Iowa State University athletic director Jamie Pollard speaks at a news conference on Sept. 24, 2019 in Ames to address reports of violence by fans directed at Iowa Hawkeye Band members after the season’s Iowa-Iowa State football game on Sept. 14.
Iowa State is officially in search of a new men’s basketball coach.
It was announced on Monday that Steve Prohm and the school have elected to part ways after six seasons. Pollard has now turned his attention toward finding a new man for the job and will meet with the media on Tuesday.
I’ve compiled this list of potential candidates by talking to people I know in the game of basketball, brainstorming with some of the smartest basketball people I know and talking with people inside the industry of covering coaching searches. I expect it to be a list that remains fluid throughout the search and will update it as needed so keep in mind this is simply version 1.0.
But, I want to note, I’m obviously not Jamie Pollard and nobody seems to have a true pulse on where this search will go. We have all seen how his searches can operate and the possibility of his hire ultimately coming seemingly out of left field will always exist.
Still, this is my best read on the potential candidates and names that can be expected to be floated around by fans and media members alike. I am certain some of these names will be involved in the search, but others are just based on the conversations I mentioned previously.
Some of the names on this list are somewhat off-the-wall, but you’ll see soon that I have a clear group of frontrunners and I don’t really expect this search to move too far past that group.
I’ve broken the list into tiers that go like this:
Tier 0 – The Elephant in the Room (You’ll understand once you get to this section.)
Tier 1 – The Odds-On Favorites (I mean, pretty self explanatory.)
Tier 2 – Kick the Tires (Potential home run hires I think are worthy of at least a phone call to gauge their interest in the job. If they say no, they say no. If the interest is mutual, they immediately move into tier one.)
Tier 3 – Mid-Major Stars (Again, self-explanatory.)
Tier 4 – A Few Randoms (A pair of guys with prior ties to the state of Iowa and prior Iowa State coaching searches)
Tier 5 – Big 12 Assistants (I don’t see Jamie Pollard going this route, but you get the picture.)
My lengthiest analysis comes in the earlier tiers as I think they require the most discussion, while tiers three, four and five will be more just a basic breakdown of their resumes–otherwise this article would be 10,000 words long. I also have a hard time seeing this search getting too far past even tier two let alone all the way down to tier five.
That said, here’s the list:
Tier 0 – The Elephant in the Room
Fred Hoiberg, Nebraska
As long as he’s in the coaching profession, the Mayor’s name is going to come up anytime there is an opening at the top of Iowa State men’s basketball program.
Right or wrong, it is the reality — and understandably so considering the Cyclone legend saved the program from irrelevance at the beginning of the last decade and then promptly took the program to four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances before riding into the NBA sunset.
I find it highly unlikely Hoiberg will be one of the top candidates during this search.
The biggest piece is purely financial. Hoiberg’s buyout at Nebraska, where he is 14-44 overall and 5-34 in the Big Ten over the last two seasons, is in excess of $10 million. That would put Iowa State on the hook for roughly $15 million in buyouts between their new coach and the one they just fired.
Could the money be there for Pollard to make this move? Sure. There have been message board rumblings for weeks of wealthy donors ponying up the cash necessary to make the move, but that does not mean Pollard is in favor of doing such a thing when the department already reports facing a $25 million deficit in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I could absolutely be wrong and Hoiberg could be at (or near) the top of Pollard’s list once again. I don’t think I am, though.
Tier 1 – The Odds-On Favorites
TJ Otzelberger, UNLV
The longtime assistant seemed like the overwhelming favorite to land the job the last time around and will be again going into this search.
In 2015, he had just returned to Ames after a two-year stint as an assistant at Washington and had significant support from players within the program and high-level donors outside of it.
Otzelberger remained on Steve Prohm’s staff for one season before taking the job as head coach at South Dakota State, where he went to two NCAA Tournaments and won a pair of Summit League regular-season titles. The Milwaukee native turned that into being named the head coach at UNLV.
