UT Martin Director of Athletics Julio Freire said 17 days ago that he had a short list just like every person does when they become head of a college athletics program. One of those names on that list is now joining him in Martin as the Skyhawks look to rebuild their men’s basketball program. At a press conference inside the Elam Center, Heath Schroyer was announced as the ninth Head Coach of UT Martin today.
“I believe in the potential of this program,” Schroyer said. “UT Martin is a sleeping giant with tons of untapped potential and we will do great things here.”
Freire’s first call after hanging up with media on March 3, was to UNLV Head Coach Dave Rice to get permission to speak with Schroyer. The connection between Freire and Schroyer began months into Freire’s as assistant/associate athletics director for development at UNLV. According to Freire, who spoke with media after the press conference, Schroyer has been on his short list for two years.
“After working with (Schroyer) about a month together, we talked about working together one day,” Freire said. “My biggest fear when I accepted this job was that if we ever needed a new head basketball coach, that we could get Heath Schroyer because he is a BCS coach.”
While UT Martin isn’t a BCS job, the program has invested a lot of dollars into their new coach who is in charge of rebuilding the program. According to Freire, Schroyer has signed a six-year contract that will pay him a $200,000 base salary. “The chancellor and I spoke about this long before I made any calls and what we knew was that we needed to invest in our men’s basketball program,” Freire said.
On Schroyer’s end, his connection to the Skyhawks is one of a coach. On Nov. 30, UTM played at UNLV and it was Schroyer who broke down the scouting report of the Skyhawks. “I was impressed with the individual talent that I saw of the team and after we played them I was even more impressed with some of the individual pieces that were on the team.”
Schroyer has experience in working with basketball programs that need rebuilding. While Schroyer has spent the last three years as an assistant at UNLV focusing primarily on their defense, he does has previous coaching experience. Schroyer spent three years at Portland State compiling at 35-47 record including a 19-9, Big Sky regular season championship in his final year with the Vikings. That season gave Schroyer an opportunity to move on to Wyoming where he spent four years as head of the Cowboys. During those four years, Wyoming struggled in the Mountain West but did make the College Basketball Invitational in his second season as head coach with a 19-14 season.
While his record was nearly 20 games under .500 at Wyoming, he did make progress that was seen off the court. Schroyer inherited the worst academic progress rate of any sport in the Mountain West and developed a plan that improved Wyoming’s men’s basketball APR by 164 points to a program-best 935.
That will be necessary at Martin whose last year had a 905 four year average and a 936 two-year average. Starting next year, a team’s four-year APR must be above 930 to avoid a potential postseason ban, or a 940 over the past two years. “They are similar in a way and need to be fine turned in their own different ways, and academically we need to stay out of the APR sanctions and stay out of that trouble area,” Schroyer said. “Basketball wise we need to believe that we can win and I will have to develop the culture here.”
Schroyer inherits a Skyhawk basketball team that was expected to take a step forward this past season but finished in last place. With forward Myles Taylor and guard Terence Smith due back for their senior seasons as building blocks, Schroyer has pieces to show progress from last year. While the team has the pieces Schroyer told me that in his first year it will be a process of establishing himself on the players. Schroyer’s game plan for the Skyhawks is like the Runnin’ Rebels, up-tempo but with poise and said that this team does have the pieces to play that way. “There are those pieces right now but this spring recruiting period will be important to bring in guys that can help us now and down the road,” Schroyer said.”
Press Conference before hiring a coach?
One point that Freire wished to clear up was the reason for calling the press conference before he had offered the job to one of the four finalists. After denying the story reported by CBSSports.com that said Schroyer was the head coach Tuesday morning, he spoke about how the decision was made. After calling the press conference Tuesday morning, he and the search committee had their final interviews that evening that resulted in Schroyer getting the job at 11:37 p.m. CT and on a plane the next day. Freire’s reason for the press conference before a coach had said yes? “Ten head coaches jobs opened up on Tuesday and I didn’t want somebody taking our coach.”