Next FGCU Basketball Coach: What Does a Small University On the Rise Do?
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There really is another Andy Enfield out there. Or, in there. May not seem that way now, but Florida Gulf Coast University basketball didn't just have its last best March.
The cheerful news is, the man who brought Enfield to FGCU -- the one-man search committee for Enfield's replacement -- is athletic director Ken Kavanaugh -- a man with a hot hand. Kavanaugh is 2-for-2.
Late in the last century, as an AD at Bradley, he signed up little-known Jim Les to coach basketball. All Les did his first year was take Bradley to the Sweet 16, a place the 6,000-student Illinois university hadn't been in more than 50 years. The only other head basketball coach he ever hired -- with far more accomplished coaches angling for the job -- was Enfield.
One of Kavanaugh's smartest moves since Enfield announced his $1 million-a-year-plus deal at USC was making Enfield's No. 2, Marty Richter, the interim head basketball coach -- and encouraging his application to make the job permanent.
Patrick Pierson, FGCU's sports public relations specialist, told me Thursday that Kavanaugh has made it plain he won't talk about the search, and neither will his staff, until it's over. "There's no template for choosing a coach," Pierson said. "Ultimately, it's all his decision."
All Kavanaugh would say is, “We’re very confident that when it’s all said and done in a few weeks, we’ll be standing at the podium with another great coach to join the legacy of so many great coaches here at FGCU and to take over for what Andy and his staff have done.”
By all accounts, when Kavanaugh named Richter interim coach, players cheered and high-fived in the background. But the athletic director isn't tipping his hand.
“Marty is interested in the position on a long-term basis and we’ll certainly give him every opportunity for that,” he told reporters. “He’s got the inside track because he’s here. At the same time we’ll continue dialogue and continue to prepare him as a potential candidate. And that’s all Marty asks for.”
In this case, claim those who study the team, there's good sense in promoting from within. Richter brings a lot to the table for a small university.
Season-ticket holder Cal Perino said, "Right now, none of the players are leaving. Marty likes the team's high-flying, Dunk City style, he likes a fast game, he's been part of what made the team go. The players we recruited are coming here to play fast and fly high."
It's true, FGCU expects to keep everyone on the roster except graduating seniors Sherwood Brown and Eddie Murray. Even 6-foot-10 Georgia Tech junior transfer Nate Hicks and 6-6 junior guard Jamail Jones, from Marquette, have said they're staying. The university has two phenom signees in the wings, Logan Hovey and Jordan Neff.
Richter's presence just in the interim is holding the fabric and spirit of the team together.
Said Drey Robbins, a 27-year-old FGCU alum, "You think Marty isn't getting calls from other schools? He's learned a lot from Andy. He's a winner and everybody knows it. We could lose him just like that."
The way I see it is, Enfield was paid $157,500 this year at FGCU, plus a bonus of $15,000 for making it to the Sweet 16. Even with the Eagles' success this season -- plus the $100,000 of Enfield's salary that USC has to pay for ending the coach's contract early -- does a small public university, whose alumni have not been in the job market long enough to endow their alma mater, have any business competing with the pay scale of big universities, public or private? No doubt, all that weighs on Kavanaugh's mind, too.
Richter, 36, helped the Eagles go 41-28 in two seasons, Sweet 16 aside. He has been an assistant at Bowling Green and Chipola (junior) College. From 2009-11 he was a collegiate scout for ESPN. He's from nowhere, done everything. He's lean and hungry, works like a Trojan according to sophomore point guard Brett Comer, who told Sunshine State News, "I just feed off Coach Richter's energy."
Inside jobs -- promotions -- often work for small schools with an appetite for basketball greatness. Look at Gonzaga and Butler -- the two schools that Andy Enfield said he most wanted FGCU to emulate.
Gonzaga promoted Mark Few after Dan Monson led the Zags to the Elite 8 14 years ago. And what about Butler? They did the same with 30-year-old Brad Stevens after Todd Lickliter won National Coach of the Year and went to Iowa six years ago.
Dana Caldwell of the Naples Daily News said this: "If FGCU goes with Richter, it will get a lot of Enfield. Richter said Enfield really opened his eyes to lots of aspects of coaching. He would continue to use Enfield’s shooting fundamentals that led to a dramatic increase in accuracy at FGCU. He would relate to players in Enfield’s style -- serious when need be, sprinkled with lots of laughter. He’d definitely keep the push-push mentality that led to 73.5 points and more than four dunks per game."
The folks I talked with believe in Ken Kavanaugh's instincts and savvy when it comes to matching FGCU with the people who will make it shine. But they've also watched Marty Richter all season. They can be forgiven for pressing in his favor. As Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, a big Eagles fan, told me Thursday, "Whatever they've done so far, I just want them to keep doing it."
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.