Logan • Jerry Bovee hopped on a call with Virginia Commonwealth University athletic director Ed McLaughlin on Thursday morning. The two spoke for about 10 minutes, going back and forth in a collegial manner, by Bovee’s account.
But when Utah State’s interim athletic director hung up the phone, he was still left in the same position USU was in two years ago: without a basketball coach. Its top guy poached again.
This time, it was Ryan Odom leaving two years into his five-year contract to head to VCU. He made one NCAA Tournament and was immediately out the door a week later. Before that, it was Craig Smith leaving three years into his deal, gone to Utah after two NCAA Tournaments.
“Look, VCU is getting a really good coach,” Bovee said after he hung up with McLaughlin. “... We had no reason to believe [Odom] wouldn’t be here to fulfill his contract, but we’re living in crazy times. The days of Stew Morrill being here for 17 or 18 years, those are anomalies that aren’t happening as much in our business.”
As Bovee comes to terms with this new era of rapid coaching movement, there are two schools of thought. The first is this is just standard practice now, where mid-major schools lose their coach quickly after just a little bit of tournament success. It isn’t just happening at USU, but across the country.
But there is also a second school of thought, that maybe there is something specific USU needs to do to make sure the next hire is around longer. Because while everyone has been hit, USU has been seemingly hit more often. The last three coaches since Morrill (1998-2015) haven’t lasted more than three seasons (Morrill’s immediate successor, Tim Duryea, was fired in 2018 after going 47-49).
And this last coaching change, Odom to VCU, wasn’t a case of a coach leaving for a high-major job. It was to a school in the Atlantic 10, a worse conference than the Mountain West (though Odom does have ties to the area, having previously worked as an assistant coach at Virginia Tech and American University in Washington D.C.).
“We’re looking for the right fit, someone that wants to be in Cache Valley,” Bovee said as he chewed on the issue. “But to say we need someone that’s going to be here 20 years, I just don’t see that as a reality. So why would we make that part of our search process? Let’s find the best coach we can find, that fits our community and our demographic and all that, and let’s get them.”
And with that mindset, Bovee began the search for Odom’s replacement — who went 44-25 in two seasons in Logan. He said he has already talked to multiple agents and wants to move quickly on this next hire.
With the transfer portal open and ongoing, which makes player movement and roster retention quite fluid, not having a coach at this particular moment puts USU behind schedule.
“We’re being expeditious, but we’re going to check all the boxes,” Bovee said. “I would like it to be quick. Because we have to spend time now with the transfer portal and that whole dynamic of recruiting our kids now.”
Bovee spent Wednesday night, when Odom officially left, talking to players to ease their concerns. He talked to some again individually on Thursday morning. Obviously, though, he knows they want a firm plan as they determine whether to stay or leave. And that requires a coach actually being in place.
Bovee is flying out to Houston on Friday morning for the Final Four, and will get much of the coaching search done there, as all the coaches and athletic directors will be in one place.
“We’ll see where this goes next week,” he said.
For now, he is looking for somebody with head coaching experience. He didn’t rule out a current assistant with strong recruiting ties to the state of Utah. He said he wants Utah recruiting to be the base of the roster moving forward. Notably, neither Smith nor Odom came to Utah with strong ties to the state.
Bovee also said he will give Nate Dixon — currently serving as the interim head coach — a look. Dixon has been a longtime assistant for Odom going back to UMBC, and Lenoir-Rhyne in Division II. He came to Logan with Odom.
“Going into the search, we think that Utah State is a great enough job that we can garner interest from those who have head coaching experience. That’s where we are focused,” Bovee said. “But to say that’s only what we’re looking at would be a miss on my part.”
Bovee will not hire a search firm to help bring him names to consider for the job. He said he would only use an outside agency to help with background checks and travel.
“My philosophy is if if I don’t know what this place needs, then why do they need me?” Bovee said. “So we’ll utilize all the resources, but I’ve already been in touch with agents. It’s happening. I know who’s interested in the job, and we know who we’re interested in. And in some cases, those are meshing.”
Whoever that person ends up being, the question will still be, “How long will they be in Logan for?” And that is something Bovee knows he won’t truly be able to answer.
He acknowledged all he can do is prepare. With Odom, he started preparing two months ago, when it became clear USU would have a good chance to make the tournament. He warned the president of the university that there might be a coaching search soon.
He said he didn’t officially know Odom was gone until this week. But he did point out that he and Odom talked frequently in the past few weeks, as Bovee traveled with the team to the NCAA Tournament. He saw the dominos fall and put feelers out to agents before it was done.
And if that were to happen again in a few years, Bovee wouldn’t be surprised.
“What was [Thomas] Friedman’s book, ‘The World is Flat’? The world was kind of flat in our business too. And there’s so much connection,” Bovee said, tacitly acknowledging the next hire might leave too. “I think it’s just where we are in college athletics in real time. I’m sure social media makes it seem like it’s worse, or that [coaches are leaving] more actively now. Maybe it’s always been this way and we just didn’t know it. So I don’t get too caught up in that, other than it gets your mind prepared on, ‘How this will go?’ and, ‘Are we prepared to make a transition?’”