Losses frustrate Ohio coach Saul Phillips and, before he falls into despair, he visits his athletic director.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall knows the feeling.
Phillips works for Jim Schaus, the AD who hired Marshall at WSU and placated Marshall’s boiling frustrations during an 11-20 season in 2007-08. It wasn’t unusual for him to vent to Schaus regarding the state of the program he inherited. With a roster low on numbers and talent and decimated by injuries, Marshall endured his first losing season as a head coach.
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“I told him ‘You lied to me,’” Marshall said. “He didn’t lie to me, I just didn’t ask the questions.”
After one particularly maddening loss — WSU blew a 21-point second-half lead at Indiana State in 2008 — Marshall told Schaus to fire him. He raged to anybody who would listen about his miserable team while stalking the locker rooms and hallways at the Hulman Center.
Schaus didn’t listen. He told Marshall to stay the course, build the right way, build for the long haul and enjoy his seven-year contract.
“Jim was great,” Marshall said. “I had a couple of conversations like that with Jim. I probably wasn’t as calm as Saul that first year.”
Phillips is the latest coach to benefit from Schaus’ wisdom. Schaus, WSU’s athletic director from 1999-2008, hired Mark Turgeon and Marshall at WSU. Both are coaching ranked teams, Turgeon at No. 15 Maryland. At Ohio, Schaus hired John Groce, now at Illinois, Jim Christian, now at Boston College, and Phillips. The Bobcats (4-6) joined WSU in the Diamond Head Classic last week and finished sixth after losing to George Washington, defeating DePaul and losing to Nebraska.
“It’s pretty humbling to be part of the tree of coaches he’s hired,” Phillips said.
Phillips and Marshall talked during the tournament and compared experiences with Schaus. They found common ground benefiting from his patience and insistence on letting a coach build a program that will last.
“I’ve heard that from him at least eight times since I’ve been there,” Phillips said. “If I’ve got that kind of comfort level, I can invest in the right kind of kids and not have to worry about winning tomorrow, to be able to build what I want to build in three years. You see what Wichita’s done with that.”
Phillips didn’t know Schaus when he interviewed at the Final Four last season. He liked his job at North Dakota State, where he reached the NCAA Tournament twice. He trusted his athletic director. Schaus’ personality, basketball smarts and plan for the program won him over.
“I interviewed the same day I was contacted and 24 hours later I was working for him,” he said. “I was not going to leave (North Dakota State) unless I was working for someone I respected. Your relationship with your athletic director is huge for quality of life. In Jim, I saw a very honest, sincere person and in about 20 minutes of talking to him I realized he was much smarter than I was and I could learn some things about building a basketball program.”
Schaus is the son of Fred Schaus, former coach at West Virginia and Purdue and the Los Angeles Lakers. That basketball background matters to Phillips.
“He understands the coach’s life,” Phillips said. “He recognizes things that a lot of other administrators wouldn’t because of his basketball I.Q. We’ll get really deep into (playing) rotation ideas and where we’re going with it. I’ll listen to him. More importantly, things like scheduling and how to schedule, understanding where to funnel funds and how to invest in a program.”
Marshall’s strong relationship with his AD didn’t end when Schaus departed to Ohio in April 2008. Eric Sexton took over and extended Marshall’s contract by one season in one of his first moves.
“Those first years are always a challenge,” Sexton said. “We want to be the dream job for our coaches, so we want to support them … and give them every tool we can to be successful.”
Sexton looked at the circumstances, saw a program moving in the right direction, and wiped away that 11-20 season.
“Eric says, ‘We’re going to extend your contract, because that first year was a throwaway year,’” Marshall said. “So immediately, he not only says it, but does it, in terms of a contract extension. Coaches don’t want to coach with their back against the wall. I don’t want to be that guy and never have been.
“It helps when you have great bosses that have confidence in you and have vision. And most important, are good people. Eric and Jim are both good people.”
Ramble on — Loyola is the pleasant surprise of the Missouri Valley Conference with a 10-2 record and a power ranking (RPI) at No. 52.
Loyola, if the statistical models play out, will slip. Warrennolan.com predicts its season-ending RPI to rank No. 134. That would still represent a significant improvement for a program that ranked 200 or lower four of the past five seasons, including 292 in 2013-14. The Ramblers losses are to Michigan State and Tulane and it owns neutral-court wins over Texas Tech and Boise State, its lone win over a top-50 RPI team.
The remainder of the non-conference schedule is littered with lower-level teams, which shouldn’t detract from the accomplishment. The Ramblers, in their second season as a conference member, won’t be a drain on the MVC’s RPI, unlike several more established programs.
Loyola’s improvement defensively is most striking. The Ramblers ranked last in the MVC in 2014 after allowing opponents to shoot 45.5 percent from the field. Ken Pomeroy’s statistics ranked them No. 248 (out of 351 teams) in defensive efficiency by allowing 1.8 points a possession (anything above 1.0 is considered bad.).
This season, Loyola is holding teams to 40.5 percent shooting, 29.7 percent from three-point range. Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ranks it No. 112 at 0.97 points per possession.
Guard Milton Doyle, playing with a torn labrum in his shooting shoulder, averages 13.2 points and 3.8 rebounds and is making 54.7 percent of his shots and 56.7 percent of his threes-pointers. He is getting more help and two transfers from Coffeyville Community College are a big part.
Forward Montel James averages 9.1 points and 4.8 rebounds, starting every game, and his offensive rebounding rate is similar to WSU’s Darius Carter. Guard Earl Peterson averages 7.5 points in 21.1 minutes off the bench and is shooting 51.7 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 82.8 percent from the foul line.
Maintaining that performance over an 18-game MVC schedule will provide a tougher test. The Ramblers start MVC play with a brutal stretch. They open with Bradley at home, then play No. 23 Northern Iowa and Evansville on the road before No. 11 Wichita State visits Gentile Arena.
Worth noting — WSU’s attachment to DePaul during holiday tournaments is over. The teams met in Cancun in 2012 and Kansas City in 2013, with the Shockers winning both. Both played in the Diamond Head Classic, although they did not meet. DePaul went 0-7 in those three tournaments. The Demons play in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands in 2015. WSU goes to Florida for the Orlando Classic.… WSU’s track and field team starts its indoor season with the Bill Easton Classic at Kansas on Jan. 9. Its first home meet is Jan. 16.