It hasn’t been an accident, or luck, new Gophers senior associate athletic director Mike Ellis (formerly with AD Norwood Teague as Virginia Commonwealth) points out, that VCU has been so successful with hiring basketball coaches in recent years.
But a lot of it has had to do with a program Ellis created himself, and is now bringing to Minneapolis in the spring.
Villa 7, a two-day conference designed to put college basketball assistants with athletic directors, was started in 2004 by Ellis, in partnership with Nike – which hosts the event every other season. The idea is that Ellis, a former assistant coach at VCU, and Nike’s Eric Lautenbach research to find the best 60 assistants in men’s college basketball – those they deem on the verge of becoming head coaches – and 40 assistants in women’s basketball and provide them and around 80 ADs with both professional development and networking opportunities.
It’s worked across the board. In nine years, 90 of the assistant coaches that have participated in the yearly sessions have become Division I head coaches, many of them lauding Villa 7 as the trigger for their hires. In house, VCU has done quite nicely. The program was started in response to then-coach Jeff Capel flirting with Auburn and the VCU staff having an unsure picture of how to replace him when he did leave.
Capel ended up staying through 2005-06, but when he did leave for Oklahoma, VCU was ready with a hire that had frequented their program for a couple years: Anthony Grant. Grant got the program some quick attention, after the former Florida assistant orchestrated a Duke upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Two years later, when Grant trotted off to Alabama, VCU knocked on the door of another relatively unknown Villa 7 participant, Shaka Smart, then “the third assistant at Florida, as a lot of people like to say,” Ellis said. At the time, the hire was looked at as risky, but in reality Teague had been around Smart for years and had a good idea of what he was getting. Of course, Smart did all kinds of things for the basketball program when he took the team to the Final Four in 2011.
“I think it validated what we were doing to be able to have that success at home,” Ellis said. “It’s a really neat story in the way it’s grown.”
Obviously here at Minnesota, basketball coach Tubby Smith just got a three year extension that sets him up through the 2016-17 season. Regardless, the ‘U’ will need to replace him sometime – and who knows what will happen between now and then– and there’s a good chance Villa 7 could eventually play a major role in finding that candidate.
- A side note: at Minnesota’s fundraiser auction at the Calhoun Beach Club on Monday night, the sudden popularity of new AD Norwood Teague was very apparent. A dinner for 10 with Teague went for $28,000 and when Teague said he would do two if they both went for that much, the ‘U’ sold two at that price. The dinner will be held at the house of local hockey celebrity Lou Nanne and the chef of the evening will be Tino Lettieri (who is also married to the daughter of Nanne, Michelle). All of the money raised on Monday – more than $200,000 – will go to the general scholarship fund.
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