The Gary Waters Era at Cleveland State has ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.
An early-round exit in the Horizon League Tournament at the hands of Youngstown State sounds like a pretty anticlimactic ending for the all-time wins leader in school history. But that’s exactly how it came down, and on the heels of a second straight 20-loss season.
Waters virtually pulled the Vikings out of the hoops scrap heap in 2006, taking a team loaded with talent to the 2009 NCAA Tournament, a run that was capped by a first-round upset of Wake Forest.
But what goes up, apparently, must come down. In spite of multiple 20-win seasons, a spate of post-season appearances and a first-round NBA draft pick in Norris Cole, Waters was never able to repeat the success of that tourney year.
In the end, the near-misses, transfers and possibly the slide back into obscurity took its toll on Waters. And even though he has a ton of upperclassmen returning, which includes second team All-Horizon League selection Rob Edwards, Waters, who has two years left on his contract, will be parting ways with CSU.
Despite the latter-year shortcomings, history will be quite kind to Waters. The good he brought to the program, which includes all of his players graduating and one of the highest APRs in the NCAA, outweigh the bad.
But as the old saying goes, the show must go on.
It’s the future that is on the mind of athletic director Mike Thomas. He’ll be looking at a coach who will not only continue the work off the court players have done, but he will undoubtedly be seeking a vast improvement of the on-the-court product, both in the standings and in the stands.
With attendance at the Wolstein Center shrinking to virtually nothing and the partnership with Quicken Loans Arena netting very little value, Thomas’ pick for the next head coach will have his work cut out for him.
So, who will emerge as Cleveland State’s next head coach? Here are some possibilities:
Jerrod Calhoun, head coach, Fairmont State
Look up either “Rollie Massimino coaching tree” or “Bob Huggins coaching tree.” Realistically, either statement would be accurate for Calhoun. The 34-year old head coach at Division II Fairmont State has two advantages: Cleveland State roots and a reputation for building a winning program.
The Viking roots come from his start as a manager and ascending to the roster, even starting for Cleveland State during Massimino’s final season in 2002-03. Calhoun would eventually head to Cincinnati to join Huggins as a student assistant and to complete his Bachelor’s degree. The two would meet up again when Huggins took the West Virginia job and Calhoun joined the staff prior to heading down I-79 to coach FSU.
As for his coaching skills, the Falcons have won 20 games in every season of his tenure and includes this season’s tear, in which Fairmont State easily took the Mountain East Conference regular season crown and earned the Falcons a No. 1 ranking in Division II.
John Groce, head coach, Illinois
Groce has big advantages and disadvantages in the coaching race. The biggest advantage? He’s the coach Thomas hired at Illinois after a wildly successful stint at Ohio. With the Bobcats, Groce notched a Sweet Sixteen appearance that including beating Michigan, which probably made then-football coach Brady Hoke a bit uncomfortable.
The disadvantages? Well, first is that he’s not exactly available at the moment. The Illini still have Groce under contract as of now, so he still has a job to do. Also, even if he gets bought out by Illinois, he may be a bit rich for CSU’s blood. If either scenario is a deterrent, consider one of his assistants, Dustin Ford, as a viable alternative.
Billy Donlon, assistant coach, Michigan
When last we saw Donlon, he was giving Green Bay a run for its money in finals of the 2016 edition of Motor City Madness while head coach at Wright State. Most fans around the Horizon League fully expected the Raiders to accept a bid to the CIT or CBI afterwards, but when it didn’t happen, something was up.
And that something turned out to be athletic director Bob Grant showing Donlon the door, replacing him with South Dakota State’s Scott Nagy for a rather sizable sum of money.
Donlon, however, landed on his feet, and joined John Beilein on the Michigan coaching staff, joining fellow ex-Horizon League assistants Saddi Washington (Oakland) and Jeff Meyer (Butler). Look for Donlon to express an interest in the Cleveland State gig if, for no other reason, the need to exact some revenge.
Patrick Tatham, assistant coach, Maine Red Claws
The inclusion of former Cleveland State player Tatham to this list may be a bit out of left field, but it would come as a surprise to many fans that the Brampton, Ontario native has quite a bit of coaching experience under his belt, including his current stint with the Red Claws in the NBA D-League.
In fact, Tatham is still part of the coaching staff at Ryerson University in Toronto (he’s completing a season in the D-League while taking a leave of absence). The Maine coaching offer came on the heels of Tatham serving as the Rams interim head coach while head coach Rob Rana led Canada’s under-18 international squad.
The interim season proved to be a great one, with Ryerson finishing 17-2 and topping the Ontario University Athletics conference. A third-place finish in the U Sports (then called the CIS) tournament also netted Tatham national coach of the year honors.
Undoubtedly, there will be additional names that pop up during the search process, but one thing is likely clear to Thomas and Cleveland State: The program needs a boost, and the next head coach must bring it in a big way.
Image via CSUVikings.com