In a conference where one-third of the league doesn’t make an end of year tournament, you don’t expect the first, and quite possibly only firing to be a coach whose team not only qualified, but who had his best record in conference play yet. But, citing that very record and “program support,” SIUE’s athletic director Dr. Brad Hewitt cast the first ripple in the OVC coaching pond, by announcing that head coach Lennox Forrester would not be returning to the Cougars after eight seasons.
Whether or not there’s another firing, the coaching intrigue in the OVC is far from over. And you don’t have to look far to see where the next move could happen.
Murray State head coach Steve Prohm has been on the offensive this week. After a shot in the final second dashed his team’s NCAA Tournament auto-bid hopes, Prohm has spent the week on radio and tv, promoting his team, his resume, and his schedule to anyone and everyone that would listen. Today, he took his cry to be an at-large team to Sporting News, where he wrote a lengthy letter, discussing everything from injuries, to how this year’s schedule came to be, to why the league is stronger than the national media knows.
He did it without attacking teams on the bubble, trying to not only bolster his team, but also the Ohio Valley Conference. This entire week, Prohm has not only acted as a ambassador for Murray State basketball, but the league’s product as a whole. He’s taken it to every platform — avenues, like the Sporting News article today, finding opportunities coaches at this level are rarely, if ever, afforded.
It’s that’s not a reason to pay him elite mid-major money to stay at Murray, I don’t know is.
Make no mistake: when this season ends, teams are coming after Prohm. They already have in past years, and now not only has Prohm gone 31-2, he’s now won 25 straight games in the fourth year — his first year with a team fully brought up under his lead. He was on the staff that recruited guard Isaiah Canaan, currently playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, and he has another NBA-caliber guard on his team now in Cameron Payne, if the 25 NBA scouts at this year’s OVC Tournament are any indication.
Prohm, at least in the world of a low-major, is paid well: he’s the second highest paid coach in the Ohio Valley Conference, behind only Belmont’s Rick Byrd, who has been with the program 23 years longer than Prohm has been at Murray. In four years, he’s brought more than 100 wins, two 20+ game win streaks, been ranked in the top-25 in two of his four years, and has without a doubt brought more media attention to the program than any coach before him.
It’s hard to imagine, without great change in the Ohio Valley Conference as a whole, changes that could make the league a legitimate two-bid threat…
What more you could want out of your head coach?
Of course, this is far from Prohm’s mind today. Prohm would much rather me continue to beat the drum for why the #RacersDeserveABid than even think about his future with the program.
But honestly, the best argument I can make is to point everyone towards his. How the Racers 25-game win streak is the eighth-longest in Division I basketball since 2001. How they played great mid-major programs, went 4-0 against the Missouri Valley, and how much better the league is than the media at-large thinks it is.
And those arguments, how he’s made them, how he has gone to bat, and probably lost sleep defending this program, is the number one reason to do everything in the school’s power to keep him in Murray.
Some other coaches who could see offers this year:
Jeff Neubauer, Eastern Kentucky: A win in the CIT, and Neubauer will have his third-straight 20-win season in Richmond. He’s been 11-5 or better in conference each of the last three years, and has had consistently strong teams over his decade with the Colonels, never missing the OVC Tournament. There will likely be some good mid-major programs whose coaches leave for greener pastures, and Neubauer could be on a few short lists to be a replacement.
Jay Spoonhour, Eastern Illinois: Spoonhour has only spent three years in Charleston, but his teams have gotten better every year, and to be frank, Charleston isn’t an easy place to win in consistently. He could very well still be around for a few more years, but I’d be surprised if some mid-major programs aren’t looking at what he’s done there, and wondering about what he can do with more resources around him.
Sean Woods, Morehead State: Woods has that Kentucky basketball experience, and it never hurts to be associated with the Wildcats. It also doesn’t hurt that Woods coaches an exciting style of basketball. Again, the three-year mark is where we often see some offers come in, and while Woods hasn’t overachieved in Morehead, his teams have been consistently competitive in the OVC.