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Half of Summit League men's basketball programs bring in new coaches

FARGO — When the Summit League puts out its men’s basketball guidebook next fall, introductions may be in order. Half of the teams will have new head coaches.

It’s an extraordinary exchange rate for a conference that has continually moved up the RPI ladder in recent years. But in the last couple of weeks, that success has come with a price: head coaching turnover.

“That’s expected,” said Summit League commissioner Tom Douple. “The positive is we’re losing them to various jobs and that does speak well for the success that they’ve had.”

Winning is the main reason Ohio University hired Saul Phillips from North Dakota State and Jacksonville University hired Tony Jasick from Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

“Look at the job Tony did,” Douple said. “There were concerns when he got named and my goodness he turned it around there.”

Turning Western Illinois from an average team to a title-contending club has made head coach Jim Molinari marketable — he’s rumored to be headed to the University of Nebraska for a top assistant position. There has been no denial in the last week from the Macomb campus to the contrary.

On the other end, Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis and the University of South Dakota fired their coaches for not keeping up with the higher RPI standard. IUPUI turned to former hometown star Jason Gardner to turn its program around and USD nabbed University of Nebraska assistant Craig Smith to bring the Coyotes to the next level.

“I have all the confidence in the world of our athletic directors that they’ve chosen great coaches,” Douple said. “We’ll continue to move forward. The system is in place.”

The RPI leader this year was NDSU, which reached an all-time high of No. 25 in the power rankings. The Bison didn’t take long to turn to associate head coach David Richman to continue the program’s successful path.

“I see myself as a fit,” Richman said. “Saul put his finger tips all over it and I have no plans on blowing up that recipe. The way we’ve done it in the past is the way we’re going to continue to do it. We’re going to recruit Upper Midwest high school kids that want to be at North Dakota State.”

That doesn’t mean Richman said he wouldn’t take a transfer.

“If it fit a need? Yes,” he said.

It’s a blueprint Smith said he intends to follow at USD. Both Smith and Richman worked at one time under Nebraska head coach Tim Miles, who has used that patient formula to turn around programs at Colorado State and Nebraska.

Jasick recruited primarily a high school recruit-based team before he left the school. He was 52-47 in three seasons, including 25 victories this year and a program-best No. 115 RPI ranking. He’ll try to do the same at Jacksonville, a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference that has had three straight losing seasons.

The Summit, meanwhile, is better positioned to hire better coaches, Douple said, than it has in the past. NDSU, IUPUI, USD and Nebraska-Omaha are all in the process of building new arenas. Moreover, long-standing league member Oral Roberts is returning next year after a two-year stint in the Southland Conference.

“We may lead the nation in new-facility construction, that’s for sure,” Douple said. “We’re building new facilities and we’re putting an emphasis on it. You throw into the mix our year-end tournament, which is very successful and pretty soon you have a pretty good package to attract good coaches.”