Monday, May 16, 2011
Well-respected Murray State job opens up
New Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said late Sunday night by text that he would be pushing assistant Steve Prohm to replace him at Murray State.
If Prohm gets the job, he'll be well on his way toward a potential higher-level gig.
Murray State has become one of the hottest jobs to get off the traditional coaching grid. The résumés of the former coaches back up the importance of being the head coach of the Racers.
Three of the last four coaches at Murray State made significant leaps.
Mark Gottfried went from Murray to Alabama.
Mick Cronin followed Tevester Anderson, and three years later he was the head coach at Cincinnati.
Kennedy just finished his fifth season and he was scheduled to be introduced as the next head coach at Texas A&M on Monday.
"It's a great job because they want to win," Gottfried said of Murray State. "They make a commitment to basketball and expect championships and NCAA tourneys. It's a coaching launching pad and they accept that."
That's the key statement. The Racers know who they are and don't try to fool anyone. Murray State is the class program of the Ohio Valley Conference and it is located in a state that deeply loves the sport. But the Racers have found a way to differentiate themselves in the OVC by winning on a consistent basis. Murray will never be Louisville or Kentucky. Some might even argue Western Kentucky has more of a national name. And Morehead State had its moment in March by knocking off Louisville in the NCAA tournament.
But inside and outside of the commonwealth, Murray State has quite a deal of respect around the sport.
"Murray State is a great job because of the tradition, support of the university and the community," Cronin said. "I have never been treated as well in my life as I was by the people in Murray, Kentucky. It's just a special place.
"Although it is a mid-major job, winning is expected there and there is pressure to keep the tradition going. The fans are passionate so there are similarities to the high-major jobs in college basketball."
Murray has had consistent rivalries with strong contenders like Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech, and the emergence of Morehead State has certainly helped the conference. So will the recent addition of Belmont, which will move to the OVC from the Atlantic Sun after next season.
As for Prohm, he was with Kennedy as an assistant at Southeastern Louisiana as well as Murray State. So the easiest transition for the Racers' administration would be to promote. If they don't, then low-major head coaches looking to jump up and certainly significant assistants will draw interest.
The Vermont job is open as well, and so is Navy after head coach Billy Lange left to rejoin Jay Wright's Villanova staff. UVM brought in Washington assistant Raphael Chillious and former Boston College assistant and current Northeastern associate head coach Pat Duquette over the weekend as two of the possible replacements (there are supposedly two others) for Mike Lonergan, who left for George Washington. Former Catamounts player and fan favorite Jeff Brown, who now coaches at nearby Middlebury College, told ESPN.com he wasn't going to pursue the job.
It's clear neither of those openings compares to the springboard that has become Murray.
The Racers have had a consistent presence atop the conference standings and have made several NCAA tournament appearances over the past decade, including an upset win over fourth-seeded Vanderbilt, followed by a two-point loss to eventual nation runner-up Butler in 2010.
The respect this program has amid college coaches and administrators is high. Cronin mentioned that coaching at Murray is tremendous prep work for a high-level job because it is essentially a high-level job.
So Kennedy should be in position to handle any scrutiny at Texas A&M. He landed the Aggies job by hanging around in the search while some higher-profile coaches (Buzz Williams, Josh Pastner, Gregg Marshall) took themselves out of the running early. And ultimately he was a better fit for A&M than Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson, who talked to the school a few hours after Kennedy interviewed.
In the end, Texas A&M hired Kennedy, who will likely see his salary double. But he does leave behind one of the hidden gems in coaching, a job that should be coveted by plenty and will likely continue to be a stepping-stone to a power-six job.