A successful coach will almost always be lured away for more money and a chance at greater success with a power program; such is reality for mid-major college basketball teams. Sustained excellence is less the ability to retain winning coaches so much as it is repeatedly winning on the job market, and few programs have done so as effectively as Murray State.
The inevitable life cycle begins anew for Murray State this week, with Monday’s news that Steve Prohm is headed to Iowa State. Prohm inherits a roster from new Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg that has immediate Final Four potential.
Prohm’s move to Iowa State continues an impressive coaching lineage at Murray State, as predecessor Billy Kennedy has Texas A&M primed to break out in 2015-’16; Kennedy’s predecessor, Mick Cronin, flourished at Cincinnati before an aneurysm sidelined him midway through last season; and just a few years before Cronin’s tenure, current NC State head coach Mark Gottfried went 68-24 with a pair of tournament appearances.
Even the Murray State coaches whose careers after leaving the Racers were pedestrian succeeded in their time at Murray State. In fact, every Racers head coach, starting with Steve Newton in 1988, has made the NCAA Tournament.
That’s an impressive run of success given the turnover. Prohm’s replacement will be Murray State’s eighth head coach since that 1988 tournament appearance, which translates to a coaching change roughly every 3.5 seasons. Murray State’s next head coach is faced with matching the high standard Prohm set in his four seasons at the helm, while maintaining a nearly three-decade standard the program’s maintained.
“This time around will be no different,” Murray State director of athletics Allen Ward said in his official statement, via GoRacers.com. “It is our goal to find an individual that embodies what Murray State is all about and will embrace the expectations we have for this program. The future is bright for Racer [b]asketball.”
When Murray State last had a vacancy, it went internal and promoted Prohm from assistant to head coach. Kennedy was hired away from a power-conference program, the ACC’s Miami Hurricanes.
Turning the program over to another current assistant is certainly a possibility. Matt McMahon, Prohm’s top assistant who just last month took the Louisiana Tech job, is one to watch. Other options to consider are successful head coaches at lower-level programs — someone like Scott Davenport, a former Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith assistant who has taken nearby Bellarmine to a Div. II national championship.
No matter the avenue down which Murray State brass goes, the bar to match Prohm is indeed set high. The Racers went 31-2 in his debut campaign and reached the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.
Prohm never matched that level, though this past season’s Racers went 29-6 and navigated an undefeated season in the Ohio Valley Conference en route to a ranking in the final Associated Press Top 25 of the regular season. And yet, the 2014-’15 Racers’ failure tells the tale of just how important this particular hire is for Ward.
Murray State lost an instant classic in the OVC championship game to regular NCAA Tournament participant Belmont. The Bruins, qualifiers of their sixth Big Dance since 2006 with the upset of Murray State, are new on the OVC block and capable of taking over in much the same way they dominated the Atlantic Sun.
Belmont is also an exception to the above stated rule of mid-major programs losing successful coaches to other opportunities. Rick Byrd has been at the helm for each and every Bruins tournament appearance.
Last March’s OVC championship tilt served as a nice, potential first chapter in what could be an outstanding, mid-major rivalry. Yes, Belmont’s presence in the OVC looms large over this hire, but the Bruins aren’t the only outsiders who should keep tabs on this coaching search.
Murray State’s next move will start its mid-major life cycle all over again.