Steve Forbes knows people who took a head coaching job because it was the first one offered, not because it offered the right fit for their background and personality.
Forbes doesn’t want to be one of those coaches, which is why he feels fortunate to land the job at East Tennessee State. After spending two seasons as an assistant coach at Wichita State, he moved to East Tennessee State on March 30.
“When my family and I landed that Monday for the press conference, I felt like I was back home,” Forbes said. “People in Johnson City … they have a great passion for basketball. We sold $20,000 in season tickets at my press conference. I think people are fired up.”
Forbes spent five seasons as an assistant at Tennessee, 106 miles away, and two seasons as head coach at Northwest Florida State College. Add in assistant coaching stops at Louisiana Tech and Texas A&M and his command of the ways of the South is solid. His daughter, Elizabeth, 25, still lives in Knoxville, so the move reunites the family of five.
His connection with East Tennessee State also includes senior associate athletic director Scott Carter, who worked with Forbes at Tennessee. The university started its courtship of Forbes when the president and athletic director flew to Wichita to talk.
Forbes takes over a program that should be one of the best in the Southern Conference, which it rejoined last summer. In its final four previous SoCon seasons (2002-05), the Bucs won three division titles and two post-season tournaments. They spent the past nine seasons in the Atlantic Sun and finished third or higher four times. The Buccaneers went 16-14 last season, 8-10 in the Southern Conference.
Forbes is spending his first weeks on the job scrambling to keep up with emails. phone calls, texts and introductions that all new hires must navigate. He is close to completing his coaching staff and searching for a point guard and a big man, like almost every other coach taking over a new job.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” he said. “The first thing was the players. You’ve got to get to know the team and get a feel for how they feel about the change and their vision for the future.”
Nine players are scheduled to return and Forbes expects that number to stay relatively stable. The top two scorers were seniors, but three players who started the final game of the season retain eligibility. The recruiting calendar is working against Forbes, who spent Thursday in Florida recruiting. NCAA rules limit his time to evaluate and talk with the juco prospects he needs to bolster his roster.
“We have to go out now and sign some guys to help them,” he said. “I’ve worked them out twice. They’re excited and they’re trying hard. When you’re trying to change culture and style of play, there’s going to be some difficult days ahead, but I like their attitude.”
As the players get deeper into Forbes’ tenure, they will see Forbes’ many influences on the court. He coached under Billy Gillispie at Texas A&M and Bruce Pearl at Tennessee, then spent two seasons at Northwest Florida running his own program before coming to WSU. He prefers aggressive man-to-man defense — an adjustment for the returners who played mostly zone defense under coach Murry Bartow — and attacking offense.
“I did develop my own style of play, and it was a conglomerate of Bruce Pearl and Billy Gillispie and all the others I’ve worked for,” Forbes said. “Now I’ll add on a lot of things we did at Wichita State.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall is known for his defense and rebounding. Forbes will take plenty of those influences and an appreciation for Marshall’s offensive acumen.
“His offense is really sophisticated and it’s very effective,” Forbes said. “He has a lot of really good sets that get guys in position to make easy baskets. I like the way he scripts the plays and how he doesn’t verbally call them out. It’s hard to scout that.”
Forbes will also take an appreciation for Marshall’s willingness to rehab Forbes’ career after he was fired at Tennessee in 2011 for his small role in the NCAA violations that also led to Pearl’s dismissal.
“I wouldn’t have this job if it wasn’t for Gregg Marshall,” he said. “People around the country have tons of respect for him. I was coming off a messy deal at Tennessee. He didn’t have to do that, and he did.”
In the polls — For years, Wichita State fans and coaches complained about the weakness of Missouri Valley Conference baseball. Now the MVC is on the rise and the Shockers aren’t contributing as much as usual.
Dallas Baptist, in its second season as an MVC member, and Missouri State are carrying the banner. Bradley is surprisingly strong and only Southern Illinois can be considered a drain on the power rankings. Warrennolan.com ranks the MVC No. 6 in its RPI among 32 conferences. Dallas Baptist is No. 1 in the RPI, Missouri State No. 9 and Bradley No. 21. Evansville is also inside the top 100 at No. 71.
The Valley should get at least two schools in the NCAA regionals with Dallas Baptist and Missouri State carrying strong at-large resumes. WSU (RPI No. 171) won’t be one of them, unless it wins the MVC Tournament. While Bradley has a strong RPI, it owns only two top-100 wins (North Florida and Iowa) and it probably needs to win the automatic bid.
Baseball America ranks Dallas Baptist No. 16 and MSU No. 24, giving the Valley two ranked teams for the first time since 2007, when Collegiate Baseball ranked No. 17 WSU and No. 22 Creighton.
The Shockers are doing their part with a strong schedule. While warrennolan.com ranks WSU’s strength of schedule No. 86, boydsworld.com ranks it No. 27 overall and No. 8 for non-conference opponents.
The rest of the season won’t hurt those rankings. WSU plays 21 more games in the regular season and all but two (No. 171 Illinois State on Sunday and No. 141 Kansas on April 21) are in the top 71 of the RPI.
Basketball celebration — WSU's men's basketball awards ceremony begins at 7 p.m. Thursday at Koch Arena.
Doors open at 6 p.m. Admission is free.
WSU will show a highlight video and coach Gregg Marshall will speak. Players and coaches will not be available for autographs.