New Utah State basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun makes a bold claim on his first day

Calhoun replaces Danny Sprinkle, the latest in a long line of coaches who have left Logan after experiencing success.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The new coaches try to learn the Aggie fight song, during a news conference introducing Wesley Brooks and Jerrod Calhoun as the Aggies’ new women’s and men’s basketball head coaches, at Utah State University, in Logan, on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

Whenever Youngstown State wrapped up its conference games last winter, head coach Jerrod Calhoun would find a television and flip on some late-night West Coast basketball for inspiration.

He’d go through plenty of teams, plenty of games. But the one he said he kept coming back to was Danny Sprinkle’s Utah State group.

“The Aggies became my favorite team last year,” Calhoun said. “I told Coach Sprinkle this two nights ago. We talked for an hour and a half. I fell in love with this group of players.”

So when Sprinkle left for Washington last week, and Calhoun interviewed to replace him, his pitch was simple.

“If [the players] come back, we can win a national championship,” Calhoun said. “I truly believe that. I got hooked on these guys and the fan base.”

But would he stick around in Logan if he did win it all?

“Hopefully I’d get a big raise if that happens,” he joked.

And so Calhoun’s tenure at Utah State’s head coach began on Tuesday, with bold proclamations and trying desperately to ingratiate himself to a fanbase that has gotten dizzy from the coaching carousel.

Calhoun is the fourth head coach in the last six years. The last three all left after making the NCAA Tournament, bolting for bigger schools and bigger paychecks.

The last coach, Sprinkle, was the most painful loss of them all. He came in last April and said he wanted to stay. The fanbase believed him. He grew up in a small town in Montana and coached at his hometown school, Montana State.

“Maybe he’d see some of the same qualities” in Logan, Eric Laub, USU’s Blue A Collective leader, said last week.

But after 28 wins and an NCAA Tournament victory, he was gone, too — off to the Big Ten.

So what is there to believe Calhoun isn’t treating USU like a pitstop on the way to greener pastures, too? His answer, at least right now, is family.

“I’ve read quite a bit about this place and I know there have been quite a few changes. But I’ll tell you this: My girls are at the age where we don’t want to move,” he said. “We like to really stay where we’re at. We’ve got three little ones. So if that is the case [where USU wins], absolutely.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Diana Sabau,Vice President & Athletics Director leads the coaches in the Aggie fight song, during a news conference introducing Wesley Brooks and Jerrod Calhoun as the AggiesÕ new womenÕs and menÕs basketball head coaches, at Utah State University, in Logan, on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

Tuesday saw Calhoun trying to prove his loyalty by taking it one step further than Sprinkle did a year ago. Whether that was talking about national titles or how Logan was a destination job for him.

“Logan fits us,” he said. " As we drove in here last night, we said this is a little bit like West Virginia. The mountains are much prettier out here. But we feel at home and I think that is so, so important.”

Calhoun, in many ways, is quite similar to Sprinkle. The former Utah State head coach was known as a grinder, obsessive about basketball. He built a roster that won the Mountain West in the span of a few months.

And Calhoun spouted the same beliefs. He said his criteria for an assistant coach is somebody who is willing to sacrifice days and nights.

“I like from my staff guys that have a motor,” he said. “We work extremely long hours. Guys who want to be head coaches.”

Like Sprinkle, Calhoun worked himself up from the lower ranks of the sport. He was an assistant at Walsh — a Division II school — and the head coach at Fairmont State.

He built a winner at Youngstown State with an efficient offense. His best team in 2023 had a top-50 offense in Division I. Calhoun has never been to the tournament, but he did win the Horizon League.

But just because there are parallels between Sprinkle and Calhoun, he distanced himself a little bit. And that will start in the next 48 hours.

His top priority, he said, is ensuring the core of last year’s roster returns. Center Isaac Johnson already said he would come back, a big boost. Guard Mason Falslev is in the transfer portal. Great Osobor and Ian Martinez’s plans are also still up in the air.

“We are going to have a meeting tomorrow with every single guy,” he said. “My sole focus is our current players. So many coaches come in and talk about the next recruit. The best recruits are those guys.”

When athletic director Diana Sabau introduced Calhoun, she accidentally said he spent the last “seven years at Utah State.” She meant Youngstown State, but it elicited a laugh from the fans in attendance.

They all wish a coach would stick around that long.

Will Calhoun be that person? On day one, he is doing everything he can to show he will.