Anatomy of a Summit League Men’s Basketball Coach

You might be surprised that one Summit League coach, Dave Richman from North Dakota State, had no prior head coach experience before joining the Bison. He worked his way up to an assistant role with his alma mater before getting the job. The highest level of head coaching experience by two other current Summit League coaches was high school. Each of the three had extensive experience as assistants, while two Summit League coaches had led DI programs in the past. One, Rob Jeter from  Western Illinois, has even made two NCAA D1 Tournament appearances as head coach for UW-Milwaukee. UMKC’s Billy Donlon won 20+ games his last three seasons at Wright State in Dayton, Ohio  Paul Sather (North Dakota), Darren Hanson (Omaha) and Todd Lee (South Dakota) came from the NCAA D2 ranks. The common thread for Summit League coaches is broad coaching experience working for a variety of distinguished head coaches and a significant level of success before their current assignment.

This also proves that, while the Summit League may not have the best playing talent in the country, the conference has a well-tested bench bosses. Looking at resumes alone, a number of these coaches would be considered a home-run hire by DU. And, the list proves how difficult it will be for DU to gain a coaching advantage over its Summit League peers with a new hire.

Below is a list of Summit League coaches and their respective paths to their respective institutions.  We show the institution, coach, highest level achieved as a head coach and a description of their career path.

NORTH DAKOTA – PAUL SATHER (D2)

During his 23 years as an assistant coach and head coach, Sather has built a pair of national-contending basketball teams at his two head coaching stops. He was a six-year assistant at Northern State (S.D.) University (NSU), his alma mater,  before later embarking on a head coaching course that featured a 303-169 (.642) record. Head coach for four years Black Hills (S.D.) State (NAIA), nine seasons at Northern State (D2). During that time he achieved five national tournament appearances (3 NCAA D2, 2 NAIA), two Final Four (NAIA, D2). His teams had a 100% Graduation rate at Northern State before taking the North Dakota job.

NORTH DAKOTA STATE – DAVID RICHMAN (No HC Experience)

Spent his entire coaching career at NDSU. Starting in 2003, as an assistant coach, graduate assistant, associate head coach (seven years) and head coach for six seasons. 291-179 (.619) record while on the NDSU staff. Accomplishments: seven 20-win seasons, as well as producing 17 all-league players. The Bison have earned the NABC Team Academic Excellence Award for six consecutive seasons.

SOUTH DAKOTA – TODD LEE (D2)

The South Dakota native received his master’s degree in education from Azusa Pacific (Calif.) University (D-2) in 2003.  Lee compiled a 154-81 (.655) record and competed in five-consecutive NCAA tournaments in eight seasons as the head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan (D-2). He became an assistant at Grand Canyon University (D-I) under Dan Majerle . Prior to GCU, he spent two seasons at CSU-Bakersfield (D-I) before spending eight seasons as an assistant coach at UC-Irvine (D-I) and three-straight 20 win seasons for the first time program history. Lee spent two years as an assistant coach for the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA.  Lee was an assistant coach at the University of San Diego (D-I)  from 1989-1992 and began his coach career as an assistant at Southwestern College (NAIA) in 1987.

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY – ERIC HENDERSON (HS)

In his four years at South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits have compiled a 92-43 (.681) overall record, including a 48-14 mark in Summit League play. A 2000 graduate of Wayne State (Neb.) College, Henderson began his collegiate coaching career at his alma mater from 2001-03 as an assistant coach. After coaching girls’ basketball at Wayne Community School for two seasons, he moved on to Iowa State, where he was the graduate manager for the Cyclones’ men’s basketball team from 2006-08 and a learning specialist for the 2008-09 season. He returned to coaching in the prep ranks at Burlington Catholic Central High School in Burlington, Wisconsin, from 2009-14, while also serving stints as principal and athletic director. After three years as an assistant at SDSU, he was promoted to head coach.

DERRIN HANSON – OMAHA (D2)

Hanson enters his 16th season at the helm of the Omaha men’s basketball program having compiled a career record of 227-199 (.532)  in 14 years. Before taking his post as head coach, Hansen served as an assistant coach at UNO for seven seasons from 1998 to 2005. He helped the program to a 131-73 record, two NCC regular-season championships, one tournament crown and three trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament. Hansen has a master’s degree in physical education from Nebraska-Kearney (D-2), where he served as a graduate assistant for two years. He began his coaching career as a student assistant coach for his alma mater, Nebraska Wesleyan (D-2) . As a four-year letter-winner, he was part of the 1988 NWU squad that advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinals, and as a student coach, his 1990 team went to the NCAA round of 16. After completing his graduate studies, he was hired as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte, Neb.  Before that, he taught hoops at Elmwood-Murdock High School in Murdock, Neb

ORU – PAUL MILLS (HS)

Mills  is 39-54 (.491) in his first four seasons at ORU. His only head coaching experience was 5-year stint in high school coaching to begin his career. Mills then did a short stint at Rice University in operations before moving to Baylor for 14 years, mostly as an assistant coach

BILLY DONLON – UMKC (DI)

Donlon has a head coach record of 125-108 (.536) (7 seasons). His first 10 years were spent as an assistant coach at American University in Washington, D.C. , St Peters (N.J.) University, UNC-Wilmington and Wright (Ohio) State, all Division I schools. From 2010-2016, he was elevated to head coach at Wright State. From there, he moved to assistant roles at Michigan and Northwestern before becoming UMKC’s head coach in 2019. At Wright State Donlon was also named a finalist for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award and the Hugh Durham Coach of the Year Award given to the nation’s top mid-major coach and went 109-94.

