#HLWBB Starting Five: Fired Football Coaches Edition

0
323

Welcome (back) to the Starting Five, your rundown of the key stories in #HLWBB since the last Starting Five post.

1. Seat money

If you’re a credentialed member of the media, there’s no place better than the Beeghly Center to watch a basketball game. Youngstown State seats the press at a sideline table inches from the action – something of a rarity, only Robert Morris and Milwaukee offer similar accommodations elsewhere in the Horizon League – and those early enough can park directly on the center court line.

However, for those who haven’t committed themselves to that level of irrational free labor (I’ve heard rumors that some people get paid for it, but nothing substantiated), things have been a bit lacking. That’s why YSU’s venerable barn is receiving the first seating upgrade in its 52 years over the summer, maybe the most visible of several current or proposed modernization efforts.

In short, the wooden bleachers that constitute the upper tier of seating down each sideline (though they’re typically folded up for women’s games) will be replaced with plastic benches featuring back support and the school’s block Y logo spanning the middle sections. Additionally, the lower chairback seats will be swapped out for roomier versions with cup holders. That latter adjustment is fantastic news for the guys who always sit right behind the media table and spend the whole game loudly heckling the referees and the visiting coach.

The project will cost $2 million, funded entirely through private donations, which is absolutely bonkers given the financial parameters that we usually deal with in the Horizon League. Everything should be ready to go in time for the fall semester and the beginning of the season.

2. Also known as wolfram

On Monday, the Detroit News’ Tony Paul shared some details about the one-year contract extension recently given to Oakland’s Jeff Tungate, presumably procured through a records request.

That’s quite the ask of Tungate, whose tenure began at the same time that the Golden Grizzlies joined the Horizon League in 2013-14. In those 11 completed seasons, OU has had a winning record exactly once, an 18-12 finish in 2016-17. They’ve finished in the top four twice, including that 2016-17 season and then again in 2020-21, but there’s little doubt that Tungate’s employment beyond 2024-25 depends on Oakland enjoying something of a breakthrough relative to where the school usually finds itself

If you’re a college football fan, you may recall the trials and tribulations of Brian Ferentz last fall. The much-maligned former offensive coordinator at Iowa had his contract amended in February of 2023 to include a set of benchmarks required to retain his job past the 2023 season, most infamously featuring a 25 point-per-game minimum. The university eventually pulled the plug midway through the campaign, but not before the entire thing blew up, took on a life of its own, and made the Hawkeyes an internet punchline.

Is the same thing going to happen to Tungate and Oakland? That would be almost impossible, given that Big Ten football draws orders of magnitude more attention than Horizon League basketball. Nevertheless, his status is on full display for the entire world, and it will certainly be something interesting to monitor once the season starts.

3. Phoenix legends assemble

New Green Bay head coach Kayla Karius did a lot of the heavy work related to filling in her staff this week, including the addition of Allie Alexander. You may know Alexander as Allie LeClaire, since that was her name as one of the Phoenix’s top players between 2014 and 2018. She literally won as much as possible, including Horizon League regular season and tournament championships at the end of each of her four seasons. The guard was second-team all-league and the HL’s tournament MVP as a senior, and is one of the top ten scorers in Green Bay history.

Alexander spent the last three seasons coaching for Matt Bollant (certainly a guy with a soft spot for Green Bay) at Eastern Illinois.

There’s quite a bit of player and coach movement around this time of year, and quite a few different stories I could’ve parked here. So why this one? Glad you asked.

Thanks to a tip from our Green Bay writer, Eric Fischer, I learned that Alexander’s husband is A.J. Alexander, who was the boys basketball coach at Green Bay’s Notre Dame Academy between 2018 and 2021. In 2019, NDA made national headlines when Mike McCarthy – the current Dallas Cowboys coach who, at the time, had recently been fired by the Packers – followed the referees off the court after watching his stepson’s team lose a playoff game while yelling at them, a brief tirade that presumably included words other than “safe travels home.”

