As the calendar flips to May, the men’s basketball coaching carousel spins on and threatens to pull from the Vanderbilt coaching staff.
On Monday Duke assistant Chris Collins withdrew his name from consideration for the vacant head coaching position at Illinois State. Collins’ father, Doug, currently the Philadelphia 76ers head coach, played at ISU for three years before being taken No. 1 in the 1973 draft.
With the younger Collins out, the Redbirds could be eying another ISU connection — alumnus and Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller.
When reached on Monday before Collins’ announcement, Muller declined to comment about the opening or whether he had interviewed or planned to this week.
“That is my alma mater and I hope they make a great hire,” he said.
When Muller graduated from ISU in 1998, he ranked eighth in school history in scoring. He was also a three-time selection to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Defense Team and was the conference tournament MVP as a senior.
After playing professionally overseas and in the NBA for two years he joined former ISU coach Kevin Stallings’ staff at Vanderbilt in 2001. As the team’s recruiting coordinator he has helped the Commodores land key players, including NBA draft hopefuls Festus Ezeli, John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor.
This is the second time this offseason that Muller’s been linked to an opening. Last month he interviewed for the vacant job at Mississippi State.
“It says a lot of what we’ve done at this program, what Coach Stallings has done and what all of us here have done,” Muller said last month. “I think I have a good, solid reputation throughout the business not only as a recruiter but as a good person and somebody who does it the right way. The opportunities I’ve had here and what we’ve been able to do with this program certainly over the last six years [with five NCAA Tournament appearances] says a lot about that.
“I’ve been blessed to have opportunities to do a lot within the program. It certainly says a lot about what we’re doing here and what we’ll continue to do.”
Stallings declined to comment about specific assistants connected with job openings. But he said every member of his staff — Tom Richardson (nine years at Vanderbilt), Brad Frederick (13), David Cason (one) and Muller (12) — has interviewed for a head coaching job, either this offseason or in previous years.
Cason was a finalist last month for the job at Eastern Illinois in the Ohio Valley Conference. Stallings hired him after King Rice left to become the head coach at Monmouth (N.J.).
“I’m flattered that people think enough of what’s going on in our program that we’ve had a number of inquiries the past few springs from really good programs,” Stallings said. “They’re all going to be outstanding head coaches in my opinion. Really, a number of them are ready to be head coaches. I think it is just a matter of the right opportunity coming along and the timing being right for both the individual on my staff and the job that is out there.
"I encourage these guys that when there are jobs they are interested in that they pursue them. What has happened more often than not they’ve been getting pursued more than they’ve pursued the jobs.”
The Illinois State-Vanderbilt connection isn’t new.
Former ISU coach Tim Jankovich, who left last week after five years to join Larry Brown’s staff at SMU, was an assistant at Vanderbilt from 1999-2002. Three of Stallings’ assistants have coached or played at ISU — Richardson, Cason and Muller. When Stallings left ISU in 1999 to come to Vanderbilt, Richardson succeeded him and coached for four years before being fired.
Illinois State offered Stallings his first head coaching job in 1994. He averaged 21 wins over six seasons and took the Redbirds to two NCAA Tournaments, notching their first tournament win in 13 years when they knocked off No. 8 seed Tennessee in the first round.
“It was a great place for me to start,” Stallings, a native of Collinsville, Ill., said. “… I was one of those first-time head coaches that woke up every day scared I was going to be fired at the end of the day. I kind of approached my job like I was on fire every day, all day long. I think that helped me succeed and overcome most of the obstacles you face when you’re a first-time head coach. It was a great situation for me and I had a lot of fun there."
Every coach has to start somewhere. Illinois State certainly looks like a logical place for Muller.
“I definitely look forward to an opportunity,” he said. “I think any assistant looks forward to an opportunity to be a head coach, certainly all the guys on our staff and other ones who have been in it long enough. It is the natural progression of the business hopefully.”