WESTERN ILLINOIS – ROB JETER (DI)

Jeter has 25 years of coaching experience going 189-182  (.509). Jeter was an assistant coach under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin (2001-05), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee  (1999-01), and Wisconsin-Platteville (1994-98) Pioneers in D2. He was also an assistant at Marquette (1998-99).  As a head coach at Milwaukee, Jeter was a three-time coach of the year. Eleven seasons at Milwaukee captured five seasons with 20 or more wins, Coach of the Year honors from the Horizon League (2011) and the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association (2006, 2011), and two NCAA Tournament berths. His first Panther squad registered a first-round victory over the University of Oklahoma in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. He was also an assistant at UNLV and Minnesota.

Denver’s new bench boss will face plenty of coaching talent in the Summit League in what is certain to be a signature hire for Denver Athletic Director Karlton Creech.

(Editor’s Note: According to Hoop Dirt , a reliable inside college basketball site, “Multiple people now believe they (DU) are focused on candidates with head coaching experience. Two current D2 head coaches are believed to be involved, and may have already interviewed.”)

10 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Summit League Men’s Basketball Coach”

  1. This likely explains why Rodney struggled. Most of these guys had head coaching experience and 200+ games where they had very good records. Also, interesting that David Richmond from NDSU had no HC experience but has done well. This is definately not an exact science.

  2. Rodney struggled mostly because only about 1/3 of the recruits he brought to campus were legitimate D-I level players. The rest of them (the other two thirds) either struggled (to date) at DU or eventually left DU for lower division playing opportunities.

    Of the players Rodney recruited, I would say only Murkey, Harrell, Nzekwesi, Townsend and Hines were or look to be legitimate D-I players capable of consistent contribution, and three of the five transferred out and one of them was a one-year transfer in. Only Murkey was a four year DU player. While he did not recruit Amigo, Billups deserves some credit for developing him. But after those names, the pool gets thin.

    All the rest of Rod’s recruits struggled in D-I level (at least in Denver) or found their level and went down to D-II or NAIA, etc. Rodriguez, Lanzi, Kowalski, McGlashan, Kurnaz, Joiner, Carlisle, Stewart-Miller, Blake.

    Of Rodney’s best players reamaining at DU, only Murkey qualifies as a Billups recruit. The other good players Rodney had who did not transfer out were Amigo, Rosga, Pemberton, and Mackey — all Joe Scott holdovers.

  3. David N averaged 2.7 ppg at Weber St this year. After 7 games, coach didn’t play him anymore.

  4. Most of the Summit League are two-star players. The good coaches develop players and coach to their strengths. Most Summit League players are limited. Good coaches have a system and approach that optimized their players and sets them up for success.

  5. This morning’s Hoop Dirt names names:

    “I mentioned last week that Denver seemed to be focusing on guys with head coaching experience. Some names that I’ve heard are D2 Northern State head coach Saul Phillips (former head coach at Ohio), D2 Belmont Abbey head coach Dan Ficke (former Denver assistant), and D2 Colorado Mines head coach Pryor Orser.“

    Belmont Abbey’s season is done; Northern State and Mines are both in the D2 Sweet 16 this week.

  6. I love Dan Ficke but he is a 1-year head coach and very successful. If Dan comes back to DU, I would like to see 200 games as a HC under his belt. Orser has plenty of games under his belt and knows the Colorado market. He would be a stabilizing force. Phillips at Northern has won two Summit League titles and knows the league. He has lots of experience and has been successful in the past. If it was between these three, I would go Orser for his local knowledge as the difference. Frankly, I think DU could do better and needs a home run hire to not only turn the program around but excite fans. But any coach who can turn this ship around will get plenty of attention.

  7. Honestly, nothing against these guys, but I was hoping DU would attract a more exciting pool than this…

    If DU is going to hire a D-II coach, how about the hiring the very best one? These guys sound like good coaches, but perhaps not the cream of D-II, at least to me. I could be wrong, but if this is the shortlist, I’m feeling underwhelmed…

  8. VERY underwhelming list. Perhaps a bit ambitious but I would prefer a former D1 coach with name recognition (e.g., Richard Pitino, Archie Miller, Greg Lansing). I recognize base salary is comically low (which is a gripe for another day) but I’d imagine DU has the ability to structure a healthy amount of incentives into a contract?

  9. Honestly Mike Dunlap sounds more appealing than any of these names. If not him, what about an out-of-the-box candidate like Bill Hanzlik? He has kept a high profile in the state of Colorado and that might help him with recruitment.

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