Sorry loyal readers and fans of these programs. It’s the risk with the reward!
Are you in need of a head coach? Are you in the Southeastern Conference? If the answer to both is “yes” and you’re not Texas A&M, then we’ve got good news: we’re here to help.
As both Alabama and Vanderbilt embark on coaching searches, here are several coaches with regional or program ties that should get at least a flitter of consideration. This doesn’t include Nevada’s Eric Musselman and Buffalo’s Nate Oats, who will likely factor into any high major coaching search until they don’t.
The Crimson Tide will likely use those oodles of resources to attract a big-name candidate, and Vanderbilt just went down the mid-major path by hiring Bryce Drew. But that shouldn’t preclude the coaches below, who have each had major success over their respective careers.
Matt McMahon, Murray State
McMahon’s name got the March boost with the Racers’ disemboweling of Marquette, and emergence of lottery-bound point guard Ja Morant. Unearthing Morant is a major feather in his cap, but in his four short years at Murray State he’s also signed and developed other high-level talents in Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller. The Racers’ top post has a history of producing successful high major coaches with Steve Prohm, Billy Kennedy and Mick Cronin being the three coaches to precede McMahon.
John Brannen, Northern Kentucky
The connection to Alabama is more natural, given that Brannen spent six seasons on Anthony Grant’s staff, and took over as interim coach for the 2015 NIT when Grant was let go. Since then, he’s taken a nascent Division I program in NKU and turned it into a Horizon League power. The Norse have made two out of the last three NCAA Tournaments, while going 40-14 in league play over that time. And Crimson Tide fans worried about returning to the Grant’s plodding style of play, have no fear: Brannen’s teams have generally played much faster than those of his former mentor.
Rick Byrd, Belmont
This may break certain people on this site, and certainly won’t happen given that Byrd has invested over 30 years at Belmont and just got his first NCAA Tournament win. The Hall of Fame coach probably doesn’t want to start from scratch, and said this when Tennessee — his alma mater — came open in 2014:
“I’ll be 61 at the end of this month and I just think if I were in their shoes I’d want to start a program with someone you can count on for a long period of time,” Byrd said. “I can’t see it. You shouldn’t ever say ‘never’ because you never know what might happen, so I choose not to say ‘never.’ But I’m going to be coaching at Belmont, I feel very sure, for the rest of my coaching career.”
Five years later, at a schools without that sentimental pull, nothing would seem to have changed. But for Vanderbilt, you’ve got to mull it over at least for second when you’ve got a guy with 805 wins in your own zip code.
Casey Alexander, Lipscomb
The calculus may be a bit different for a 46-year old Byrd protege. Alexander played for the Bruins in the mid-90’s, and spent 16 seasons on Byrd’s staff. He then took over yet another Nashville program in 2014 — Lipscomb — and brought it to new heights. The Bisons made their first NCAA Tournament ever last season, and followed it up with hanging around the at-large conversation this entire season. Alexander’s team posted top-54 marks in both offensive and defensive efficiency this year, and he’s won at least 20 games the past three seasons.
Mike Young, Wofford
After 17 seasons, would Young want to leave Wofford? While that feels similar to the situation with Byrd at Belmont, Young is in fact — gulp — younger at 55, and his name will get the March boost as well. He’s built one of the country’s most efficient offenses, which the nation saw firsthand as the Terriers confidently sliced up Seton Hall last Thursday. With Fletcher Magee and Cameron Jackson out of eligibility, the timing might be right for Young to explore a high major position, if that is what he wants.
Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro
Miller, who walked on at North Carolina as a player, has overseen a transformation at UNC Greensboro. When he took over in 2012, the Spartans were coming off three seasons of single digit wins. After a few seasons to get going, he’s created a defensive juggernaut tthat has competed at the top of a resurgent SoCon. UNCG got the league’s auto-bid with a 27-8 season a year ago, and followed it up by being the first team out of this year’s NCAA Tournament with a 28-6 record.
Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State
Forbes has been at the center of the SoCon uptick as well, winning at least 24 games in each of his four seasons at ETSU. The Buccaneers made the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and have contended ever since with a disruptive, turnover machine of a defense. The former Gregg Marshall assistant’s name has percolated in high major coaching searches over the past few years, and that figures to stay the same in 2019 as he has kept winning.