BOWLING GREEN - Bowling Green State University basketball coach Dan Dakich will visit the West Virginia campus and meet with the players there this week, according to sources in Morgantown, as the process of selecting a new coach for the Mountaineers appears to be moving into its final stages.
Dakich, who has been attending the Final Four in Atlanta for the past few days, met with West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong over the weekend to discuss the job. Sources at BGSU said yesterday that athletic director Paul Krebs, who is also at the Final Four, had given West Virginia permission to talk with Dakich about the vacancy.
Sources in West Virginia close to the search process said that on Sunday, after Pastilong had conducted preliminary interviews with a number of candidates for the post, Dakich was one of three front-runners for the job. The other two - Tennessee Tech coach Jeff Lebo and Southern Illinois coach Bruce Weber - have since withdrawn from consideration.
Krebs and Dakich have been unavailable for comment, as is customary in a coach-search process. Pastilong, however, told media outlets in West Virginia that he liked Dakich's direct style, and the emphasis the former coach and player at Indiana places on academics.
“I like the fact Dan played at Indiana, an outstanding basketball program,” Pastilong said. “He coached at IU, gained experience in the Big Ten, and has competed against nationally ranked schools not only on the basis of playing or coaching, but also recruiting. You look at what he's done at Bowling Green, and each year they've gotten better. He's a no-nonsense person. You're going to play hard, go to school every day, get a good basketball experience and get your degree.”
Dakich played four seasons under Indiana coach Bob Knight, then served 12 years as an assistant on Knight's staff before taking over at Bowling Green in 1997. Dakich, who was Knight's top assistant from 1990-97, is 89-57 after five seasons with the Falcons, the second-best winning percentage (.610) in school history. Bowling Green has had four straight winning seasons under Dakich and averaged 19 wins per year in that stretch.
The West Virginia job became available after the forced resignation of Gale Catlett on Feb. 14, late in his 24th season in Morgantown. The Mountaineers went 8-20 this past season, and just 1-15 in the Big East.
Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins, a West Virginia grad, was publicly courted by Pastilong and was the clear-cut first choice to replace Catlett. But Huggins ended up passing on a $1.3 million offer last week.
Pastilong then contacted former Iowa State and Chicago Bulls coach Tim Floyd, who apparently declined the overtures. Former Kent State coach Stan Heath was also interviewed, but Heath accepted the top job at Arkansas last week, after just one season in the Mid-American Conference.
Lebo, who had Dean Smith, his coach at North Carolina, calling West Virginia officials on his behalf, pulled out of contention for the job late Sunday.
“I'm tired of all this,” Lebo said. “I'm ready to meet with my team and get back to work. It's been crazy. Reporters have been calling my family, my friends. It's been a zoo.”
Weber, who was an assistant at Purdue for 18 years before taking over the Salukis, pulled out of the running yesterday morning.
“They have a fine program and I appreciate their interest in me,” said Weber, who took his team to the Sweet 16 this year. “I think it speaks highly of what we've accomplished at Southern Illinois.”
Pastilong has maintained that assistant coach Doug Wojcik of North Carolina and Connecticut associate head coach David Leitao remain candidates for the job, along with other coaches he would not name but said he expected to talk with yesterday. The Billings Gazette reported that Montana State coach Craig Carse has also discussed the job with Pastilong, and Georgetown assistant Ronny Thompson is also believed to be interested.
The new West Virginia coach is expected to be paid a base salary of $500,000 to $600,000, plus income from radio and television deals. Dakich, who signed a new, five-year contract at BG in 2000, is paid a base salary of $125,000, with additional income from radio and TV.
Dakich led the Falcons to a 24-9 mark this past season, had them playing the MAC Tournament championship game for the first time since 1983, and took them to their second NIT berth in the past three years. They lost in the first round at Butler.
Bowling Green won the MAC regular-season championship in his third season, 1999-2000. The Falcons have gone 55-35 in the MAC under Dakich.