By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Apr 03, 2008 at 5:23 AM
After nine years, 196 victories, a trip to the Final Four and a move into college basketball's high-rent district, Tom Crean said farewell to Marquette University and left the Golden Eagles looking for answers.

While nobody but Crean will be able to explain why he decided to leave behind the program he built back into a potential national power, it is up to the administration to answer the most pressing question on the agenda:

Who will replace Crean?

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Al McGuire Center, Marquette athletic director Steve Cottingham said the process has already begun.

"We're out there aggressively," Cottingham said. "We have developed a short list of names. We are not going to have a search committee. I think that the level that we're at, it is a management decision within the university."

Cottingham wouldn't disclose any sort of timetable or schedule for finding a new coach, saying only that the school will search as long as it takes to find the right person. He also said that several possible candidates have already been identified, but those names were not disclosed.

The short list would probably include the popular candidates like Washington State's Tony Bennett (who turned down the Indiana job) and Xavier's Sean Miller. Others mentioned in regards to the job are Keno Davis of Drake, UNLV's Lon Kruger, Butler's Brad Stevens and even Bruce Weber, a Milwaukee native who is head coach at Illinois. Cottingham expects to conduct a good amount of business this weekend at the Final Four in San Antonio.

Money shouldn't be in issue in finding a new coach. Crean was drawing a salary believed to be around $1.6 million, making him one of the nation's highest-paid head coaches. Cottingham will also be able to tout membership in the Big East, the Marquette tradition and the Al McGuire Center, considered to be one of the better practice facilities in the nation.

Forward Lazar Hayward has no doubt that the university will find somebody with adequate credentials.

"We have a great university," Hayward said. "I have no worries as to the decision that they're going to make and I trust them with all my heart."

The future of Crean's assistants is uncertain. Neither Crean, in his introductory remarks at Indiana, nor Cottingham in Milwaukee, were ready to address the fates of Buzz Peterson, Tim Buckley, Bennie Seltzer and Jason Rabedeaux.

"Tom has a great staff here," Cottingham said. "Obviously, we don't know how that will work out. All of them are here performing their duties as assistant coaches at Marquette University at this point."

Among those duties is trying to keep Marquette's recruits in the program. In a story Wednesday, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Marquette beat writer Todd Rosiak reported that one of those recruits, Tyshawn Taylor, said he would ask to be released from his letter of commitment to the university.

Before he left, Crean also secured commitments from Chris Otule, Nick Williams and Joseph Fulce. Another player, Erik Williams, gave Marquette an oral commitment last fall.

"All of the recruits have been contacted and we're reaching out to them," Cottingham said. "They understand that this is a great University and a great basketball program."

Talk of a possible departure had become as commonplace during the offseason as discussion about Brett Favre's future. Like the former Packers quarterback, Crean's departure was entirely unexpected.

His Golden Eagles were coming off a third-consecutive season with 10 or more victories in the Big East and finished with 25 victories; the most for a Marquette team since the Final Four year. The talented guard trio of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews carried Marquette into the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2003 Final Four season. The Golden Eagles lost to Stanford in a South Regional game in Anaheim, Calif.

The players were surprised by the announcement, which many learned about through phone calls or television reports. Crean finally met with them during a team meeting held at his Theinsville home around 7 p.m. Tuesday.

"I got a call from my mother asking about it and that kind of surprised me," James said. "That was the worst thing about the situation, is how we found out about it."

Matthews, who chose to play for Crean and Marquette despite a scholarship offer from his hometown Wisconsin Badgers called the news "a sad moment."

"We found out through ESPN, through the news, and it didn't settle in right away, not until we got to the meeting," Matthews said. "It was sad. It was an upsetting meeting, because of all the closeness of this team and the coaching staff and everything.

"I'm sure it's probably not how he intended on us finding out, but you just have to move on."

The team's future was already cloudy with the possibility of both James and McNeal forgoing their senior years in favor of the National Basketball Association. James has yet to make a decision, but did suggest Crean's departure will play a role when that time comes. For now, he says focusing on the future of his team.

"I'm still a Marquette player," James said. "That's the way I feel. That's what I'm thinking about - I'm still thinking about next season and how good we can be. So obviously, I'm ready. My mind is still on Marquette."

McNeal, who emerged as one of the team's more well-rounded players in the last three seasons, said that the change is a part of the game. It hurts, he said, but the team needs to move forward, with or without Crean.

"At the end of the day, players play and coaches coach," McNeal said. "You still got the core of our team coming back next year still and a lot of experience coming back and a lot of great players coming back.

"As far as that goes, it's on us now, you know. I think we have the experience and maturity now to handle something like this and not let it set us back."

As Cottingham and the Golden Eagles prepare for the future, they remain confident that the groundwork laid by Crean will ultimately result in more success with his replacement.

"We've built a great tradition," Cottingham said. "We've built a great foundation, and we're looking to hire the right person."