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Where does Winthrop take aim for next men's basketball coach?

Winthrop's not in the same neighborhood it was five years ago.

But some in the college basketball world think the Eagles' head coaching job has the kind of curb appeal that a specific type of college coach might still be looking for.

After firing Randy Peele on Monday, Winthrop made it clear that past success wasn't as important as recent results. In the statement released to the media, athletics director Tom Hickman said the program "underachieved," with Peele going 77-82 in five seasons.

The fact he won a pair of Big South titles during that span was less important, it seemed. After following Gregg Marshall (now at Wichita State), who won seven Big South titles in nine years, Peele's efforts paled.

Asked on the day he was fired if it was a job he'd recommend to another coach, Peele began his answer by saying all the polite things about the school and Hickman and president Dr. Anthony DiGiorgio. But the longer he talked, the more clear it became it might not be quite the same plum he inherited.

"Tom's very professional, first class," Peele said. "I'm thankful they gave me the opportunity, I really am. And the president, he understands the traditions here better than anybody. ...

"My question is, what does it say about the program when you win two championships in three years and don't get a contract extension? Whether you want to say it or not, that's a question of support, and you can answer that yourself."

Peele's skepticism of the future is natural, he just lost a job.

But certain elements of the current Winthrop athletics program don't paint nearly as rosy a picture as their past basketball dominance might indicate.

Last year, the women's tennis team was the only one on campus with a overall record better than .500.

And while they're paying more than a quarter-million dollars next year to former coaches (Peele's $165,000 plus nearly another $100,000 for former baseball coach Joe Hudak), other programs are feeling the pinch.

One coach, who did not want to be identified, said the budget for their sport had either held steady or decreased the last four years.

Factor in that Peele took over for Gregg Marshall when the Big South Conference was an eight-team league, and it has since swollen to 12 with the addition of Longwood next year, making it a tougher job. According to the website realtimerpi.com, the Big South ranks 27th out of 31 Division I conferences in men's basketball.

Based on the hirings of baseball coach Tom Riginos (from Clemson) and women's basketball coach Marlene Stollings (Ole Miss), there's a clear institutional preference for assistants from name-brand programs.

But how high can they aim?

Longtime college basketball analyst Michael DeCourcy of The Sporting News said Winthrop remained an attractive job, provided they have realistic expectations.

"You're not going to get that red-hot assistant from a Kentucky or a UNC or a Duke," DeCourcy said. "I mean, it's not that easy to climb from the lower points of Division I to a good mid-major job. I mean, look how long it took Gregg to get to Wichita State.

"A guy at a prestige program isn't going to take the Winthrop job."

Asked what kind of programs would be employing assistants Winthrop could reasonably attract, DeCourcy mentioned schools such as Xavier or Temple, before adding with a laugh, "or a Wichita State."

DeCourcy said that Winthrop's recent success, coupled with its proximity to a metropolitan area such as Charlotte, would make it an attractive job for some young coach, even if Peele's $165,000 is less than many high-major assistants already make.

"They have to find a bright, young guy who has the energy and drive like Gregg had," DeCourcy said. "It's a lovely town, and it's close to a major city, and those are big plusses. And Winthrop's still a name brand.

"Eddie Biedenbach at UNC Asheville is a terrific coach, but he's approaching retirement age. So you don't have to worry that there's a program you cant catch for a long time. It's a job that will appeal to a lot of guys at that next tier down from the biggest programs."

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