Preview Review: A look back at our mid-major coaches to watch
Earlier this season, the most knowledgeable Division I assistant coach I know, and myself, sat down a put together a list of up and coming mid-major coaches to keep an eye on. We published these picks as conference play began in earnest this season. Rather than a “best” or a “most known” list, it was an attempt to provide readers insight into a few of the bright coaches at the mid-major level who weren’t necessary household names, but do a tremendous job where they are and could next names that you might hear at BCS schools.
As the season has ended, we wanted to take a look back at our preview. Here is a review of how the seasons of the coaches featured ended up. It is definitely worth noting just how many of these coaches that we highlighted have now taken a step up in their coaching careers.
Gail Streigler, Long Island (Northeast)
21-10 Overall, 10-8 Conference
The theme for the LIU program seems to be “the song remains the same.” Another year and another solid season and coaching job by Striegler, who at the controls of the Long Island program has made it a fixture in the NEC title hunt. The X & O’s maestro loses one of her best players this year, but strong recruiting and a bevy or returners should keep LIU competitive with Steigler’s savvy. With an NEC quarterfinals finish last month, and her last three seasons of 19, 22 and 21 wins, the next step for Streigler is to take the Blackbirds into the NCAA tournament.
Courtney Banghart, Princeton (Ivy)
25-5 Overall, 14-0 Conference
Another year, another league title and another 20+ win season for Banghart and the Tigers. Princeton dominated this year, winning by an average 18 points per game on their way to the league title and an NCAA tournament appearance. Raising the bar and raising expectations, Banghart is a coach that has the Tigers rolling, and is a perfect fit for Princeton: a coach that gets the balance of academics and athletics. The proof is another conference championship in the trophy case.
Susan Robinson-Fruchtl, St Francis, PA (Northeast)
14-15 Overall, 11-7 Conference
*New Coach at Providence for 2012-13
Robinson-Fruchtl marks the first of our mid-major coaches to watch for (MMCTWF) who leaves their post for a new challenge, as she will take her talents to Rhode Island to re-energize the Friar program. While patrolling the sidelines for Saint Francis, the former Penn State icon guided the Red Flash to three consecutive Northeast Conference Championship Games, captured two conference titles and advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2010 and 2011. She leaves with a 74-83 record with the Red Flash and program rebuilt and poised to continue success.
Stephanie Glance, Illinois State (Missouri Valley)
19-13 Overall, 13-5 Conference
With nearly a quarter century of experience in coaching, and having worked for legends Pat Summitt and Kay Yow, our most veteran “new name” on the head-coaching scene really proved her mettle this year. Though her record didn’t match the previous year, Glance’s work garnered her Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the year honors, and is more proof that the Redbirds hit a home run with their hire two years ago. With another strong recruiting effort, don’t be surprised to see Glance and Illinois State in the postseason next year.
Curt Miller, Bowling Green State (Mid American)
24-7 Overall, 14-2 Conference
*Named Head Coach at Indiana for 2012-13
Miller is the second of our MMCTWF who is leaving for the challenge of a BCS-level school in need of rebuilding. We mentioned in the preview that he would be on a short list for BCS athletics directors in the spring, and Indiana quickly scooped him up. Moving west to the Hoosier state, Miller leaves behind quite a legacy at Bowling Green: an overall record of 258-92, a record of 135-41 in conference games, and eight consecutive postseason appearances. The Hoosiers are getting the heads of one the most dominant mid-major programs the last eight years, and are hoping he can duplicate that success in Bloomington.
Matt Bollant, Wisconsin Green-Bay (Horizon)
31-2 Overall, 17-1 Conference
*Named Head Coach at Illinois for 2012-13
In Bollant, the Fighting Illini get a coach who elevated the UWGB program into “elite” status, cracking several top 10 polls this season and considered by many the top mid-major program in the country. Though he didn’t “build” the UWGB program, he did enhance it greatly. As a head coach, he guided Green Bay to a 148-19 record and four trips to the NCAA tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 last season and losing in the second round this year with a 31-2 record. With Big 10 resources at his disposal, expect big things from this former MMCTWF and Illini in the future.
Jackie Carson, Furman (Southern)
15-16 Overall, 10-10 Conference
Long known as a strong recruiter, Carson can add another line to the resume: program builder. Slowly but surely, Carson has moved the Furman program from a five-win team to a place of stability. Furman achieved its first winning season in several years, and now comes the next phase of the rebuilding project: to compete for conference championships. In year three, expect Carson and her young squad, which loses only two seniors, and her recruiting classes to mature and push Furman back to the forefront of the Southern Conference.
Karl Smesko, Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)
29-3 Overall, 18-0 Conference
In Florida Gulf Coast’s first year of eligibility for the Atlantic Sun title, FGCU walked away with the title and its first appearance in the NCAA tournament as a Division I school. Smesko’s carefully-crafted motion offense has wreaked havoc on the league, with no end in sight. Look for Smesko to build upon a tremendous foundation he has put in place, shepherding the FGCU program from Division II, to Division I to champions.
