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Penn State Basketball Coaching Big Board 2.0

Head coaching experience probably won’t be a prerequisite.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 05 Purdue at Illinois
Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry is one name that’s gaining traction for the Penn State head coaching gig.
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been a while since we’ve last done a post on the basketball coaching search. There just hadn’t been a whole lot of information leaking between last October and mid-February. Things have changed in the last couple of weeks though, with several names being bandied about on major sports news websites and well as the message boards. Thus, we figured we’d update our big board which looks completely different from what we speculated back in late October. Keep in mind, these names listed below are in no particular order.

Jim Ferry (Penn State Interim Head Coach) - Obligatory because he is still technically considered a candidate for the job. While he has done an admirable job keeping the team as focused as possible during these chaotic times, the likelihood of him getting the permanent gig are slimmer than that of Talor Battle suddenly discovering he has an extra year of eligibility remaining. Even if PSU by some miracle wins the Big Ten Tournament next week and earns the auto-bid to March Madness, it’s probably too little, too late, for Jim Ferry.

Micah Shrewsberry (Purdue Assistant Coach) - Shrewsberry’s name has been gaining quite a bit of traction lately as a hot candidate for the PSU job. While he doesn’t have any Division I head coaching experience, Shrewsberry was an assistant under Brad Stevens at Butler from 2008-2011 (for those of you keeping track at home, that includes the back-to-back NCAA title game appearances for Butler), later going to Purdue as an assistant for a couple of years before reuniting with Stevens as an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics. He is currently in his second stint as an assistant under Matt Painter at Purdue, where is well-regarded for his coaching and recruiting prowess (Purdue currently has a pair of four-star commits in their 2022 class, including 6’4” combo guard Jameel Brown from the Haverford School in Haverford, PA).

Micah is a guy who has experienced it at the highest levels of both the college and professional game, and seems like the kind of coach who could take PSU to a level of consistent success never before seen. Considering he is rumored to be one of Boston College’s top targets as well as the likelihood he will be pursued by other power conference programs that are about to make a coaching change, the athletic department is going to have to pony up more money and commit upfront to facilities upgrades and other investments than perhaps they initially intended on doing if they want to land him.

Dennis Gates (Cleveland State HC) - Another name that has been gaining some serious steam as of late, Gates has performed a tremendous turnaround at a Cleveland State program that saw a mass exodus of players after their previous head coach was fired. In just his second year as head coach, Gates’ Vikings sit at 17-7 and 16-4 in the Horizon League, good enough to win a share of the regular season conference title.

Prior to Cleveland State, Gates was an assistant for several years at Florida State under Leonard Hamilton. Gates is also a name that has been mentioned quite a bit for the Boston College opening and will surely be a hot name for other power conference jobs that open up soon, so much like with Shrewsberry, PSU will have to pony up to get him if they’re truly interested.

Saddi Washington (Michigan Asst. Coach) - This is a name that has surprisingly been bandied about for the PSU job. After being an assistant for several years under John Beilein and now enjoying great success under Juwan Howard after being retained by him, Washington is someone who will surely be on the radar for head coach openings across college hoops.

The Michigan native just last year turned down a job offer from his alma mater, Western Michigan, whom he helped lead to the NCAA Tournament as a player. Such a decision would lead one to think that Washington feels he has some bigger offers coming his way. Perhaps the PSU gig might be big enough for him to take that leap into head coaching?

Dwayne Stephens (Michigan State Asst. Coach) - The older brother of former PSU player Jarrett Stephens and a former Michigan State player himself, Dwayne has been Tom Izzo’s right hand man in East Lansing since 2003. He has been responsible for developing the likes of Draymond Green, Miles Bridges, and others that have gone on to become household names in the NBA. Prior to Michigan State, he was an assistant at Marquette under Tom Crean which included the period where Dwayne Wade led the Golden Eagles to a Final Four run.

