Evans Seven: Mid-major coaches primed for move up the ranks
The eyes of college basketball are on the NCAA Tournament, but some programs are focusing on their search for a new head coach. In this week’s Evans Seven, we look at seven mid-major head coaches that could someday be running a high-major program.
WES MILLER, UNC-GREENSBORO
Wes Miller will light up a room with his savvy and congenial personality but once the ball is tipped, there are not many as fiery as the 35-year-old.
The pedigree is definitely there as Miller played for Roy Williams at North Carolina and moved into coaching shortly after graduating. Nine games into the 2011-12 season, Miller was named the interim head coach at Elon and earned Southern Conference Coach of the Year honors after leading the program to a first-place finish. Miller has built his UNC-Greensboro program from the ground up, with some talented homegrown players alongside international finds.
East Carolina and Charlotte remain open, both jobs that might appeal to Miller. With his quick rise up the coaching ranks, the former Tar Heel guard should have the pick of the litter when he decides its time for a change.
STEVE FORBES, EAST TENNESSEE STATE
For many, the road that Steve Forbes has taken to East Tennessee State would have been too much to overcome. After being slapped with a one-year show cause during his time as an assistant coach under Bruce Pearl at Tennessee, Forbes spent some time coaching in the JUCO ranks where he won 66 of 72 games at Northwest Florida State before returning to Division I as an assistant coach at Wichita State under Gregg Marshall. Forbes took over at East Tennessee State two years later and has been piling up wins ever since.
Thanks to his experience and background at every level of college basketball, and with jobs such as East Carolina and Charlotte open, Forbes might hear his name tossed around quite a bit.
T.J. OTZELBERGER, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
Otzelberger has quickly put together a strong resume after leading his South Dakota State Jackrabbits to their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. He got to this point by climbing the ladder from the high school level, to the junior college realm and finally as a Division I assistant at Iowa State. While with the Cyclones, Otzelberger was vital in recruiting stars such as Diante Garrett, Melvin Ejim, Naz Long and Georges Niang. He spent one year in the Pacific Northwest at Washington before inheriting a SDSU roster that was headlined by Summit League Player of the Year Mike Daum.
Having already shown that he can recruit, Otzelberger’s 66 percent winning percentage in Brookings makes his case for a high-major job even better. Missouri State could be one spot for Otzelberger, though he could remain patient and wait for a Big Ten gig within the next year or two.
MATT MCMAHON, MURRAY STATE
Is it the program or is it the coach? Murray State has become the mid-major version of Xavier for head coaches and after seeing such past conductors as Mark Gottfried, Mick Cronin, Billy Kennedy and Steve Prohm go on to the high-major level.
Might Matt McMahon be next? The Racers’ head coach, despite a rather dismal campaign last year, made for a major rebound effort this season. While the first-time head coach did inherit some good pieces from the Prohm regime, prospects that he had recruited as an assistant on staff, McMahon has also added standouts such as freshman JA Morant to the roster.
A Tennessee native that comes from a solid coaching tree, McMahon will coach in his first NCAA Tournament this week and a high-end mid-major job like Middle Tennessee State, or an SEC job in the future, might not be too far off.
The Montana coaching tree is nothing short of impressive, including such names as Jud Heathcote, Mike Montgomery, Blaine Taylor and Wayne Tinkle. The next in that proud line of great coaches may be Travis Decuire. The 47-year-old and first-time head coach has kept the Montana basketball brand as strong as ever, returning the program to its first NCAA Tournament since the Tinkle regime in 2013.
Decuire has averaged over 20 wins per season during his time in Missoula and high-major programs have noticed, as he was in the mix for the California job last offseason.
The Grizzlies return practically everyone of note next season and as a result, Decuire could soon become a quality head coaching candidate for an array of high-majors in near future.
EARL GRANT, COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON
A 41-year-old head coach who has worked at every level of Division I basketball, Earl Grant has taken his College of Charleston program to new heights during its first few years in the CAA. Grant's CoC squad has continuously improved its season-to-season record, and broke through this season to win the CAA title for the first time.
Grant has put his time in and worked at Winthrop, Wichita State and Clemson. He was a darkhorse candidate for the Georgia job, and the East Carolina job is right in Grant's wheelhouse. But with the Cougars primed for another run next season, might Grant hold off and wait for an even better job to open up next year?
MARK SCHMIDT, ST. BONAVENTURE
If you can win in Olean, N.Y., you can practically win anywhere. While Mark Schmidt might not dominate the press conference and isn’t the sexy hire that younger, up-and-coming coaches may be, his winning past at St. Bonaventure and Robert Morris is all one needs to look at. The 55-year-old head coach has led the Bonnies to postseason play once again in a very tough Atlantic 10 conference.
Schmidt has paid his dues as an assistant at Penn State, Loyola and Xavier, and boasts a winning league record at both RMU and St. Bonaventure. The job at Pittsburgh remains open and Schmidt’s Northeast upbringing and ability to win should allow the long-tenured coach to get his foot in the door for a handful of high-major jobs.