First Coach Bohl, now Coach Phillips. Over the weekend Saul Phillips accepted an offer to become the next Head Coach of the Ohio Bobcats. This one definitely took my by surprise. Not Phillips leaving. He had to make this move. As much as I hate to admit it NDSU is not just a stepping stone job… it is the stepping stone TO the stepping stone job. Coach Phillips was making $175,000 a year as the Men’s Basketball Coach at NDSU. Now I’m not saying we should pity him for making six figures, but he’ll make $550,000/year to coach at Ohio, a program which is quite obviously a stepping stone itself as they have provided the coaches for Illinois and Boston College.
It sucks to lose our coach. Especially the same year we lost our legendary football coach. This is definitely the end of a golden year for NDSU sports, which really stinks. Both teams are going to bounce back and be right back to their winning ways sooner rather than later, but there’s going to be a drop off. This is especially painful for me, because as you know and as I write about ad naseum, I’m the biggest proponent of NDSU jumping up to a larger conference. Now with our 2 major sports in flux and as we’re about to take a definite stepback it pretty much ends any chance of us jumping conferences for the time being. I’m taking this about as well as you’d expect.
I promise I’ll stop beating this dead horse (that’s a lie… just letting you know up front) BUT we could at least stem some of this problem if we were in a larger conference. A bigger conference means bigger and more frequent payouts for sports teams. Money is a huge reason why we can’t keep our coaches around so if we could pay them more and (whats probably a bigger problem) their assistants we would stand a lot better chance of keeping them at least from schools like Ohio. We would still lose coaches to the Nebraska’s of the world, but we could probably fight off Wyoming, Colorado State, and Ohio. Moreover being in a bigger conference like the MAC (where Ohio plays by the way) would also mean that the calibur of job needed to pull one of our coaches away would need to be higher as well.
Gene Taylor, to his credit, knew that by making the jump up from D2 we would be setting ourselves up for coaching turnover, which is why he tried to move us all the way up to D1-A rather than AA and put us in the WAC (a bigger, more stable [at the time] conference). But before you say that proves we never should have gone and that we shouldn’t make another mini up up, we never would have had the increased success and excitement we’ve had without that move. We will probably be fine sitting still in the Summit and Missouri Valley (although its risky in the volatile world of realignment we currently live in) but I can’t help believing it would help to be in a bigger conference.
As far as the future as things currently stand, I feel alright about it. Same as with the football program. If Gene really does decide to turn the keys over to Dave Richman we will have some major growing pains. Recruiting will take a huge step back. But the coaching will be fine. Moreover, he’s young with DEEP North Dakota roots so we stand a chance of keeping this guy even through the first couple poaching attempts. This guy is an NDSU alum and owes his entire coaching career to NDSU. Plus he’s a real North Dakotan born ‘n’ raised, not like Teddy Roosevelt who we irrationally try to claim at any given opportunity.
The biggest and only real fear I have with coach Richman is that we lose that Wisconsin (particularly Milwaukee) recruiting territory. He’ll give us an ironclad Dakota recruiting effort and I think things will improve drastically in Minnesota (especially with Richard Pitino at UofM) but the Wisconsin recruiting was largely Saul’s efforts. Our real future will lie in Minnesota now, as that Pitino thing can’t be undersold. This guy is an awful coach, an awful recruiter, and an awful person. Most importantly for NDSU though is that in his first year on the job he’s tried mainly to keep his Florida pipeline (created when he was a coach at Florida International) open and redirect it to MN. He doesn’t seem to have faith in MN basketball players which is both hilarious and fortuitous for NDSU. Firing Tubby Smith was moronic by Minnesota and it bummed me out because I like to follow them as a secondary team and I love Tubby (and I loathe all Pitinos) but it was especially stupid because Tubby did a great job of sealing the boarders and keeping Minnesota players in Minnesota. (They also fired him at exactly the wrong time with one of the best recruits in the country being a Minnesota native this upcoming season. Firing Tubby ended any chance they had at landing Tyus Jones). But I digress. Just know that there is a ton of talent to be had in Minnesota and Pitino being at Minnesota helps us immensely.
I’m happy for Saul. I can’t wait for him to pull a Tim Miles and parlay his upper mid major job (Ohio for Saul, Colorado State for Tim) into a big job in a big conference (Nebraska for Tim, and who knows for Saul. Heck if he succeeds enough at Ohio and is patient, maybe he can replace Bo Ryan at Wisconsin once he retires in 6 seasons or so. He got his start there and is obviously close to the man [he had Bo’s son on his staff at NDSU]). BUT ANYWAY things are GREAT for Saul which I love. Things are fine with NDSU. Everyone will be happy and everyone will survive. Even as pessimistic as I am, this is a great time to be a Bison fan, and we’re just starting to build an amazing sports culture for the program. I can’t wait to watch it continue to grow. The support is there so I’m confident both our new coaches will be able to succeed as long as fans keep the faith and support them.