‘A Proven Winner’

By Ian R. Rapoport
Updated: March 28, 2009

Anthony Grant

Anthony Grant

TUSCALOOSA — For several years, Anthony Grant searched for a program he hoped he could lead to a national title.

For several months, Alabama searched for a coach capable of bringing Crimson Tide basketball close to the level of its storied football program.

On Friday, the two entities found each other.

UA Athletics Director Mal Moore and Grant, the former Virginia Commonwealth coach, reached “an agreement in principle” for Grant to be the program’s next basketball coach, Grant told The Birmingham News via text message. UA later confirmed the hire.

The search to replace former coach Mark Gottfried, who resigned under pressure on Jan. 26, ended 60 days later with Moore securing one of the most coveted up-and-coming coaches in the nation.

Grant will make just under $2 million per season, a source close to the situation said. Grant made $850,000 this season at VCU, and he has a $240,000 buyout.

Grant, formerly the subject of speculation for most major conference jobs, will be announced Sunday as the Crimson Tide’s 19th basketball coach in a news conference at 6 p.m.

The event will be streamed live via TideTV on www.rolltide.com.

The development ended a whirlwind Friday that saw the ousting of Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, a public denial of interest from Florida’s Billy Donovan in the UK job, and the Tide’s hiring of Grant.

When Gottfried exited amid fan malaise for a program that was once a perennial participant in the NCAA Tournament, Moore said he wanted to find a “proven winner” who could bring lead Alabama to regularly compete for the SEC title. With Grant, he believes he did.

“As our search progressed over the last few weeks it became readily apparent that Coach Grant is an excellent fit to lead our program,” Moore said in a statement. “His record at Virginia Commonwealth is outstanding, and his coaching background is filled with championship success at the collegiate level.”

Moore conducted the search with Executive Athletics Director Dave Hart, and former UA coach C.M. Newton providing guidance. A list of candidates that once included Missouri’s Mike Anderson, Minnesota’s Tubby Smith, Clemson’s Oliver Purnell and others was whittled to one.

Grant was officially contacted on Sunday, became the school’s top choice the next day, and visited Tuscaloosa for a tour and interview on Wednesday.

There, Alabama put on a show in wooing Grant. He interviewed with President Robert Witt and met football coach Nick Saban, the latter of whom aims to create a partnership with the new basketball coach.

UA officials believed Grant left impressed not only with the school, but also in Alabama’s commitment to the success of the program.

“We have been given the opportunity to create a very special situation for men’s basketball at the University of Alabama, and we look forward to getting started,” Grant said. “There’s a commitment throughout the athletic department to make sure that we have the resources necessary to compete for championships.”

Per a clause in Grant’s VCU contract, Alabama and VCU will play a home-and-home series beginning next season.

Grant led the Rams to three Colonial Athletic Association regular-season titles, two CAA tournament titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances. He earned nationwide acclaim by upsetting Duke in the 2007 tournament, a season that ended with a 28-7 record and Grant taking home CAA Coach of the Year honors.

In all, he was 76-25 (.752), with a 45-9 (.833) conference mark.

The 42-year-old Miami native who played at Dayton, owns a national title ring from his 10 seasons as an assistant under Donovan. He also helped recruit many of the players who won the Gators’ second ring in 2007.

“Coach Grant’s vision, drive and integrity throughout this process made it clear to us that he is the right person to lead our men’s basketball program,” Witt said in a statement.

Grant is Alabama’s first black head coach in football or men’s basketball, the two major revenue producers. Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are now the only SEC schools to have never had a black head coach in either football or men’s basketball.

Grant’s hiring happened during a drama-filled Friday. First, Gillispie was forced to resign, launching speculation that the Wildcats would hire Donovan. That would, seemingly, open the door for the Gators to lure Grant after nearly hiring him two years ago. But then Donovan distanced himself from the UK job by proclaiming that he is “committed to the University of Florida.”

While Alabama officials never believed they were in danger of losing Grant to Florida, they suddenly had no worries at all.

Friday was spent discussing the parameters of UA’s commitment to basketball, including improvements to the already existing practice facility.

By 5 p.m., Grant emerged from seclusion to inform his VCU team of the news that he was leaving for Alabama. By 6:42 p.m., Grant sent his text as confirmation. By 8:56 p.m., Alabama made it official.