Colorado's star players are holding its coaching search hostage

If Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn truly believes that assistant Steve McClain is the best candidate to replace Jeff Bzdelik, then hiring a new Buffaloes basketball coach should be relatively easy.

That decision will be much more difficult if McClain is not Bohn's top choice.

A contingent of Colorado players led by star freshman Alec Burks and standout junior Cory Higgins have effectively held Bohn hostage with thinly veiled hints that they will transfer if a candidate besides McClain is hired. Thus any progress the Buffaloes made in Bzdelik's three-year tenure could possibly be undone if Bohn hires Oregon assistant Mike Dunlap or Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle.

Former Colorado star Chauncey Billups threw his support behind McClain on Thursday, though once again it had less to do with McClain's coaching track record and more to do with not letting the current roster disintegrate.

"I think Bzdelik did a great job of getting that program off to a good start, where it needs to be at, getting some good players in there with Cory [Higgins] and Alec," Billups said. "My only concern would be if they don't stay in-house with McClain and those guys leave, now you're starting back at ground zero again."

It's certainly possible McClain is the best of candidate, but his coaching resume isn't head and shoulders above Dunlap's or Boyle's. McClain went 157-115 in nine seasons at Wyoming from 1998-2007, a stellar record considering the challenges of recruiting to Laramie but not one that makes you a lock for a Big 12 coaching gig.

Burks, the reigning Big 12 freshman of the year and a projected first-round draft pick in 2011, has been the most vocal about the importance of hiring McClain.

"I'm going to stay with McClain," Burks told the Boulder Daily Camera. "If McClain isn't here, I don't know. It's still all up in the air right now. I'm just going to go about my business until all this is final."

Added guard Nate Tomlinson, "McClain is a great coach, and we all want him. As long as we all stay together, that's the best thing."

Bohn has to make this hire with an eye on the future, but at the same time it would be hard for him to let the program splinter right now as well. The Buffs went 15-16 last season and 6-10 in the Big 12, a performance that actually inspired optimism among their fans that next year's team might emerge from the long era of rebuilding and contend for an NCAA tournament berth.

Does Bohn have the guts to risk throwing that away by hiring Dunlap or Boyle? We'll find out soon.

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