So who’s the new women’s basketball coach going to be?
Of course we don’t know. I’m pretty sure Athletic Director Joel Nielsen, who will do the hiring, doesn’t know.
But I can offer some thoughts on the kind of person I’d be looking for, along with a few names.
1A. A successful head coach at a school in a less-prestigious conference.
1B. A top assistant at a school in a more-prestigious conference.
The MAC was 11th in conference RPI this semester. So we’re looking at a conference that’s say, ranked 14th or below. That’s includes the Horizon League (Cleveland State, Youngstown State), America East (Albany, Maine), Summit (Indiana-Purdue at Indianapolis or Fort Wayne, Western Illinois), Missouri Valley (Indiana State, Southern Illinois). I mention those leagues specific for reasons we’ll hit later. Here’s a full list of all the Division I conferences.
And there are top Division II schools, a couple of them relatively close by. Here’s the current top 25 in Division II.
We all know the more prestigious conferences. The Big Ten is most obvious — KSU has hired a lot of Big Ten assistants as head coaches over the years. After that, maybe the Big East, Atlantic 10, American Athletic.
Akron’s Jodi Kest fits the first description. She was a successful head coach at Division II Ashland. O’Banion fits the second; she was the top assistant at Memphis.
And, of course, there are coaches with Midwest roots who went away and might come back. Kent State football coach Paul Haynes is a good example of that. He was an assistant at Arkansas when he was hired.
2. A coach in roughly the same recruiting area. The MAC is not a national conference. A coach from Oregon would be starting almost from scratch in building contacts among high school coaches. Maybe that’s less important because so much recruiting is done at summer camps, which have players from all over the country. But if you look at the hiring patterns in the MAC, they’re largely neighborhood hires.
3. A coach who’s strong on X’s and O’s. Neither Kent’s offensive nor defensive strategy has been effective. Part of that may be personnel, but maybe a different coach can bring a system that works with this set of players, some of whom are quite good.
4. Every coach has to be a recruiter, but it’s less immediately urgent at Kent State because the Flashes have already signed their lone incoming freshman. They’ll likely have only one senior starter (Larissa Lurken) next season.
5. Does the new coach need to be female? I think KSU would like her to be. But Nielsen has hired men to coach women’s golf and volleyball.
The most obvious to me is Youngstown State coach John Barnes. He’s finishing his third year there, about the time an ambitious coach may start to look to move. He’s 55-39, took YSU to the WNIT last season and has had them ranked at times in the Mid Major top 25. He’s previously the top assistant at Wisconsin Green Bay, one of the nation’s premiere Mid Majors, and was head coach at Division II power Michigan Tech for seven years.
Would KSU be too much of a lateral move? Barnes’ predecessor at YSU was Bob Bolden, now head coach of MAC champion Ohio University. He went to Ohio after three seasons at YSU.
Wright State coach Mike Bradbury has been there five years and has a top 25 Mid-Major team. He previous was head coach at Moorhead State and before that was an assistant at Cincinnati and Xavier.
Like Youngstown State, Wright State is an Horizon League school.
The best Division II school in the area is still Ashland, which is 27-1 and ranked fifth in the country. But Robyn Fralick just finished her first year as head coach there after being the team’s top assistant. That may be too little early to move. There are a lot of good Division II teams in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. I hope we at least look there.
Who knows, of course, if any of those people would want the job.
I don’t remotely enough about Big Ten women’s basketball to guess at top assistants ready to take their own team. Ohio State is very good. Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant is a former Eastern Michigan coach and likely would speak well of the MAC to her assistants. Maryland coach Brenda Freese actually was a Kent State assistant in 1994-95.
Big Ten assistants can be paid much more than MAC head coaches. Kent State coaches tend to be among the lowest paid in the conference. How much can KSU afford/be willing to pay?
Kent State might be an attractive job for a coach trying to make a quick splash. There are good players here – Jordan Korinek and Larissa Lurken could start for any team in the conference. There will be four scholarships open after next season, so there’s room for a good recruiting class. If a new coach could find a way to make the team click, he or she could be very successful. That’s what Boldon did at Ohio. His team went from a doormat as low as Kent State to conference champion in two years. And every starter on his first championship team was recruited by the previous coach.
Sometimes strange things can happen in a coaching search. Bob Lindsay, who won more games than any men’s or women’s basketball coach in MAC history, was actually the head lacrosse coach at Holy Cross when Kent State hired him in 1988.
And of course almost no one in Kent had heard of Danielle O’Banion four years ago. But in researching this article, I found a 2012 story listing top Division I assistants ready to move up. She was No. 24.