March is the culmination of the college basketball season. Talking heads and bracket experts are all over the airwaves about which teams will wind up having their names called on Selection Sunday. They will argue about things like whether Gonzaga can afford to lose and hang on to a one seed, and whether bubble teams will fall on the right side of the committee’s cutline.
Rightfully taking a back seat to the NCAA Tournament is the coaching carousel. Power conference teams need to decide if they must move on from their coach, and who might survive to see another year.
Teams like Indiana, Washington, Illinois, Georgetown, Missouri, and Kansas State have all been linked to having potential vacancies within the next month or two. There is also NC State, who pulled the chord on the Mark Gottfried era a few weeks ago, already is an open job. Each of these situations are unique, but all essentially have administrations and fan bases that rightly or wrongly feel their program deserves a better man at the helm.
So, the logical next question to these schools after declaring “we deserve better” is “who is that better coach?” The talking heads will center around established names who are primed candidates for a bigger job and have seen multiple seasons of sustained success. This thrusts Gregg Marshall and Archie Miller to the forefront of these conversations.
Even if Gregg and Archie both wanted to move to greener pastures, which is a big if by the way, they are still only two coaches. That means if the programs above all do indeed become vacant, 5 programs will still be looking for new coaches. Then you would need to add in Dayton and Wichita State to our scenario.
This is where the coaching carousel becomes fun.
You might say it’s crazy to think that power conferences will shell out millions of dollars a year to up-and-coming coaches that run through their conference tournaments and then parlay it with a single upset in the NCAA Tournament; however, it is exactly what happens.
See Andy Enfield leading Florida Gulf Coast’s Dunk City phenomenon over Georgetown and taking the USC job. Chris Beard taking Arkansas-Little Rock to a wild upset over Purdue and riding it right to Texas Tech (after a brief layover at UNLV). These are only two of many examples of coaches having brief success and taking major jobs in the world of college basketball.
A long-winded way to get to the point of the column: two coaches are leading their respective teams in conference championship games today with major implications on their futures. Pat Kelsey and Dan Muller.
Kelsey is the coach of the Winthrop Eagles and is looking to get to his first NCAA Tournament via the Big South Championship against Campbell at 1 PM EST on ESPN. This year marked their second consecutive regular season championship, and with a win today they are looking at either a 13 or 14 seed on Selection Sunday.
On the other hand Dan Muller will be coaching Illinois State in a much hyped matchup with the aforementioned Wichita State in the finals of the Missouri Valley at 2 pm EST on CBS. In his fifth season with the Redbirds, there’s a chance they can get an at-large but that is far from a sure thing.
Each of these men are 41 years old and are true risers amongst the coaching ranks. Kelsey comes from Chris Mack’s coaching tree as an assistant at both Xavier, while Muller is a former player at Illinois State and a longtime assistant of Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt.
It should be noted that a win in the NCAA Tournament in March is not a prerequisite to a big job (i.e.: Mike White to Florida), but it certainly would make them a helluva lot more enticing. On the flip side, there’s no guarantee that either guy would leave their current gig this year, but I would say it’s pretty likely; especially for Kelsey.
Winthrop is 13.5 point favorites today against Campbell and for all intents and purposes punch their ticket to the NCAAs. He’d likely be in the mix for a bunch of jobs at this point, and if he manages to get his Eagles to the round of 32 this discussion will only amplify
Muller might be more tempted to stay due to Illinois State being it is his alma mater; however, the Missouri Valley doesn’t have the profile or the money to pay him as say a team like Illinois of the Big 10.
Success in March is extremely fickle and whether it is right or wrong it makes and breaks coach’s careers all the time. Fan bases of teams with a history of winning grow tired of losing quickly. And if they see someone doing it at the likes of Illinois State or Winthrop they will react by stating, “Why can’t he do that here?”
That means the Big South and Missouri Valley championships carry with them immense weight in the futures of these two coaches. Gregg Marshall is also coaching today, but he will already get a top 15 opportunity whenever he wants one so the stakes aren’t as high for him. Whether or not they want to admit it, Pat Kelsey and Dan Muller have much more on the line this afternoon than a birth in the NCAA Tournament. Wins today will go a long way in raising their public image to schools around the country.