by Vincent Salandro
As the VCU basketball program prepares for the Atlantic 10 Tournament this weekend, rumors loom over the future of their program and their coach. Reports simultaneously circulated early in the week that VCU could make the switch to the American Athletic Conference and head coach North Carolina State is targeting Will Wade as a replacement for their coaching vacancy.
VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin released a statement that VCU had “no interest” in moving to the AAC shortly after the media picked up on the initial rumors. The AAC’s attempt to get VCU and potentially Dayton to join its ranks would bolster the conference’s attempt to hold on to Connecticut, with reports that the Huskies may rejoin the Big East Conference. McLaughlin’s firm stance against the move suggests the university is committed to maintaining the current level of competitiveness in all its varsity sports. The move to the AAC would offer VCU’s basketball program higher quality opponents in Connecticut, Cincinnati and Southern Methodist on a yearly basis, but the travel (which could be as far as 1400 miles) alone is enough for McLaughlin’s stance to be justified. Additionally, VCU does not have a football team, meaning it would not be able to participate in the AAC’s primary sport.
The Wade situation provides the university with a much more difficult situation. Retaining the service of Wade is of the upmost importance. Wade has amassed a 49-18 record in just two seasons at the helm. Should Wade depart, the Rams would be searching for their fifth head coach in 11 years. Wade has fallen directly in line with his predecessors, experiencing immediate success and becoming the target of many Power 5 conference teams. Shaka Smart, Anthony Grant and Jeff Capel before him led the VCU basketball program to new heights before departing for bigger programs and more lucrative contracts. Capel left to coach Oklahoma, where he experienced immediate success, largely due to the presence of Blake Griffin, before struggling and joining his alma-mater Duke as an assistant coach. Grant left for Alabama, but could never elevate the program beyond a fringe, NCAA bubble team, and was fired in 2015. Smart has taken a step back since joining Texas two seasons ago, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament during his first season and before recently finishing a 10-21 season which saw the Longhorns dismiss top scorer Tevin Mack.
Wade may deem N.C. State to be an unattractive destination for his budding head coaching career, but it won’t be long before more Power 5 programs begin enquiring about his services. While the Power 5 schools offer an elevated level of competition over the A-10 and more visibility of the program, the VCU basketball program offers many perks to Wade and potential future coaches than cannot be matched by many programs. Firstly, VCU has no football program, making the men’s basketball program the main revenue earning sport at the university. Additionally, the city of Richmond has no professional sports team, making the Rams the biggest show in town for a rabid basketball fan base, illustrated by the Rams 98 consecutive sellouts at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. The university also unveiled a $25 million, basketball specific training facility in 2015, which served as the Washington Wizards 2016 training camp base.
These investments suggest the university is fully committed to the building on the success of the basketball program and taking it to new heights. Whether Wade uses the VCU program as a stepping stone in his career or commits to the university long-term, VCU has the foundation for a solid program and a pension for finding young, talented head coaches to fall back on.