Wichita State has joined the 2023 coaching carousel with Saturday’s news of athletic director Kevin Saal firing men’s basketball coach Isaac Brown.
Brown guided the Shockers to their first American Athletic Conference championship in 2021, but failed to make the postseason in the two years since.
On the surface, WSU appears to be an attractive opening with Shocker basketball being the main show in town, the program’s proud tradition and the potential to be a top team in the new-look American Athletic Conference. The right hire could lead to a dramatic increase in donations and NIL support and, in turn, home-court advantage returning to Koch Arena.
In Saal’s official statement on Saturday, he noted there is no official timeline for the coaching search and asked for patience from the fan base.
Here’s a look at some candidates who could be pursued to try to return WSU to being a regular in March Madness again:
Chris Jans, Mississippi State head coach
It’s a pipe dream, but a call to the former Wichita State assistant has to be made to at least force him to turn down a return to Wichita.
The only appeal for Jans, who was an assistant under Gregg Marshall from 2007-14, would be if he still carries a soft spot for WSU after the university gave him a chance to return to the coaching world after inappropriate behavior at a bar led to his dismissal at Bowling Green in 2015. He returned as a special assistant at WSU from 2015-17, which helped him land a head coaching job again at New Mexico State.
Jans has made the most of his second chance, as he led the Aggies to four NCAA tournaments in five seasons, which earned him a promotion to the SEC. He has guided Mississippi State to a 21-12 record and has the program on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament appearance.
According to sources with knowledge of WSU’s larger boosters, Jans’ return to Wichita would spark significant donations to the program and to the NIL collective.
But it still seems unfathomable for Jans to leave a power-conference job that is paying him a base salary of $2.4 million and for WSU to have the money available to woo him to leave. But his attachment to WSU has already linked him to the opening.
Steve Forbes, Wake Forest head coach
Another former WSU assistant who has excelled since leaving, Forbes is now a successful coach at Wake Forest in the ACC.
Like Jans, it seems far-fetched for Forbes to leave such a cushy position where he is already having success. He signed a long-term contract extension last March and although his salary isn’t public knowledge (Wake Forest is a private institution), it’s safe to assume it’s in the multi-million dollar range.
Forbes, who spent two years at WSU from 2013-15, was considered an X’s and O’s genius who helped the Shockers to a historic season when they finished 35-1 in 2014.
There’s no doubt Forbes would immediately spark passion from the fan base and boosters alike at WSU, but it’s also unlikely he leaves a power-conference job for WSU.
Kellen Sampson, Houston assistant coach
Sampson has been the right-hand man to his father, Kelvin, as the duo have turned Houston into a national power from the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars are currently the No. 1-ranked team in the country entering the NCAA tournament.
While Kellen is the coach-in-waiting at Houston, which is set to depart for the Big 12 this summer, he could be interested in taking over his own program with no signs of his father slowing down. According to a source, Sampson is interested in the job and could be a natural fit given his familiarity recruiting in the AAC and with WSU’s program over the years.
The risk would be handing the job to another first-time head coach, but Kellen is widely regarded by those in the coaching industry and national media to be one of the nation’s most promising assistant coaches.
Mark Turgeon, unattached
It might sound crazy for the former head coach of WSU to return to the same program he left 16 years ago, but sources say there could be interest in a return for the 58-year-old.
Gregg Marshall took the program to new heights, but Turgeon is largely credited for helping WSU become a national power again, spearheaded by a 2006 run to the Sweet 16.
Turgeon left WSU in 2007 to take a job at Texas A&M, then moved to Maryland in 2011, where he coached for 11 seasons before parting ways with the program in December 2021.
“I was extremely burned out, I did it for a long time,” Turgeon told Rick Peterson of TopSports this past December. “I promised my wife I would take a full year off so I’m trying to do that and then I’m going to try to get involved in some different things.
“Whether I coach again we’ll see, but it’s not where I’m thinking I absolutely have to do it.”
In his time away from coaching, Turgeon has dabbled as a color commentator for college basketball broadcasts but has mostly kept quiet. It’s unclear if the Topeka native would be interested, but there seems to be enough buzz where he could be a legitimate candidate.
Up-and-coming mid-major coaches
If Saal decides to break off from Wichita State ties, the program could potentially attract the interest of several up-and-coming coaches from the mid-major level.
North Texas’ Grant McCasland and Florida Atlantic’s Dusty May seemed poised to be poached by major-conference programs, plus their current schools are joining the AAC this summer, making a move to WSU unlikely.
If WSU wants to pursue someone close to the region, it could turn its focus to Oral Roberts’ Paul Mills, who led the Golden Eagles to the 2021 Sweet 16 and has compiled a 189-106 record in six seasons in the Summit League. Oral Roberts is currently 30-4 this season and another Cinderella run in March Madness could price WSU out of the competition. Mills agreed to an eight-year contract after the Sweet 16 run, while specific terms have not been released.
WSU could go back to another former Winthrop coach in Pat Kelsey, who has guided the College of Charleston to a 31-3 record and Colonial Athletic Association championship. Kelsey just agreed to a new 5-year contract extension with Charleston, which will pay him $5.5 million over the next five seasons.
Bob Richey has won 72% of his games at Furman in the first six years as a Division 1 head coach. Furman is 27-7 this season and headed to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Southern Conference. Richey received a contract extension from Furman in 2020, but terms of the deal were not released.
Darian DeVries is another successful coach on his first job at Drake, as he beat WSU in a First Four game in the 2021 NCAA Tournament and has compiled a 122-47 record in five seasons in the Missouri Valley. The Bulldogs are 27-7 this season and are headed back to the NCAA tournament after winning Arch Madness last week.
Adrian Griffin, Toronto Raptors assistant coach
The Wichita native reportedly had interest in entertaining the college job at WSU in 2021 when it was unclear if the job would become open or not.
After an NBA playing career, Griffin has spent the last 15 years as an assistant coach at the NBA level. He has been an assistant on Nick Nurse’s staff with the Toronto Raptors the last five seasons and is considered one of the top veteran assistant coaches in the NBA.
The obvious risk is hiring someone who has never coached at the collegiate level or recruited, but Griffin could appeal to a different kind of recruit with his NBA pedigree. There is also the appeal of having a Wichita native leading the program.