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Utah's coaching search potentially whittled down to two

Though nothing is official and we haven't seen any indication that we're close to an announcement, much rumormongering suggests Utah could be honing in on two potential candidates - Tony Bennett of Virginia and former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried.

I asked the other day who Ute fans would like and Tony Bennett leads the polling with 36%. Mark Gottfried is just slightly behind Randy Bennett (head coach of St. Mary's) at 19%.

Trent Johnson came in fourth with 13% and Blaine Taylor was a distant fifth at only 9%.

Earlier yesterday, Johnson hinted he may be content with the LSU Tigers, though this could just be coach speak. Or maybe Chris Hill indicated they weren't going in that direction. Either way, as of right now, Johnson does not appear to be a top candidate for the job. But still keep an eye out on him if things falter with either Bennett or Gottfried.

Speaking of Gottfried, SportsByBrooks Tweeted late last night that Gottfried had shown interest in the job and that pretty much jives with the speculation I've been hearing recently.

As for Bennett, no one knows. There was a rumor floating around that he was expected to be in Salt Lake City Monday, but that proved false when he did his coaches show from Virginia. That doesn't mean much of anything and there is still a lot of smoke about his showing interest in the job, but it's unclear how realistic of an option he is at the moment.

I'm guessing we'll know soon enough, though, since his Cavaliers turned down a bid to play in the CBI and did not qualify for the NIT. That means he's open for contact (if he hasn't been contacted already).

Gottfried appeared on ESPN throughout the day on Monday, so it's unlikely he had any face-to-face discussion with Hill. Though it's possible they communicated over the phone. If Gottfried suddenly disappears from ESPN, it probably means he's out interviewing for a job or close to accepting a job. Keep a look out for that over the coming days to get an idea of where Hill might be heading.

Beyond those set of candidates, there really hasn't been an open discussion of other names. Pat Kinahan of 1320 KFAN has speculated that Jon Huntsman is set to offer a great deal of dough to get Dave Rose. But I'm sensing there isn't enough interest on either side for this to happen.

Will Huntsman pony up the money then for another candidate?

Of course, there are other names tied to the job. Stew Morrill, who was mentioned in '04 and '07, has once again resurfaced as a candidate. For the life of me, I don't know why his name continues to pop up. He's never going to be Utah's head coach.

Likewise, we consistently hear Tommy Connor's name mentioned or Jeff Judkins' and neither are viable candidates. Judkins has been out of the men's game for a decade now and the jump back would be extremely difficult. Connor has done great at Westminster - but there is a gigantic difference between coaching in the NAIA and the Pac-12. I don't know if any coach has made that jump, especially one who went to a Power Conference team.

What I would like is Connor to come on as an assistant and potentially head coach in waiting. If it's Bennett or Gottfried and either leave (hopefully on successful terms), then we could promote an assistant and keep things inhouse.

Either way, neither guy is going to be Utah's next basketball coach. It's far too risky and Hill can't afford another risk.

So, if the list is now down to two, who would you want as the Runnin' Utes' next head coach?

My take is that Tony Bennett would be the ideal candidate, but Mark Gottfried would probably be the safer one. Gottfried won at Murray State and, even with how things ended there, Alabama. He inherited a bad program in Tuscaloosa and made them into a consistent SEC squad. He also has coached far longer than Bennett, who only saw success in his first two seasons at Washington State.

Regardless, I believe both would be good coaches for Utah. But while Bennett has the most upside, I think Gottfried is the hire with the least amount of risk.