Stephens has yet to be a head coach, but he’s also someone who can probably afford to be picky as the last thing he wants to do is take a head coaching gig that will chew him up and spit him out, similar to what Cleveland State did to fellow Sparty assistant Mike Garland. Whether he views Penn State as a job that he would be willing to take on the risk of trying to turn into a consistent winner will determine just how serious of a candidate he will be. At least he has a brother with first-hand experience that he can consult with.

Mark Schmidt (St. Bonaventure HC) - The 14th year head man at St. Bonaventure has the Bonnies poised to earn their third NCAA Tournament appearance under his tutelage. Schmidt actually has coaching ties to PSU, having been an assistant under Bruce Parkhill in the early 90’s. Much like Shrewsberry and Gates, Schmidt is also a hot name in the Boston College search.

The thing that may put Schmidt above those other two names though, is that he is a BC alum, having played there in the early-mid 80’s. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on BC landing his services over PSU.

Pat Kelsey (Winthrop HC) - If PSU is going to go with a mid-major head coach, it’s hard to find one that would be a better fit than Pat Kelsey. The former Xavier player and assistant took over Winthrop in 2012 when it was a program that had seen better days. Now in his ninth year at Winthrop, Kelsey has had only one losing season and five 20-plus win seasons (including a 23-1 record currently), which has coincided with an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017 and what would’ve been another Big Dance appearance last year.

There is no doubt Kelsey will be a hot name amongst other power conference openings. One thing that should lead to some pause though is the fact that he initially accepted the UMass head coaching job back in 2017, only to renege literally minutes before his introductory press conference and return to Winthrop, citing “personal reasons.”

John Becker (Vermont HC) - Leaving this here as the obligatory low-major head coach candidate that PSU has snagged in its previous hires with Pat Chambers (Boston University) and Ed DeChellis (East Tennessee State). Although his Vermont squad won at least a share of the American East conference regular season title, they were upset by Hartford in the semi-finals of the conference tournament and are likely NIT bound. It also doesn’t seem as if he’s gained much traction as a finalist for the PSU job, so it would be quite shocking at this point if he were to end up in Happy Valley.

James Jones (Yale HC) - We’re replacing Penn’s Steve Donahue from the original big board with another Ivy League coach. Jones has been at Yale for over 20 years and in the last five years has gotten Yale to the NCAA Tournament twice and even earned an upset win in the 2016 Big Dance over Baylor. It would be quite a leap however, for Jones going from Ivy League to the Big Ten. Not to mention the fact that he lacks Philly or Big Ten-area recruiting ties, having mainly recruited the Northeast/New England area for his talent. If Jones indeed ends up the guy at PSU, something went catastrophically wrong in the coaching search.

Mike Rhoades (VCU HC) - Although his squad lost to PSU earlier in the season, Mike Rhoades’ Rams have had themselves a very good season and are currently projected as an 11-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology. VCU will face St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 championship game next Sunday for a shot to avoid any Selection Sunday drama. Rhoades doesn’t appear to be strongly in the mix, which probably makes sense given that he’s already making $1.7 million at VCU and coaches one of the perennially top teams in a respectable enough conference like the A-10. He can certainly afford to be a little more picky when it comes to taking a power conference job.

Joe Crispin (Rowan HC) - If PSU is interested in going outside the box with their coaching hire, this would certainly be one. Crispin is one of course, one of the most beloved players amongst the PSU fanbase and for the last several years, has been a successful head coach at Division III Rowan University in his native New Jersey. Crispin has won a conference title with his team’s free-wheeling, offensive-minded style of play. He recently did an interview with the City of Basketball Love blog’s Kevin Callahan, in which Callahan attempts to make the case for why PSU should turn to Joe for their next hire.

Although it would be fun to see the former star of that Sweet 16 squad come back and turn the Nittany Lions into the Big Ten’s version of the Golden State Warriors, the fact that he has spent his entire coaching career in the Division III ranks means we simply have no proof that he is capable of coaching and recruiting at the Division I level, let alone D1’s toughest conference.