After a quiet spring in 2020, the coaching carousel started spinning again after last season, atoning for the lost season and resulting in about 15 percent of Division I programs beginning 2021-22 with a new head man.
The changes occurred at every level of the sport. Even college basketball’s marquee programs such as North Carolina, Arizona, Texas and Indiana made a move at the top. Each had its own unique reason. Some coaches moved up, others moved on. Altogether there are 53 college basketball teams under new leadership and most are hoping to be rejuvenated and make March meaningful again.
Here are seven interesting changes that caught our eye.
PAT KELSEY, CHARLESTON
He led Winthrop to four Big South regular season titles and three tournament titles during nine years in Rock Hill, S.C., restoring the program to its rightful place as the class of the conference. The Eagles dominated the last two seasons, winning 38 of 42 games against Big South opponents, and claiming both league crowns. Having pushed that program to the max, Kelsey accepted a new challenge at Charleston, which boasts its own strong winning tradition and is regarded as the best job in the Colonial Athletic Association. Kelsey, a master recruiter and motivator, inherited only three players last April and quickly filled the roster with an array of talents, hailing from Division II, Division III, Australia, Senegal and all points in between.
RYAN ODOM, UTAH STATE
The only coach to lead a 16 seed over a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament headed west to lead one of the premier programs in the Mountain West Conference. The aforementioned upset - UMBC over Virginia in 2018 - created ample opportunities for Odom each offseason, however he passed until the Aggies came calling. It’s an interesting fit. Odom grew up in the Carolinas and Virginias and his career in coaching included stops along the Mid-Atlantic region. Still, it’s a top-3 job in a top-10 conference and those don’t become available every day. Odom brought two starters with him from UMBC and implemented his analytics-oriented approach to put a pleasing product on the floor in Logan this winter.
MARK PROSSER, WINTHROP
Like the aforementioned Odom, Prosser is also the son of a former Wake Forest coach. His father, Skip, succumbed to a heart attack in 2007 while still leading the Demon Deacons. The younger Prosser followed his father’s path, spending six seasons at Winthrop as Kelsey’s assistant and associate head coach before taking the head job at Western Carolina the last three years. He took the Catamounts from seven wins in 2018-19 to 19 the following season. The team struggled to an injury-riddled 11-16 mark last season in the strange COVID-19 interrupted season. Kelsey left him a loaded roster at Winthrop and Prosser added impact newcomers and should contend for its third consecutive Big South title.
MIKE JONES, UNCG
Over the last decade, Jones accomplished a difficult task - turning Radford into a consistent winner. He inherited a program wallowing in the dregs of Division I and built into one of the best in the Big South, emphasizing rugged defense and relentless rebounding to produce five 20-win seasons and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018. The Highlanders won at least 12 conference games in each of Jones’ last four seasons and his reward is inheriting a UNC Greensboro program that Wes Miller elevated to the top shelf of the Southern Conference, earning a new opportunity at Cincinnati. Jones will need time to build a roster that suits his system but the toughness and attention to detail will likely be obvious from the outset.
KIM ENGLISH, GEORGE MASON
After a near decade of mediocrity, the former mid-major powerhouse in the D.C. suburbs appears primed to return to relevance after hiring the former Tennessee assistant English to lead the program. English replaces Dave Paulsen, who was 95-91 in six seasons and failed to lead Mason to a top-4 finish in the Atlantic 10. English delivered on his reputation as an ace recruiter, landing D’Shawn Schwartz, a double-figure scorer at Colorado last season and five other newcomers. Fans should temper expectations in the first season, however, a consistent talent upgrade and brisker pace could have the Green Machine rocking the EagleBank Arena again soon.
DREW VALENTINE, LOYOLA CHICAGO
After four seasons as a Loyola-Chicago assistant, enjoying a historic run to the Final Four and upset of top-seed Illinois, Valentine replaced his boss. Porter Moser headed south to Oklahoma to replace Lon Kruger, who retired after a long, successful career. Valentine, the defensive mastermind for the Ramblers’ recent success, inherits a team expected to again compete for the Missouri Valley Conference crown and is capable of landing in the NCAA tournament bracket for the third time in five seasons. Valentine, 29, is the youngest Division I coach in the nation. He ended his playing days at Oakland as the program’s winningest player.
NATE JAMES, AUSTIN PEAY
The former Duke player and longtime assistant to Coach K slides into his first head coach job, taking over for Matt Figger, who led the Governors to four consecutive winning seasons and a 49-25 OVC record and departed for UT-Rio Grande Valley. Based on preseason comments from the new coach, expect Austin Peay to be aggressive on the defensive end. Scoring may be a challenge in year one and the Governors are likely bound for the bottom half of the OVC. Still, hiring the former Blue Devil was a smart move for a program that’s enjoyed a winning tradition and should be equipped to regularly contend for titles in the revamped OVC in the future.