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The best candidates are beginning to emerge in the search for Kansas State Wildcats basketball coaches

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It didn’t take long for a few candidates to emerge as favorites in Kansas State’s search for a new men’s basketball coach.

K-State athletics director Gene Taylor has begun speaking informally with coaches across the country and is expected to narrow his focus with in-person interviews in the coming days, according to sources with knowledge of the hiring process.

Hope Jerome Tang gets serious consideration moving forward. A source said there is strong mutual interest between K-State and Baylor’s associate head coach, who has been by Scott Drew’s side for the past 19 seasons and has helped build the Bears into a giant.

Although he has never been a head coach at the college level before, Tang is believed to be the most coveted assistant of this hiring cycle. He has been linked to other starts in the past, but never felt compelled to leave Baylor. Perhaps that will change at the end of this month. His familiarity with K-State and the Big 12 would make him a compelling pick.

college basketball reporter Jeff Goodman also reported on Monday that New Mexico State coach Chris Jans and San Francisco coach Todd Golden are in the mix.

Jans has Sunflower State connections as a former Wichita State assistant. He has guided the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament three times in the past five seasons, including this year as the No. 12 seed. But he comes with some baggage, having been fired for misconduct while coaching at Bowling Green in 2015.

Few, if any, had mentioned Golden as a potential candidate before Monday. He was probably recommended to K-State by the search company that is helping with the hiring. Golden, 33, has begun to make a name for himself in coaching circles now that he has the Dons headed for the NCAA Tournament as the No. 10 seed.

Colorado State coach no longer involved

One name K-State fans can cross off their bucket list is Niko Medved. He signed a contract extension with Colorado State on Sunday that raises his annual salary above $1 million and runs through 2029 after guiding the Rams to a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Taylor is also unlikely to interview young assistants for this position. Sources said he would prefer to hire a sit-in coach or veteran associate head coach, like Tang. That would seem like bad news for candidates like Florida assistant Erik Pastrana and Oklahoma assistant KT Turner.

There hasn’t been much buzz about North Texas coach Grant McCasland or Drake’s coach Darian DeVries for any job since they were first mentioned as candidates last week. It’s unclear if K-State is interested in them.

What about Brad Underwood?

One trainer K-State is definitely interested in: Brad Underwood. He is the dream candidate for most fans.

Unfortunately, much less is known about his willingness to leave Illinois for his alma mater after signing a contract extension worth $16.7 million in guaranteed money last September.

There is quiet confidence among K-State donors that they can afford to buy Underwood, which was listed at $7 million before his recent extension, but it would be a challenge for the athletic department to match the $4.1 million he currently earns in annually. compensation and continue to pay you the best price year after year in Manhattan.

The Wildcats aren’t the kind of athletic department where you’d expect to pay their men’s basketball coach more than their football coach. Chris Klieman is currently earning $3.5 million.

Weber’s starting salary was $1.5 million in 2012 and increased to $2.8 million last season.

Underwood is one of the 10 highest-paid coaches in the country and will earn $4.5 million at the end of his current contract. He may just be out of the K-State price range.

“I wish we could spend as much (as we want), but no, we can’t,” Taylor said last week when asked about the potential financial constraints of hiring a new coach. “But I think we have to be competitive. As you know, our salaries are generally not in the top of the Big 12. But if we want to get the best candidate, we must put together a package that can attract the best candidate.

“There may be candidates out there that we don’t have to pay a lot of money to and we can become that depending on how successful they are. We are going to be within reason and within our budget, but we will also be extremely well positioned to be competitive from a salary perspective.”

It’s also unclear if Underwood is willing to leave Illinois, where he just won back-to-back Big Ten championships, for a spot coming off three straight losing seasons as K-State.

It’s reasonable to assume that K-State has used back channels to express interest in Underwood, or at least his agent. But he’s not currently in a position to speak directly to another school, as Illinois is the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Taylor has previously said he wants to move fast with this hire. If Illinois advances to the Sweet 16 or beyond, that could be problematic for their chances.

Still, Underwood left the door open for anything when asked about the Wildcats on Sunday.

“I love Illinois,” he said. “We have the best fans, I have a great boss, we have a top 10 program and we are winning Big Ten championships. I am very unique, as you know. I can’t control what people say and what people think. I’m not worried about that.”

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