The career trajectory of Dennis Gates continues skyward with his departure from Cleveland State to take the head coaching job at Missouri. Now, CSU athletic director Scott Garrett has to make a decision as to how the men’s basketball program, whose own trajectory has shifted dramatically from a bottom-tier also-ran to a perennial contender, will move forward without Gates.
Naturally, as it has always been the case in college hoops, time is of the essence, with the spring signing period approaching, as well as a roster that may or may not seek opportunities elsewhere. For Cleveland State, this is especially true, as six seniors (Tre Gomillion, D’Moi Hodge, Deshon Parker, Deante “Spider” Johnson, Yahel Hill and Chris Greene) can all opt to take their extra COVID year. As of this publication, neither the six seniors nor any other Viking, save for walk-on Aria Eskandiari, has opted for the transfer portal.
Garrett stated in an open letter that the coaching job is undergoing a national search, which is standard protocol for any school, as it was for CSU in 2019. As a result, there has been considerable interest from outside coaches, as indicated by the estimated 20 candidates completing their initial interviews via Zoom. Also, in Cleveland State’s case, there are at least two names from Gates’ coaching staff that have been interviewed.
Here is a list of potential candidates for the CSU job, including the aforementioned Viking assistants.
Rob Summers, Cleveland State Assistant Coach
Summers will get a shot at the CSU job, and Garrett has stated that he has already interviewed, which makes sense. He has been a part of a staff that has transformed the Vikings into two-time Horizon League regular champions, and he’s also the architect of CSU’s run-first, run-often offense. He has also played a pivotal role in developing the guards, transforming the backcourt into what they call “Big Guard U.”
In addition to his work with the Vikings, Summers also brings within him previous head coaching experience, having spent three seasons at Division II Urbana. Moreover, his Ohio connections as a Gahanna native have proven valuable to Cleveland State on the recruiting front.
Dru Joyce III, Cleveland State Assistant Coach
Like Summers, Joyce has already been interviewed by Garrett for a promotion. His transition from basketball player, where he still holds the all-time assists record for Germany’s Bundesliga Basketball League, to coach has been pretty seamless. Then again, when you’re in a family full of coaches, there’s little wonder.
In moving to the Viking bench in 2019, Joyce followed the footsteps of his father, Dru Joyce II, the legendary coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s in Akron, where he recently won yet another state title. He also follows his brother Cam, who is currently at the helm of the boy’s basketball team at St. Ignatius in Cleveland.
For Joyce, as Cleveland State’s recruiting coordinator, he has been part of the overall strategy to seek out players that fit into the Viking system, be it through the high school ranks, from junior colleges and within the transfer portal.
He’s also received a number of endorsements, both from local high school coaches around Northeast Ohio, as well as his old friend and former teammate from SVSM:
Dane Fife, ex-Indiana Assistant
Fife could be in the mix for the CSU job, as he is now seeking a new role after departing from Indiana. Like Washington, Fife also has some Horizon League roots, albeit with a team that wasn’t in the conference at the time he was there. He became head coach from Purdue Fort Wayne (then IP-Fort Wayne) at 25, making him the youngest in NCAA history. He was tasked with guiding the Mastodons’ transition from Division II to Division I, which had been rather rough under his predecessor, Doug Noll.
Eventually, Fife would right the ship, posting winning season in 2009-10 and 2010-11. He ultimately set his sights on a return to the Big Ten (he played for the Hoosiers), by joining Tom Izzo’s staff at Michigan State in 2011. His name has popped up in multiple coaching jobs, including his alma mater, Indiana, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if his name was floated for Cleveland State.
That said, Fife’s name has floated around as a candidate for the open Western Michigan job long speculated to be Saddi Washington’s, if he wanted. With Washington staying at Michigan, the Broncos, not the Vikings, may be Fife’s final destination.
Jermaine Henderson, Kansas State Assistant
Conventional wisdom would say that CSU would not venture down the path of delving into the ranks of a older veteran coaches to hire, mostly because of the three coaches of this stripe that Cleveland State has hired (Rollie Massimino, Gary Waters, Dennis Felton), only Waters was able to find this success. This would likely rule out someone like Bruce Weber, who was recently dismissed by Kansas State.
However, that does not mean that one of his assistants wouldn’t be under consideration, which brings us to Henderson. This wouldn’t be the first time a K-State assistant was part of the CSU coaching rumor mill (Brad Korn and Chris Lowery were mentioned as names in 2019), and Henderson has some familiarity with Cleveland State, having been an assistant under Waters from 2015 to 2017.
With the head coaching job at his alma mater, Miami (OH), going to ex-Xavier coach Travis Steele, CSU may be something he have considered applying for.
Ben McCollum, Northwest Missouri State Head Coach
McCollum’s name was thrown around during Milwaukee’s coaching search before the Panthers ultimately hired fellow Division II coach Bart Lundy from Queens University in Charlotte, NC. It would stand to reason that Cleveland State would also be giving McCollum a look as well, given that he recently secured a third straight D2 title and fourth during his tenure, not to mention the Bearcats have won 20 games or more 11 straight years.
Should McCollum make the leap to D1, he’d continue to trend of Division II coaches that have made the transition to the Horizon League, which includes Lundy, Green Bay’s Will Ryan and Youngstown State’s Jarrod Calhoun, whose last game in D2 was against McCollum in the 2017 championship game, where McCollum bested Calhoun’s Fairmont State squad.
Jonah Hayes, Xavier Assistant Coach
When you’re thrust into a head coaching gig in the middle of a post-season tournament, you can imagine the kind of pressure you’d be under. In Hayes’ case, he took replacing Steele after the first round of the NIT (ironically where Xavier eliminated Cleveland State), and won the title.
Even before his NIT run at the helm, Hayes’ name had been kicked around for a few coaching jobs, including his alma matter, Georgia. Even with Florida’s Mike White taking that gig, Hayes is still reportedly in demand, given rumors of the bidding war between Xavier and Georgia, not to mention his name popping up as a potential replacement for Rob Lanier at Georgia State. There is a possibility that Cleveland State could enter the mix, nut the price point may be too high, given the competition for his services.