Jacksonville State has a new head coach, in former Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper. For the time being, let’s ignore whatever happened that led to Harper’s resignation at WKU, and just look at Harper’s career as a Division I head coach.
Division I coaching jobs: Just one — 2011 until 2016 at Western Kentucky. All previous head coaching jobs were in Division II or NAIA — where he did win four championships between 1998 and 2008.
Division I record: 90-62 (.592), which includes three 20-win seasons.
Conference championships: None. Includes two and a half seasons in the Sun Belt, and two seasons in Conference USA.
NCAA Tournament appearances: Two: his interim season as head coach, and his first full season. WKU missed the NCAA tournament the last three seasons.
Record against OVC opponents:
- vs Austin Peay: 2-0
- vs Belmont: 0-2
- vs Eastern Illinois: 1-0
- vs Eastern Kentucky: 1-0
- vs Murray State: 1-2
- Overall: 5-4
Team Stat Profiles:
|Season||Ken Pom Ranking||OPPP Rank (Conf.)||DPPP Rank (Conf.)||Record|
|2011-12 - Sun Belt||189th||266th (8th of 12)||118th (7th)||16-19 (7-9)|
|2012-13 - Sun Belt||183rd||186th (2nd of 11)||179th (7th)||20-15 (10-10)|
|2013-14 - Sun Belt||181st||242nd (6th of 10)||117th (2nd)||21-11 (12-6)|
|2014-15 - CUSA||141st||164th (7th of 14)||133rd (6th)||20-12 (12-6)|
|2015-16 - CUSA||161st||89th (8th of 14)||265th (7th)||18-16 (8-10)|
From a purely competitive standpoint, it’s hard not to see this as an upgrade. Only Harper’s interim year saw a losing record…and the team went 11-8 after he took over. The Sun Belt and CUSA ranked higher in KenPom’s conference rankings every year than the OVC, so that success should translate to Jacksonville State.
That being said, recruiting is the name of the game, and the population of Bowling Green, Kentucky (61,288) is much larger than that of Jacksonville, Alabama. (12,484) — and JSU has about half of the enrollment of Western Kentucky. Harper will likely be recruiting from a similar pool of players as he did at WKU, but to a much different school. Doesn’t mean he can’t do it, but it will be a challenge.
There’s also still the matter of Harper’s exit from his former school — which coincided with three of his players being suspended from the men’s basketball program. None of the three were charged with a crime at the time of Harper’s exit, making the whole situation just that much more mysterious. Just to add another level of mystique, Harper’s contract was expiring. According to the Bowling Green Daily News, the team had an option to extend Harper’s current deal for one year up to three days before Harper’s resignation — but chose not to. We still don’t fully know what happened there, and likely never will.
The bottom line: It appears Jacksonville State did pretty well. They got an experienced head coach, that understands winning on a mid-major level.
He might not be a long-term solution, but Harper could be just the coach to jump start the Gamecocks basketball program.