Any takers? Coaches are fleeing to new opportunities and the Duquesne MBB position still remains unmanned.
By Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
It’s been nearly two weeks since Jim Ferry was fired, the King Rice era has ended before it could even begin and Atlantic 10 foes Massachusetts and Virginia Commonwealth have already filled their respective coaching vacancies with big-time hires.
As for Duquesne, it’s still searching for that coach who might be able to reverse the misfortunes of its men’s basketball program that hasn’t danced in 40 years.
There is an incredible amount of pressure on the incoming ball coach to keep gifted freshman Mike Lewis II and Isiaha Mike on the Bluff, and to convince top recruit Jamari Wheeler to stand by his commitment to the Red & Blue. That’s not even mentioning the burden of attempting to eliminate the negative aura associated with a losing program.
But here is a list of some coaches, proven winners more specifically, who could potentially successfully rebuild the sheer mess left behind by his predecessors.
1. Travis Steele — Associate head coach, Xavier University
All Steele has done since I originally mentioned his name in last week’s issue is help to guide yet another Xavier team to the Sweet 16, which now means he has five Sweet 16 appearances polished on his résumé.
Steele has established himself as one of the top recruiters in college basketball and has coached under high-profile coaches Chris Mack and Sean Miller. He is a young coach with valuable experience as part of a winning program. He would bring a plethora of recruiting contacts in the nearby Ohio and Indiana areas to help quicken the rebuilding process. Duquesne should feel honored to land Steele, even if it is his first head coaching gig.
However, Steele is believed to be a candidate for the coaching vacancy at Quinnipiac, so Duquesne fans will have to hope former Duquesne athletic director Greg Amodio doesn’t steal this this up-and-coming winner.
2. Mitch Henderson — Head coach, Princeton University
During a rather uneventful NCAA tournament Round of 64, the No. 12 Princeton Tigers almost opened up the festivities with an upset of the No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
In charge of the upset-minded Tigers is six-year head coach, Henderson, who took home Ivy League Coach of the Year honors for his team’s success in 2016-17. Princeton finished the year 23-7 overall and with a perfect, 16-win Ivy League season.
The recent March Madness appearance was the first for Princeton under Henderson; however, he has also coached the Tigers to a 2016 NIT bid and a pair of trips to the CBI quarterfinals.
In his six years as the head man in charge, Henderson boasts a remarkable 119-60 record. Also take into consideration that Henderson deals with added recruiting challenges due to the academic rigors students face at Princeton University. He still brings in some of the Ivy League’s top players such as 2017 Player of the Year Spencer Weisz and former AP honorable mention All-America Ian Hummer.
The challenge would be getting Henderson to take the job at Duquesne. He played his collegiate hoops for the Tigers and may be hesitant to depart Princeton unless a major, desirable opportunity presents itself. Tough to say if the opening at Duquesne would be considered that.
3. Matt McCall — Head coach, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Yes, Chattanooga had a rather disappointing season. But a disappointing season for McCall and the Mocs consisted of 19 wins, which included a 13-point win over the University of Tennessee and a two-point loss to NCAA qualifier, Vanderbilt University.
Starved Duquesne fans would drool over a season like that. Sure, the Mocs obviously face a much lighter conference slates than do the Dukes, but McCall also doesn’t have guys with talent like Lewis II and Mike over in the Southern Conference.
But that’s the worse of the two seasons that he has spent at the helm. In 2015-16, McCall and the Mocs relished in a school-record 29-win campaign that featured wins over the University of Georgia, the University of Illinois and the University of Dayton. The season ended with a Southern Conference tournament championship as well as Chattanooga’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009. He was honored as the Southern Conference Coach of the Year for his remarkable performance in his first season.
He might only have two years experience as a head coach, but McCall sprouts from the Billy Donovan coaching tree. He began as the head team manager and moved into a role as the director of basketball operations under Donovan during the University of Florida’s back-to-back championship runs in 2006 and 2007.
He returned as an assistant coach from 2011-15 and was a part of three Elite 8 teams and one Final Four squad. During that stint of success for Florida, McCall helped the Gators land two top-10 recruiting classes and the Gators averaged over 26 wins per season with his assistance.
The search committee and Duquesne fans should forgive a mediocre 2016-17 campaign for the Mocs and welcome the Billy Donovan-disciple with open arms before his name gets too hot to acquire.
