Fort Wayne Basketball Achieves Success on a Shoestring

Photo: Having one of the best Mascots in the business doesn’t hurt but Fort Wayne basketball has overcome long odds 

Fort Wayne (rebranded from IPFW) has been picked as the preseason favorite to win the 2016-17 Summit League Men’s Basketball Championship according to the annual preseason poll of league coaches, SIDs and media. The Mastodons, last year’s regular season co-champion, garnered 18-of-32 first-place votes to finish atop the poll.

So, how did the program get so strong? A big budget, strong fan support, a basketball culture, a high profile coach and/or a rich heritage of basketball success? The answer: none of the above.

Struggling with a tight budget and a relatively low profile, Fort Wayne should be an inspiration to the University of Denver – a program with many more built in advantages. Fort Wayne has overcome huge obstacles to earn the mantle of Summit League favorite. They have turned negatives, particularly a small operating budget, into a positive.

According to a well researched editorial article, IPFW leadership deserves praise, not criticism for actions, the Mastadon athletic director recently extended the contract for Mastodon head coach Jon Coffman – the 2015-2016 Summit League Coach of the Year. In the case of  Coffman, he achieved this success while being the lowest paid coach in the Summit League along with the lowest funded athletic department among the nine basketball programs.

So, is Coffman looking for a new  coaching job?

Coffman is actually fine with his current situation. “I am tremendously grateful and appreciate the faith that the leadership at IPFW has shown to my staff and I through the contract extension this past spring,” Coffman told Fort Wayne The News-Sentinel recently. “Through my contract, Chancellor Carwein demonstrates her commitment to our athletics program and what it can bring for the institution as a whole. It is clear to me that she believes in my vision and the potential of our young program and I am proud to be a part of it.”

Is Coffman celebrating his new raise which will make him the big man on campus?

Coffman’s contract extension does not reward him with a raise for this upcoming season and despite his success, he ranks in the bottom five percent nationally among NCAA Division I men’s basketball coaches in salary. In an era when head coaches are the top paid employees on campus and/or in the state, there are currently 50 Fort Wayne employees that earn higher salaries than head coach Coffman

Is Fort Wayne taking in marginal students to build a competitive program?

Coffman’s team is also excelling as much in the classroom as on the court. Fort Wayne men’s basketball earned the NCAA Division 1 Public Recognition Award in 2015-16 for its academic performance – awarded to the top 10 percent of college basketball programs. The team also had eight academic honor roll members in 2015-16. Pretty impressive by any measure.

O.k., they must be drawing all the Indiana basketball talent, a state that loves their basketball. No – only four of their current roster are from Indiana with most of the other players from the upper Midwest. Star guard Mo Evans did come from Indianapolis but will team up with back-court mate sophomore guard John Konchar who led the Summit in rebounding. Konchar hails from West Chicago.

Time will tell whether Fort Wayne’s success is sustainable. In the short term, Fort Wayne is showing that a championship can be won in Summit League basketball without a large budget, a major market, or a rich basketball history.