but sunshine and smiles for Grand Canyon University basketball since its move to Division 1.
Non-conference games against some of the biggest programs in the sport. National media attention for its in-game presentation. Challenging for supremacy of the Western Athletic Conference.
There is a price to be paid for being an upstart, however, and GCU is on the verge of paying it.
The media hasn’t been the only one paying attention to the little team that thinks it can. So have bigger, more established programs – the ones looking for a head coach.
There’s a food chain in college athletics. Big schools look to smaller schools for hot coaching candidates, hire them, and leave the smaller school looking for someone to come in and keep things rolling. If they do, that coach will be packing his bags in a few years.
Dan Majerle is a hot commodity. When you put together his success with his NBA pedigree and a stanp of approval from Jerry Colangelo, it’s no wonder Majerle had to spend part of last Friday denying rumors out of Chicago that he was on the list of possibilities to take over at the University of Illinois.
Last year, Majerle was among those being considered for the head coaching vacancy at Nevada-Las Vegas. This year, in addition to Illinois, schools like Indiana, California and LSU all need new coaches as of this writing. All have the potential to be a program that can go deep in the NCAA Tournament. And, all would be foolish not to consider Dan Majerle as their next head coach.
While Majerle continues to profess his loyalty to GCU, you wonder if the thought has crossed his mind what life would like at a school with a bigger budget, bigger fan base and a better chance to be a consistent national power. Not to mention a bigger paycheck.
For as much growing as GCU has done the past several years, they have many more miles to go. They may be eligible for the NCAA Tournament next year, but it may take them awhile to achieve the Gonzaga-like status they have craved since joining Division 1.
How many more times can Majerle say no to jobs where the task of building and maintaining a winning program, and getting to the NCAA Tournament, would be easier than where he is now?
And what happens to GCU if he does leave? Is there another marquee attraction waiting in the wings to take over? Probably not. There, Lopes fans, is where the fun of tweeking college basketball’s collective nose ends.
For all the talent GCU has in its program, it is undeniable the Lopes have gotten a lot of local attention because of the guy on the sidelines. One of the most popular players ever to wear a Phoenix Suns uniform, whose mere presence attracts TV cameras and radio talk show hosts, not to mention former Suns teammates, much more than any other coach GCU could reasonably expect to hire.
Which leads to the dilemma GCU will eventually face.
Someday, Majerle will leave. GCU will have to hire another coach. For as much as they like to tout that their in-game experience and student support is among the best in the country, the fact remains that A: they’re in the WAC and B: the WAC is a one-bid-to-the-tourney league.
They would best be advised not to make grandiose statements about who they could bring in. Rick Pitino may like visiting, but live there? That’s another story.
Okay, it’s highly unlikely GCU will have to face this problem this year, but if they’re as good as they say they’ll be next year, Majerle will be even more coveted than he is now, and as they say, every man has his price.
They say in broadcasting you’re not really in the business until you lose a job. For Grand Canyon University, the minute they lose Dan Majerle will be the minute they realize what it really means to be in Division 1.
Are they ready for that?