Pretty awkward spot for the coach. Alexander, I mean. Well, McCarthy too I guess, since here I am talking about it five years later.

In Phoenix coaching news with less interesting backstories, Karius has also retained Sarah Bronk on her staff. Bronk, of course, has been with the program since 2007, including the tenures of both Bollant and Kevin Borseth.

4. Did I catch a “niner” in there?

If Green Bay is a picture of consistency with their assistant coaches spanning three different head coach regimes (along with any number of other oddities that make the Phoenix unique), Wright State’s roster during Kari Hoffman’s tenure has been anything but that.

The Raiders were absolutely blitzed during Hoffman’s first two summers in 2021 and 2022 and had to rebuild with very little each time. Even as the program has developed some stability – and found some success with it – over the last couple seasons, they’ve relied extensively on players with limited remaining eligibility like Bryce Nixon and Alexis Hutchison. Now that veteran roster has turned over once again (expedited by the graduate transfers of Kacee Baumhower and Rachel Loobie), leading to the Raiders reinventing themselves one more time by introducing a whopping nine incoming players this week.

Six of the nine are transfers, including Amaya Staton, who spent her freshman year on Cleveland State’s WBI championship team in 2020-21 before moving on to Merrimack and becoming the sort of interior presence WSU has mostly lacked during Hoffman’s tenure. Lexi Bugajski is another potential impact player from that group. Though she played sparingly at Appalachian State last season, Bugajski was one of the top-rated players in Wisconsin coming out of high school, placing ahead of notables like Jorey Buwalda, Paulina Hernandez and Meghan Schultz on the Prep Girls Hoops list.

One of the three incoming freshman is 6-2 Florrie Cotterill, who is from England, not something one sees often. In not-so-short, it seems as if the Raiders’ days of ceding a lot of the territory inside of the three-point arc are rapidly coming to a close.

WSU’s six (expected) returning players include a lot of young high-end talent like Rylee Sagester and Ellie Magestro-Kennedy, along with others who have shown some nice things during their careers like Claire Henson and Lauren Scott, so despite the turnover, the program still plans to be playing near the top of the standings.

5. We all love a good story

There’s been a lot said about the transfer portal, and almost as much said about the current spike in women’s basketball popularity…but could the two be related?

That’s the idea Katie Lever presented in Awful Announcing, illustrated through looks at how the portal improves storylines, name recognition, and even parity.

I’m not going to be able to do the piece justice in the 200-300 words I devote to each of these entries, so I suggest that you read the thing in full. But in my opinion it’s bang-on; women’s basketball is growing because of all three of the elements Lever presents, particularly the evolution of storylines. In Lever’s words: “The truth of the matter is that fans love sports because of how sports make them feel. Regardless of the genre, stories with sympathetic characters, heroes, villains, and the obstacles a protagonist faces in pursuit of what they want are surefire components for an emotional ride–and it’s emotion, not logic, that makes sports truly great.”

Women’s basketball has great players, who stay around the college game long enough to develop name recognition. That alone drives organic interest, and the transfer portal only supercharges things – look no further than Angel Reese beating Caitlin Clark in the 2023 championship game (punctuated with that infamous ring gesture), followed by Reese’s LSU team loading up with established stars like Aneesah Morrow and Hailey Van Lith, only to lose to Clark and Iowa in the 2024 tournament.

Like Lever said, there’s a reason that most sports conversation, in the media or in everyday life, is committed to narrative building and not, say, breaking down a zone defense.

Closer to our world, I think a lot about how IUPUI beat Butler early in the 2022-23 season, after former IUPUI coach Austin Parkinson left the Jags for the bright lights of the Big East, taking star player Rachel McLimore and megarecruit Jessica Carrothers with him. It was a great win for the Jags with or without the transfers, but the portal certainly added some extra sauce to the event.

It’s a compelling argument that runs against the current a bit, which might be why I enjoyed it so much.

Leave a Reply