Utah State Athletic Director John Hartwell must be getting used to coaching searches by now.
He went through one three years ago when he hired Craig Smith to lead the men’s basketball team. He went through one a few months ago when he replaced Gary Andersen with Blake Anderson as the head football coach.
And he just started another one after Smith left the Aggies for the University of Utah over the weekend.
“This was a very attractive opening three years ago,” Hartwell told reporters during a conference call on Monday. “And from our level of success the last three years, [it’s] and even more attractive job now.”
Hartwell said he doesn’t anticipate needing an outside search firm to help with the process of finding Smith’s replacement. He hopes he’ll have a hire to announce by the end of next week.
In the meantime, Hartwell said, the Aggies players have been asked to hold tight on putting their names in the NCAA Transfer Portal until the coaching decision is made.
“We feel there’s a strong nucleus on our team coming back and a really attractive opportunity for us to continue the increased success levels of our men’s basketball program,” Hartwell said.
The new Utah State coach will be without Neemias Queta, who announced Monday he will declare for the NBA draft. But if no one else leaves, the coach will inherit veterans such as Justin Bean, Brock Miller and Marco Anthony, as well as promising young players like Rollie Worster and Steven Ashworth.
Hartwell said from a negotiation standpoint for prospective coaches, he will likely start at the figure Smith was making. Smith earned $775,000 in the 2020-21 season, plus bonuses. That figure was to rise in increments of $25,000 each year and would have ended at $900,000 in the 2025-26 season.
Hartwell also said he won’t limit himself to candidates who are local or have prior head coaching experience. He does want someone passionate, though.
While coach searches are arduous processes that carry with them plenty of uncertainty and anxiety for all involved, Hartwell wouldn’t mind going through another one in a few years if it means the Aggies have excelled.
“I would rather have high levels of success and have to repeat this process maybe every three to four years than to have mediocrity or less than mediocrity and have the same person in place for 10 years,” Hartwell said.
Here is a look at some candidates that would make sense for Hartwell to consider:
The Weber State Wildcats went 17-6 in the 2020-21 season under Rahe in his 15th season at the helm. He’s the Big Sky Conference’s all-time leader in wins. He’s won at a near 70% clip in conference games alone throughout his career. If Utah State wants a proven winner, there’s one residing just 52 miles south.
The BYU Cougars are fresh off an NCAA Tournament berth. Last season, they turned Yoeli Childs into an NBA draft prospect. Burgess has been Mark Pope’s lead assistant since 2019, and has ties to several other in-state basketball programs just in the past seven years. If Burgess wants to try his hand at being a head coach, the Aggies could be the perfect next step.
The longtime assistant at the University of Utah is probably now out of a job after Larry Krystkowiak was fired and then replaced by Smith. He’s also a former head coach at Westminster, where in 12 seasons he won nearly 70% of his games. The track record of winning and his local ties could make Connor a viable candidate for the Aggies and at least land him an interview.
The former Nebraska coach hasn’t been on the sidelines since 2019. But he has a deep connection with Smith, seeing as he is essentially the former Utah State coach’s mentor. Smith coached under Miles at several stops, including Colorado State and North Dakota State. So if the Aggies are looking to replicate Smith’s demeanor and coaching acumen, Miles is a possibility. And he knows the Mountain West well from his years with the Rams.