Disclaimer: I am a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University. But with that said, this piece is not an attempt at sabotage. It’s in my interest to see as many competitive Atlantic 10 teams as possible (hell, I own an Atlantic 10 website, I need everyone good).
While I didn’t enjoy Jett, McCall, Evans and Co. beating my teams brains out at Chaifetz or the Billikens denying my black and gold an A-10 title in our first season, all of that is preferred to one of the conference’s top programs playing the role of A-10 cellar dweller. A top-50 RPI road game, even in a loss, does us all better than A-10 land mines and RPI drags. The Atlantic 10 needs Saint Louis 10,000 strong in a sea of blue night in and night out and with the right coach I think we all know they can get back there and get there quickly.
SLU has tapped the search firm of Eastman and Beaudine to help find the guy who will turn things around and get the big blue machine out of the ditch and back on the highway. To their credit they were the team that “found” Rick Majerus, to which I say…you needed a search firm to find a hall-of-famer?
But those candidates are few and far between. Most teams won’t have the option of a coach just two season’s removed from national runner-up status, with three Sweet 16 appearances on their resume. So with that in mind, here are some candidates I’d take a serious look at if I were SLU (or any A-10 program who might need one this offseason). Coaches who I think could be a bargain for the Billikens early and future stars for the program.
CURRENT HEAD COACHES
Chris Beard (Arkansas Little Rock)
Beard has kicked his way through the ranks since 1991 when he started as an assistant at the University of Texas. His longest stint came as associate head coach of the Texas Tech from 2001-2011. The Red Raiders went to four NCAA tournaments over those six seasons with a Sweet 16 appearance in 2005. As impressive as that was in a supporting role, Beard’s first season as D1 head coach has been even better. In his lone season at Arkansas Little Rock Beard led his squad to 30 wins including a first round NCAA tournament upset of Purdue. He’s lost just five games, none consecutively, and took a team that finished 13-18 last season and 8-12 in conference to 30-5 with a 17-3 conference mark. The Trojans ranked 155th nationally last season in adjusted offensive efficiency and 281st in adjusted defensive efficiency under then-head coach, Steve Shields. Beard got them into the top-100 in both categories in one season, ranking 88th nationally in adj. offensive efficiency and 31st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Trojan’s defensive effective field goal percentage of 45.9% ranked 25th in the country a season after checking in a No.255. That is a massive turnaround. Now is the time to buy Chris Beard or quite frankly you ain’t gettin him. He is a future star plus his favorite band according to Matt Norlander’s recent article was Merle Haggard, so you know he’s a bit of a badass as well.
Bryce Drew (Valparaiso)
Here’s the thing about Drew: I hope he never leaves Valparaiso. He went to Valparaiso High School, became a legend at Valparaiso University under his father Homer Drew and quite frankly belongs at Valparaiso in my opinion. HOWEVER, if he’s going to leave, you wouldn’t mind having him coaching you’re team if you’re a Saint Louis Billiken. Drew worked his way into the head coaching gig at Valpo after starting as an assistant under his dad in 2005 and has finished first in the Horizon four of his five seasons as head coach. That’s success. Drew would be an obvious choice for Saint Louis if they could get him, but again, I hope he stays true to his roots and continues to elevate his alma mater, because who knows, one day they could become a conference foe of Saint Louis.
Kevin Keatts (UNCW)
I love a coach who can turn a dumpster fire into a contender overnight and that’s exactly what Keatts has done at UNC Wilmington (and what SLU needs). The Ferrum grad has tons of experience in the business, having coached as an assistant since 1996 and having spent the past two seasons as a head coach at UNCW where he took a team that finish 9-23 before his arrival and turned them into a 25-8 this year. The Seahawks were ranked 318th nationally (out of 351 teams) in adjusted offensive efficiency the season before he arrived and in just two seasons have gone from that horrendous example of an offense to one that ranked 70th nationally this past season. SLU ranked 314th this past season and I’m sure would welcome a similar fix from Keatts as well.
ASSISTANT COACHES READY TO LEAD
Luke Murray (Xavier)
He’s not only the son of famous actor Bill Murray, he’s also a young assistant who’s seen success follow him everywhere he’s gone. Murray coached in the A-10 just two seasons ago, serving as an assistant on Dan Hurley’s second place URI team. Prior to assisting Hurley’s Rams, he helped Pat Skerry pull off one of the biggest turnarounds in college hoops, taking a team that finished 1-31 (1-31!!! Can you even imagine???) and helping them go 18-13 the following season. This year with the Xavier Musketeers he’s been a part of X’s second-place Big East finish and 28-6 overall record. Chris Mack’s squad went 9-9 in conference play a season prior to his arrival and finished 14-4 in the Big East with Murray on the bench. As a media member it’s tough to know how talented of an x’s and o’s guy assistants are, but all I know is Murray has seen success follow him everywhere he’s gone. He’ll be a head coach soon enough and I think is a gamble worth taking.
Raphael Chillious (Washington)
Chillious is actually a name I heard brought up prior to Shaka Smart ever leaving VCU so at one point thought he very well might have been VCU’s “next Shaka Smart” (I’m glad Will Wade became that guy instead). The Huskies assistant has spent time on both coasts, assisting at Washington and Villanova on several very successful programs and is a big-time recruiter, having served as Nike’s business manager for Elite Youth Basketball. He’s young, relatable and HIS LAST NAME HIS CHILLIOUS! How cool is that? VCU got Shaka Smart by going this rout and got a Final 4 run for pennies. Could Chillious do the same for a program like Saint Louis?
Mike Morrell (Texas)
Mike is someone I got to know personally during his time at VCU and I’m telling you now the guy is a future star. The Tennessee native has served under Shaka Smart since joining his VCU staff in 2011 following the Rams Final 4 run. Since then he’s quickly worked his way up the coaching ladder, going from Smart’s Director of Basketball Operations to his assistant and righthand man at the University of Texas. Morrell is young, smart and a relentless recruiter, playing a key role in the recruitment of guys like former top-60 recruit Tevin Mack to VCU prior to decommitting to follow Smart and Morrell to Texas, as well as discovering a slew of diamonds that have found success at VCU and elsewhere. Do I think the Billikens would take a chance on young assistants like Morrell, Chillious or Murray? No, no I don’t. Especially after Crews, Majerus and Soderberg. But I do think there’s a ton of value and potential with these young guys if the Billikens, sitting at the bottom of the A-10, are willing to do what a program like VCU has done time and time again (Capel, Grant, Smart, Wade).