Brooks Donald Williams, McNeese State (Southland)
26-8 Overall, 13-3 Conference
Donald-Williams capped off another banner year for the McNeese State program by making second-seeded Kentucky sweat in the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament. Powered by a strong back court, the Cowgirls model the headwoman’s no-nonsense, gritty approach. An approach that allowed the McNeese State program to be back-to-back tournament championships, and Donald-Williams soon to be a sought-after name for potential other opportunities in the future if she chooses, if the Louisiana native ever opts to leave home.
Karen Aston, North Texas (Sunbelt)
15-16 Overall, 7-9 Conference
*Named Head Coach at Texas for 2012-13
Though only at North Texas for one year, the Mean Green finished 15-16 in Aston’s only season after being 5-25 the previous year. With her deep ties to the state, the Longhorns tabbed Aston to help get the Texas program back to its fans want it. With 86 wins in four seasons at Charlotte and tripling the win today from the previous year at UNT, expect Aston to hit the ground running and the Horns back in the “elite program status” conversation in short order.
Matt Daniel, Central Arkansas (Southland)
24-7 Overall, 14-2 Conference
This past year marked a lot of firsts for Central Arkansas and Daniel. The coach guided UCA to its first regular season conference championship at the Division I level. UCA also recorded its first conference player of the year nod and made its first trip to the Southland Conference tournament – all impressive feats With Daniel at the helm. The question, “can this once strong DII program make the successful leap to Division I?” has been answered. Now a better question may be if the Sugar Bears will have enough room on the mantle for a long run of championships.
Kevin McMillan, UT Martin (Ohio Valley)
23-9 Overall, 15-1 Conference
McMillan, a successful high school coach in the state of Tennessee, has created a force in the competitive Ohio Valley Conference. Each year has been a steady climb for him, and at one point he had the youngest team in the NCAA. Now he can boast a conference crown and a tremendous 15-win run through the OVC. After boosting the roster, McMillan now has crafted one of the most impressive team turnarounds in the country. Expect the coach with strong Tennessee ties to have continued success in league, unless he’s snatched up by some enterprising athletic director first.
David Six, Hampton (Mid-Eastern Athletic)
26-5 Overall, 15-1 Conference
Despite a somewhat controversial seeding, Six had the Hampton program back in the NCAA tournament again this year. The Lady Pirate program set a school record for wins (26) and also led the country in both scoring defense and three-point percentage defense as it cruised its way through the MEAC, and happily into March Madness. Six, a former Virginia high school coach, has done a masterful job with the Lady Pirates, building to the program into the first MEAC team to win three straight titles since 1998.
Stephanie Pemper, Navy (Patriot)
18-14 Overall, 8-6 Conference
Pemper is one again proving she’s one of the nation’s best coaches. She inherited a program that only had one winning season in an eight-year span, and now they are back-to-back Patriot League champs, which is almost unheard of at a service academy. Pemper has remade Navy into a rock-solid basketball program, and has Annapolis buzzing about basketball for the first time since the David Robinson era. The long time DIII coach, formerly at Bowdoin, is showing that “the Pemper way” works with the Midshipmen, and as long as the academy keeps Pemper, the program’s sails are set on a championship course.
Phil Stern, UMBC (America East)
17-15 Overall, 9-7 Conference
After a rough 3-4 start, Stern righted the ship and guided this year’s version of the UMBC squad to the America East tournament championship game. A superb strategist, Stern adapted and adjusted all year and got the fifth-seeded Retrievers to gutty performance in the America East tournament. With a conference rookie of the year returning, and a large chunk of the roster returning expect for the Retrievers to be in the thick of the America East championship chase next year.
Erik Johnson, Denver (Sunbelt)
19-12 Overall, 11-5 Conference
*Named Head Coach at Boston College for 2012-13
Johnson will trade the Mile High City for Beantown, as he moves to the ACC and Boston College next year. In his four seasons at the University of Denver, Johnson led the Pioneers to a 72-52 record, consecutive 19-win seasons the past two years, and a berth in the WNIT in 2011. Johnson compiled a 44-23 mark (.657) in the Sun Belt Conference, finishing in the top three in the SBC in each of Johnson’s four seasons. Expect this MMCTWF to attack the ACC with the same intelligent approach that made the Pioneers a tough squad to beat.
Tricia Binford, Montana State (Big Sky)
19-11 Overall, 10-6 Conference
Tricia Binford’s leadership of the Montana State program has firmly placed the Bobcats in the upper echelon of the challenging Big Sky Conference. In her best season yet, Binford, the former professional player, led the Cats to a 19-win season and to the semifinals of the Big Sky tournament. Montana State loses a star player but a team with only one senior most likely will be playing in the post season next year under the watchful eye of Binford.
Jason Flowers, Cal State Northridge (Big West)
17-14 Overall, 11-5 Conference
Flowers inherited a dilapidated program in 2010, and scrapped together a 4-26 record on several close losses that year. This season, with the help of some brilliant recruits, the Matadors finished 17-14 overall and 11-5 in league. They sat atop the Big West Conference standings all season long, but ended up finishing second after some key losses towards the end. Five players made the BWC all-conference team, and Flowers was named Big West Coach of the Year. Flowers would be the first to say that CSUN needs to work on finishing games, and they did falter in the conference tournament by losing in the first round. But the turnaround of the program is dramatic, and Flowers has the Matadors looking like they haven’t in 15 years. The future of the program under this exciting young coach is very bright.