Otzelberger’s results in Las Vegas have been underwhelming, as he has compiled a 25-26 record overall and 17-13 mark in Mountain West play, but he committed to a complete rebuild and kicked a large portion of the players he inherited off of the team in the name of building things in a sustainable way rather than looking for the quick fix.
The reality with Otzelberger remains this — no man in recent history has convinced more high-level high school players to come to Ames, Iowa. While the transfer market produced the flash of Iowa State’s golden era of the 2010s, it was the high school players, largely all recruited by Otzelberger, who were the program’s glue.
While it might be unpopular with some folks in the fanbase, Otzelberger remains the overwhelming odds-on favorite to be Iowa State’s next coach.
Craig Smith, Utah State
One of the college game’s fastest rising stars, Smith figures to be the mix for a number of major-conference jobs in the coming weeks, most notably the newly announced opening at Minnesota.
The Stephen, Minn. native’s only major-conference experience came during a two-year stint as an assistant on Tim Miles’ staff at Nebraska. Ask anyone around Lincoln and they’ll tell you Smith was a big part of how Miles’ 2013-14 team became the first (and only) Cornhusker team to reach the NCAA Tournament during this century.
Prior to Nebraska, Smith was on Miles’ staff at Colorado State after a several-season run as the head coach of NAIA Division II Mayville State, where he was named the NAIA Division II Coach of the Year in 2007.
After Lincoln, Smith won nearly 60 percent of his games (and the 2017 Summit League regular-season title) at South Dakota. He’s spent the last three seasons at the helm of Utah State’s program, where he’s compiled a 72-22 record overall and 41-13 mark in Mountain West play and won a pair of Mountain West Tournament titles.
His team will be an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament this weekend and faces sixth-seeded Texas Tech in the first round.
Smith is a safe bet to land a major-conference job this spring whether that’s at Iowa State or elsewhere.
Darian DeVries, Drake
After 17 seasons as an assistant under Dana Altman and Greg McDermott at Creighton, the Aplington, Iowa, native took over as the Bulldogs’ head man prior to the 2018-19 season and has quickly solidified himself as a rising star in the profession.
DeVries has compiled a 68-27 record overall and 35-19 mark in the Missouri Valley over the last three seasons, including splitting the conference regular-season title in his first year. He was the architect of this year’s Bulldogs squad that will appear in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008 after going 25-4 overall and 15-3 in the Valley.
The questions here center around a couple different factors.
First, does DeVries want to leave Des Moines considering he’ll have his entire roster returning next season? That group will only get better when it adds his son, four-star forward Tucker DeVries, who is one of the state’s most highly touted prospects since Marcus Paige and Harrison Barnes and led Waukee to its first boy’s basketball state championship last week.
Do his ties to Iowa (his brother, Jared, is a former Hawkeye and had a long career in the NFL) scare some people away?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but DeVries’ phone will be ringing a lot this spring as more and more jobs come open. I’m guessing one of the folks dialing his number to at least gauge his interest will be Jamie Pollard.
Tier 2 – Kick the Tires
Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago
He’s potentially the best mid-major coach in the country not named Mark Few.
After head coaching stops at Illinois State and Arkansas Little Rock and a stint as an assistant for Rick Majerus at Saint Louis, Moser has turned Loyola Chicago into a Missouri Valley powerhouse over the last eight seasons. His tenure started slow, but the Chicago native has compiled overall records of 32-6, 20-14, 21-11 and 24-4 during the last four years, won a trio of Missouri Valley regular-season titles, two Missouri Valley Tournament titles and coached some of the best players the league has seen in recent years.
Oh, and he went to the Final Four in 2018.
His deep ties in Chicago make him an attractive fit when you consider the recruiting implications. He also has a proven track record as a high-level defensive coach, which would fit in well with how the Big 12 has been trending over the last several seasons.
Landing Moser would surely be perceived as a home run by most everybody in the college basketball landscape. He has turned down major-conference schools before in order to remain with the Ramblers and they’ve rewarded him financially for his loyalty, but could he be ready for a new challenge in a bigger league?
Nearly every AD in the country looking for a new basketball coach, most notably those at DePaul and Indiana, will be asking that same question. It is probably worth a phone call to at least get a read on his interest.
