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.


8 thoughts on “Fort Wayne Basketball Achieves Success on a Shoestring”

  1. Fort Wayne sits in the middle of one of the most fertile hoops recruiting areas in the country – draw a 320-mile circle around Fort Wayne, and you encapsulate Indiana, Chicago, Detroit, and Louisville, where 80% of the Mastodon’s roster orginates. Add in a very flexible admissions department at the school, and you have a good recipe to get the many of the players on campus that the coaches want to be there. These players are very good basketball players that have chips on the shoulders from not being recruited by the larger programs in those areas and they play harder, as if they have something to prove…

    DU is in a wholly different situation. Our primary recruiting area is tiny a fraction of what Fort Wayne has…Our 320 mile circle gives you the Front Range – a poor recruiting area for hoops. It’s a big demographic challenge here, as 80% of all college students go to school within a day’s drive of thier homes and want to be near their friends and family.

    The other difference (and it’s closely related to the geographic issue) between DU and most other high-performing hoops programs is the racial reality (the elephant in the room?) of major college basketball. Some 60% of NCAA D-I hoops rosters overall are African-American, and many high-performing top D-I programs (including Fort Wayne) have about 80% African-American rosters. DU’s roster is only 40% African American – that’s just not enough to win, in my opinion.

    Bottom line – DU needs more quality African American players if it wants to be really competitive in this sport. Hopefully, under Rodney Billups, DU can be more attractive to this crucial talent pool….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with one exception. They are not compromising their academic standards. Billups and his staff can and have been recruiting nationally. DU should be able to compete, over the long term, with any Summit League program. Their immediate advantage is a deep coaching staff – probably the best in the league. Regardless, one has to admire what FW has accomplished.


  2. Apples vs. Oranges. What’s there to do in Denver vs. what’s their to do in Fort Wayne, regarding attendance. And in all honesty, who cares about Fort Wayne, the school, and its athletics?


    1. You should care. They finished ahead of DU last year during the regular season and are picked to finish well ahead of DU this year.


  3. “Anonymous
    OCTOBER 30, 2016 AT 1:18 PM
    You should care. They finished ahead of DU last year during the regular season and are picked to finish well ahead of DU this year.”

    So that’s a Denver problem, not a Fort Wayne solution. Should Denver model its basketball program after Fort Wayne? Should Denver model its program after every and any school that’s had better records than Denver’s? That would be hundreds of teams.


  4. I think 5BWest’s overall point here is that Fort Wayne is getting great results for it’s BB investment and DU can always learn from that. I agree!

    As for “compromising standards” I agree with you that Ft. Wayne does a nice job with it’s basketball players once they are in the school. But my point was more about Admissions standards, which can really limit a talent pool in basketball. In this respect, DU and Fort Wayne are really apples and oranges. Fort Wayne’s admissions department probably does not often get in the way in terms of admitting the kids the coaches want, whereas DU probably can only admit some of kids the coaches might want, thus limiting the potential talent pool for a DU vs Fort Wayne.

    Fort Wayne draws its student body from mostly local student population with virtually open admissions standards (a 90% overall acceptance rate). This allows them to select their hoops players from a much wider talent pool than DU – who must choose its students (and its basketball players) from a much more qualified applicant pool (the average DU undergrad applicant is a 3.5 student with a 1200 SAT, which is not the case at Fort Wayne at all.

    Obviously, Ft. Wayne does a nice job with it’s students once they are in the door there, graduating them at a much higher rate than the overall 26% graduation rate for all students.


    1. Under Scot, DU faced The challenge of the slow deliberate Princeton Office besides the high admissions standards. The Princeton Offence was a system that did not interest most young recruits, who would rather play in a more uptempo system similar to the better AAU programs. The slow deliberate style along with no winning tradition made it hard for DU to recruit the type of players needed to be a consistant winner and NCAA tournament team. For DU to change their basketball culture, they needed to change virtually everything about the program from the coach to the style of play, This is what the Billups hire was all about, Billups and his top two assistants are African- Americans all with experience in leadin Power 5 UpTempo teams. Next year they only have 1-2 scholarships , but potentially several players may not feel comfortable in the system and will transfer. The 2018-19 season will have 5-6 slots open for Billups to bring in some fast guards and big men. I bet that by 2018 the look and feel of DU basketball will be what we have been waiting for; a fast and big shooter oriented team.

      Liked by 1 person

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