Is Utah State coach Danny Sprinkle a fit for Washington Huskies job?

Utah State’s first-year coach keeps popping up in coaching search discussions.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Danny Sprinkle as Utah State faces San Francisco, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023.

As the calendar flips to conference tournament week, it is again time for a coaching reshuffling across the country.

Last spring, the process took Utah State head coach Ryan Odom away to VCU, while Utah Valley coach Mark Madsen leveled up to Cal after missing the NCAA Tournament.

This time around, the predominant name to watch is Danny Sprinkle.

Utah State’s first-year coach took a team that didn’t return a single point from last year and won the Mountain West Conference. It has him in the mix for national coach of the year honors and on the minds of high-major athletic directors looking for a shakeup.

Another name entering the coaching search discussion is BYU’s Mark Pope. The Cougars head coach had a similar turnaround story, taking a team picked to finish 13th in the Big 12 and winning 22 regular season games. BYU will be going dancing for the first time in three years. Pope could use that recognition to move up to another high-profile job if that’s what he desires.

But like anything else, it will be about which jobs are open and they both fit.

Danny Sprinkle’s outlook

Washington is letting go of Mike Hopkins after seven years on the job. After two losing seasons in the Pac-12, plus a new athletic director and a move to the Big Ten, his early success in Seattle could only go so far.

Early on, Sprinkle appears to be Hopkins’ natural successor. ESPN, The Athletic and several others listed Sprinkle as the front-runner for the job.

On paper, it makes sense. Sprinkle’s had success everywhere he’s been at the mid-major level.

He took over Montana State and had it in the NCAA Tournament within two years. At Utah State, he turned the program over in less than six months. He’s won over 100 games in under five seasons as a head coach.

Plus, Sprinkle has ties to Washington. His father, Bill Sprinkle, played for the Huskies in the 1960s as a football player. Sprinkle was also born in Pullman, Wash., although he went to high school and college in Montana.

It’s possible Sprinkle’s West Coast recruiting connections could help there, too. Utah State’s head coach cut his teeth in Los Angeles as an assistant at Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge.

If the Washington job isn’t Sprinkle’s, there will be other jobs that open.

The only real question is, will Sprinkle want to leave? When asked last year whether he viewed Utah State as a long-term job, he said he did. His old coaching mentors touted how loyal Sprinkle was, staying on for years as an assistant coach in California.

But circumstances change. It’s becoming a pattern for the Aggies to lose head coaches. Craig Smith left for Utah after three years. Odom left after two. Will Sprinkle leave after one?

Mark Pope’s outlook

ESPN has pegged Cougars coach Mark Pope as a potential candidate for the Washington Huskies, too.

“There’s been buzz Pope could look at other opportunities this offseason after leading the Cougars into the Big 12 and the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2021,” ESPN reported.

How loud — or how real — that buzz is remains to be seen.

But Pope played high school basketball in Bellevue, just across Lake Washington from Seattle, and attended Washington for two years.

When his head coach was fired, Pope transferred to Kentucky. In 2016, he told The Seattle Times that leaving Washington was one of the biggest failures of his career.

Only time will tell if Pope is interested in a return.

But there will be other high-major jobs that come up that would have Pope in the mix, too. Oregon, who could move on from longtime coach Dana Altman, might be interested in Pope. The Ducks are moving to the Big Ten and have a large NIL war chest.

ESPN says Pope could be a target for the Ducks.

Other than that, it is still early in this coaching cycle. It is unclear which options will be presented to Pope at the end of the season.

For example, will Louisville open up? Or will Florida State, Michigan or some other program explore the possibility?

Pope may simply want to build on the Cougars’ successful debut in the Big 12, but that success will undoubtedly draw interest from other suitors.