Dana Altman, Oregon
No name has more staying power in Iowa State men’s basketball coaching searches than this one. The Crete, Neb. native has come up nearly every time the position has come open in the last two decades.
Altman solidified himself as one of the game’s best during an 18-year run as the head coach at Creighton while winning 65 percent of his games, going to seven NCAA Tournaments and winning six Missouri Valley Tournaments and three Missouri Valley regular-season titles.
He’s proven he can do it at the major-conference level since jumping to Oregon in 2010. In 11 seasons with the Ducks, Altman has won 72 percent of his games, four Pac-12 regular-season titles and three Pac-12 Tournaments, and he’s appeared in eight NCAA Tournaments, which included runs to the Elite Eight and Final Four in back-to-back seasons in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
With 688 career wins under his belt, not many coaches on this list can boast a better resume. He’s got something good going at Oregon and has built that program into the Pac-12’s gold standard.
At 62 years old, could he come back to the Midwest in search of one last challenge to cap off his career?
John Beilein, Former Michigan & West Virginia
I noted above that only a few coaches could top Altman’s resume on this list. Well, here is one of the few.
Beilein was one of the best coaches in the game during his 12-year run as the head man in Ann Arbor, making nine appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including runs to a pair of national title games, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s. He also won two Big Ten regular-season titles and a pair of Big Ten Tournament titles before jumping for an underwhelming stint at the helm of the Cleveland Cavaliers after the 2018-19 season.
Prior to Michigan, Beilein had successful stints at West Virginia and Richmond, where he combined to make three appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including back-to-back runs to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 with the Mountaineers in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Overall, Beilein’s won more than 750 games and did so at a 64 percent clip at the collegiate level.
The Burt, N.Y. native is 68 years old and would surely be one of the (if not the) most expensive people on this list, but he’s been out of the game for more than a year. You have to wonder if he’s ready to get out of the Big Ten Network analyst chair and scratch the coaching itch.
Thad Matta, Former Ohio State & Butler
Another guy who has been out of the game for a while with major accolades to their name, Matta turned Ohio State into a Big Ten power during his 13-year run in Columbus.
That run included an NCAA Tournament runner-up, another Final Four appearance, an Elite Eight appearance, and two Sweet 16s, plus five Big Ten regular-season titles, four Big Ten Tournament championships and nearly 340 wins.
His time at Ohio State followed up successful stints at Butler and Xavier, where he combined to make four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2003-04.
Matta got out of coaching after the 2016-17 season and has reportedly been enjoying retirement in the years since. It has also been stated the Illinois native was not particularly fond of the way college basketball’s dark underbelly was exposed a few years ago.
The 53-year-old’s name will come up often anytime there is a major-conference opening. Whether or not he even wants to coach again is the question.
Tier 3 – Mid-Major Stars
Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro
Miller was only 27 when he took over as the head coach in Greensboro and has slowly built it into one of the most consistent programs in the Southern Conference.
He’s won three Southern Conference regular-season titles in the last five years and a pair of Southern Conference Tournaments, including capturing both titles during his team’s 21-8 run through the regular season this year and drawing a 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In nine years as the head coach at UNC-Greensboro, Miller has gone 185-134 overall and 109-66 in Southern Conference play with two NCAA Tournament berths on his resume.
Expect to hear his name come up a lot for a number of major-conference opportunities during this coaching carousel.
Dennis Gates, Cleveland State
After only two seasons leading the Vikings, Gates has elevated Cleveland State from Horizon League bottom-dweller to championship contender. The 41-year-old former assistant at Cal, Northern Illinois and Florida State was named the Horizon League coach of the year last season despite going just 11-21 (7-11 Horizon) in his first year at the helm.
The Chicago native followed that up by going 18-7 overall and 16-4 in the Horizon to split the conference regular-season title this year. His team will play in the NCAA Tournament this weekend as a 15-seed against Houston.
He’ll be a hot name with numerous major-conference opportunities. Don’t be surprised to see his name thrown in the mix at DePaul.