By Adam Lindner | Asst. Sports Editor
1. Bashir Mason — Head coach, Wagner College
One of the youngest head coaches in all of Division I ball at 33, Mason has already spent five years at the helm at Wagner. The defensive-minded coach learned under Dan Hurley for two years before Hurley bolted Wagner for the URI job.
Mason guided the Seahawks to both a regular season title and the NIT in 2015-16 and Wagner’s been consistently competitive during Mason’s tenure except for one rebuilding year in 2014-15, albeit Wagner plays in one of the nation’s worst conferences. The only thing Mason hasn’t accomplished in his time at Wagner is an NEC tournament championship, necessary to earn an automatic NCAA bid.
Mason has gone 87-69 in his five seasons in Staten Island. He was named the NEC Coach of the Year in 2016 and has led the Seahawks to three seasons of 19 wins or more.
The lack of an NCAA appearance thus far has limited Mason’s national profile, so there’s been no speculation of Mason potentially jumping to a bigger program. Duquesne should take note of him before they miss their shot. Coaches with this much experience at such a young age are few and far between, and Mason has tons of potential for improvement. Plus, his background as a player (guard at Drexel from 2003-07) as well as the idea of the young Mason being able to relate to players and recruits may prove beneficial.
2. Brandin Knight — Assistant coach, Rutgers University
The former University of Pittsburgh standout is now in his first season as an assistant at Rutgers. Formerly an assistant coach under Jamie Dixon at Pitt for eight years, the 35-year-old Knight has many fans and connections in this area.
The New Jersey native seems as though he’d be able to tap into the New York and New Jersey regions, as he surely knows this recruit-laden scene very well. Once again, his background and his youth could potentially appeal to players, but patience would undoubtedly be required – patience that Duquesne has not shown that it has.
In his eight years as an assistant coach and two as the director of operations and program assistant, Knight helped Dixon lift the Panthers to a 252-101 record. Additionally, Pittsburgh made a postseason appearance in all 10 of those seasons, which were highlighted by eight NCAA tournament appearances and two trips to the Sweet 16.
Hiring a coach with no previous experience heading a team before could be taxing for both sides, but Knight is sure to be a head coach soon somewhere, and the potential he presents cannot be ignored. The homecoming-of-sorts would also generate some positive buzz surrounding the program, and may even entice some Pitt fans who miss the glory of the Big East days to come to the A. J. Palumbo Center next season.
3. Matt Driscoll — Head coach, University of North Florida
Driscoll has helped to build North Florida into the relevant program that it is today essentially from the ground up.
Taking over in 2009-10 when the Ospreys were in their first season as a full Division I member, Driscoll was able to lead UNF to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 2014-15 via an Atlantic Sun championship. This was the year following Florida Gulf Coast University’s magical run to the Sweet 16. Many believed the Eagles would repeat as conference champions, but Driscoll and the Ospreys ended up representing the A-Sun in the tourney that year.
A native of the area, and Slippery Rock graduate, there’s definite allure to come back and resurrect a Duquesne program that has not reached the NCAA tournament in 40 years. While the job is a tough sell and resources aren’t abundant here, it’s somewhat tough to imagine Driscoll jumping from North Florida and landing a job in a conference more prominent than the Atlantic 10.
4. Mike Iuzzolino — Assistant Coach, Robert Morris University
The former St. Francis (PA) star and current Robert Morris assistant coach is a bit of a dark horse of a candidate. Having grown up in Altoona and currently residing in Wexford, only about 30 minutes from campus, Iuzzolino has spent much of his life in the state of Pennsylvania. Plus, Iuzzolino is already familiar with the school in some capacity as he began his coaching career here as a women’s assistant coach from 2005-07.
A knockdown shooter in his playing days, Iuzzolino was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 1991 NBA Draft out of little-known St. Francis.
His track record as an overlooked talent that was able to make a career for himself in the NBA may appeal to players, but this is a long shot as his résumé isn’t exactly up to par just yet. This would almost certainly infuriate fans, as a vast majority will have no idea who Iuzzolino is. One cool nugget of information, though: Iuzzolino was once infamously included as one of the two Dallas Mavericks players featured on NBA Jam, a basketball game that some deem the best video game ever.