Who could be the next coach at Green Bay?

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In a move that’s a surprise at least in terms of its timing, Green Bay cut ties with Head Coach Will Ryan with 10 regular season games remaining. Now the Phoenix will have a massive head start on most of the NCAA in the school’s search for a new leader. While Ryan’s buyout is significant, it’s nothing compared to the one Green Bay has been paying Linc Darner. With that in mind, the school should have a higher budget than the 175,000 dollars Ryan was making and some new applicants this time around.

Here’s a look at some potential candidates for the job:

John Tharp, Hillsdale College Head Coach

Longtime HIllsdale Head Coach John Tharp could be the ideal candidate for Green Bay. In general, I think the Phoenix should look for a successful Division II coach with a roster featuring players that have eligibility remaining beyond this year. Tharp just happens to check those boxes while coaching in the Horizon League footprint. Green Bay’s ranking below all 11 teams currently in the process of transitioning to Division I and the fact that many of those teams didn’t make the Division II tournament the year before making the move indicate that if Tharp’s current roster that sits just outside the Division II Top 10 at Hillsdale played the Phoenix it would be a massive upset if Green Bay won.

Due to the extra year of eligibility given to athletes who were in college during the height of COVID cancellations, the vast majority of Hillsdale’s rotation would have at least one more year to play at the NCAA level. If key players opted to take a shot at Division I, it could allow the team to hit the ground running. Another intriguing element of Tharp’s candidacy is that Green Bay assistant Brandon Pritzl played for him from 2010 to 2014, then served as an Associate Head Coach for him from 2016-2020. I sometimes feel like I’m alone here, but I think there’s a decent amount of D-I talent on the Phoenix roster. A little coaching continuity could keep some of it around. Add in an influx of talent from a top D-II, a coach that has proven he can run a program, and a few new pieces and I believe you have a team that could instantly make a big jump in the league.

As for the potential pitfalls? First, Hillsdale is a private school and Tharp’s salary is unknown. Green Bay hasn’t paid a coach the going rate for a top-tier assistant at a power conference school in a long time. If Tharp is making enough that Green Bay’s offer isn’t a significant bump, he’s obviously off the table. The other issue that could arise is that coaching is a fraternity. Tharp’s former player and assistant could be on the verge of losing his job in less than a full recruiting cycle. If Pritzl gives a negative review of his time in Green Bay? We’ll have to move down the list.

Jimmy Foster, Bradley Assistant Coach

If there’s one thing a Milwaukee alum can tell you about having a pair of coaching searches so close together, it’s that coming up with a list of candidates gets a little easier. Foster is a former Green Bay assistant who works with former Phoenix Head Coach Brian Wardle at Bradley, and he was one of the top candidates late into Green Bay’s search last time around. Bradley hasn’t had an upward trajectory that helped Foster’s chances, but it also hasn’t faltered in a way that should hurt them. Green Bay fans seem hesitant to hire someone without head coaching experience, but that feels a little reactionary for a program that owes so much of its success to people like Foster’s boss Brian Wardle.

Brad Soderberg, Virginia Director of Scouting

That thing I said about having a pair of coaching searches so close together making candidate lists easier? File Brad Soderberg into that category too. Soderberg was another finalist when the Phoenix opted for Ryan. With that said, I’m not as big of a fan of him as the Phoenix seemed to be last time around. Soderberg generally hasn’t done a great job of elevating programs, and although I think he would manage to do so here by default I think hiring the 61-year-old who has never been particularly exciting would be a way of telling fans, “we’ll make it more appealing for the next guy.” I don’t think that’s necessary in the Transfer Portal era.

Ben Johnson, San Jose State Assistant Coach

Johnson is another coach who was a serious candidate the last time Green Bay was looking for a Head Coach, and he’s arguably the one who has improved his standing the best. Johnson’s time at Portland ended after Terry Porter was fired, but he caught on with Tim Miles at San Jose State. In Johnson’s second season, the Spartans are actually competent after regularly being a sub-300 team prior to MIles’ arrival. Johnson feels like a bit of a fallback option to me, but given that he’s the one finalist who might actually be in a better spot than last time around? He deserves a shoutout.

Freddie Owens, Green Bay Interim Head Coach

Early reactions to the firing of Ryan are that the timing is…strange. With that said, it does give the team a chance to see if they might have a surprise candidate waiting on their own bench in Interim Head Coach Freddie Owens. Owens has been a Division I assistant primarily at the mid-major level since 2009. Now he’ll get a chance to run the show for 10 games. If he shows he can do something with the roster that Ryan never could, he might have enough of an opportunity to keep the gig. Where that becomes a tall task is that Ryan wasn’t the only one to leave the Phoenix bench. With Owens getting the interim tag and Jared Swanson’s apparent departure, the aforementioned Pritzl is the only assistant coach left on the Green Bay sideline. The roster was struggling to win when it had three assistants on the sideline like every other school in the league. With only one? Owens might be in a no-win situation.

John Brannen, Dayton Program Analyst & Senior Special Assistant

Former Northern Kentucky Head Coach John Brannen clearly knows how to win in the Horizon League, where he lifted a provisional Division I program to the top of the league en route to getting the Cincinnati job. While things obviously didn’t work out for Brannen in the AAC and he had a quick exit from the Bearcats, getting back onto a college basketball staff doesn’t seem to have drawn much uproar. Obviously Brannen’s coaching abilities would be a massive upgrade, but the issues that resulted in his early exit at Cincinnati could prove to be an issue in recruiting. If it’s not though, Brannen could be a top-notch hire for Green Bay.

Lincoln Weiseman, Milwaukee Director of Video & Analytics

Sorry, I had to find a way to slip “Linc” in there! And what better way to go with a guy off the arch-rival’s staff? In all seriousness, there will be a lot of talk about former coach Linc Darner and some of the usual suspects that I don’t think are likely to be in the mix for a combination of reasons. For some, the reason is obvious: Darner just got fired by Green Bay 3 years ago, he’s not going back. For others, it’s a mix of the “coaching fraternity” I referenced earlier and bad timing for this coaching change. Gary Grzesk has been a regular name in Green Bay’s recent coaching searches, but his St. Norbert team is 11-7 in Division III this year. Saul Phillips, Joe Krabbenhoft, and others with strong ties to Ryan also feel unlikely this time around.

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