Niko Medved, Colorado State
No stranger to Central Iowa, Medved got his head coaching start as the top guy at Furman, where he compiled a 62-70 record in four seasons and split the Southern Conference regular-season title in his last year. He turned that into an opportunity at Drake, where he went 17-17 before leaving after only one season to take over at Colorado State.
During his time in Fort Collins, Medved has gone 49-36 overall and 32-21 in Mountain West play, including a 17-4, 13-3 record this season. His team was one of the last teams out of the NCAA Tournament field this season meaning he’s still never coached in the sport’s biggest event.
Scott Nagy, Wright State
Nagy is best known in this area for helping elevate South Dakota State from a Division II contender to a Summit League powerhouse. The Abilene, Texas, native was the leader of the Jackrabbits for 21 seasons and made the Division II NCAA Tournament eight times in nine years prior to moving to Division I, where he promptly turned the program into one of the nation’s most consistent small-conference programs with three NCAA Tournament appearances and three split Summit League regular-season titles.
He’s continued that momentum in five seasons at Wright State, winning three Horizon League regular-season titles, one Horizon League Tournament title and appearing in one NCAA Tournament.
Tier 4 – A Few Randoms
Steve Forbes, Wake Forest
The Lone Tree, Iowa, native would have been a lot higher on this list one year ago.
That was when he was the head coach at East Tennessee State and coming off sweeping the Southern Conference regular season and conference titles for the second time in four seasons. He had solidified himself as a top mid-major coach after winning better than 75-percent of his games across five seasons.
But, one year ago, Forbes left East Tennessee State to take over as the head man at Wake Forest. He went 6-16 overall and 3-15 in the ACC during his first season leading the Demon Deacons.
Still, I can see Forbes’ name floated as a possibility due to his Iowa-boy roots. I would be shocked to see the former Southwestern Community College in Creston head coach as a serious candidate in the search, though.
Bryce Drew, Grand Canyon
Scott Drew’s younger brother’s first foray into Power 5 coaching was… um… not good, but he was still a top candidate for the Iowa State job when it was last open in 2015 and even reportedly made his way to campus. At the time, his biggest hangup with the job was having to coach against his brother at Baylor.
That’s how the former Valparaiso player and coach ended up at Vanderbilt, where he went 40-59 in three seasons and was fired after going 0-18 in SEC play during year-three. That followed a five-year stint at Valpo in which he won four Horizon League regular-season titles in five seasons, won a pair of Horizon Tournaments and appeared in two NCAA Tournaments.
This season was Drew’s first back in the head coaching saddle as he led Grand Canyon to a 15-6 record overall and 9-3 mark in the conference to split the WAC regular-season title before winning the WAC Tournament and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament as a 15-seed playing Iowa this weekend.
With his first Power 5 run in the rearview, expect to see the younger Drew’s name floated for more high-profile jobs again soon.
Tier 5 – Big 12 Assistants
Jerome Tang, Baylor assistant
One of the longest-tenured Big 12 assistants, Tang has spent 18 years on Scott Drew’s bench while helping engineer one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of the sport.
Tang has been credited with recruiting some of the best players in Baylor history, including Perry Jones III, Isaiah Austin, Johnathan Motely and others. He was named the No. 1 assistant coach in the Big 12 when Stadium’s Jeff Goodman released his rankings last summer.
Erik Martin, West Virginia assistant
A member of Bob Huggins’ 1991-92 Final Four team at Cincinnati, Martin is in his 15th season on the staff of his former coach. He’s been credited as a key piece in the development of West Virginia’s big men and was listed among the nation’s 25 best assistant coaches by The Athletic last November.
Huggins’ coaching tree includes the likes of Mick Cronin, Frank Martin, Brad Underwood and Andy Kennedy. Erik Martin could be the next high-major coach in the bunch.
Mark Adams, Texas Tech assistant
Regarded as one of the best defensive coaches in college basketball, Adams has been crucial in Beard turning Texas Tech into one of the sport’s defensive juggernauts. He’s been on Beard’s staff dating back to his days at Little Rock and has had head coaching success at lower levels previously.