Sometimes opportunities come along once in a lifetime.
The Big West conference, a collection of schools nationally known more for their ideal location than their sports teams, has tried in recent years to expand past its parochial confines to a stature of national recognition. Athletes and coaches do not earn widespread awareness because of their limited national exposure. For the most part, the Big West employs a bevy of talent, comparable to the higher-profiled institutions which, fortunately for them, benefit from television contracts and large alumni donations.
Like any other occupation, coaching at the collegiate level requires proficient basketball minds to pay their dues at the lower echelons before they can advance toward that dream coaching job: a final-four contending men’s basketball program. It’s more a matter of timing and luck than a measure of talent and competency in this business though. Head coaches in the Big West are extremely capable of running high-profile programs, knowledgeable enough to employ game-winning offensive and defensive strategies, and experienced enough to handle the challenge of increased pressure. For many of the coaches in the Big West, getting to that next level is merely a matter of circumstance, an invisible hand that dictates most market action in our capitalist job society.
Utah State Head Coach Stew Morrill may be the first to hear his name called to the league of the big boys. With the University of Utah looking to replace legendary coach Rick Majerus after the probable hall-of-famer took a leave of absence for health reasons, a vacancy is likely to open up at the end of the season. It appears that the Majerus-era has ended at Utah, and the Utes will look for someone who can provide the same fundamental-preaching basketball mind that Majerus magically employed. Morrill has guided the Aggies to three NCAA Tournament appearances in the last four years and has propelled Utah State to an astounding 17-1 overall record and perfect 9-0 mark in conference this season. Ironically, the Aggies’ only loss came in a 56-45 defeat to Majerus’ Utes in Salt Lake City on Dec. 3. Yet, a nearly perfect record at the Dee Glenn Events Center is further evidence that the locally recognizable Morrill may be the right choice to deal with recruiting in-state talent and deal with the untimely two-year hiatus associated with the Mormon missions, endeavors which many players at Utah schools choose to take.
The rumor mill can easily be extended to other equally qualified Big West coaches. UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams, revitalizing a once-prominent Santa Barbara program in just his sixth season, has guided the Gauchos to the Big West Tournament title in 2002 and the conference regular season title in 2003. Williams, 50, recruits well and attracts athletes like senior guard Branduinn Fullove and junior forward Casey Cook who love to compete. An excellent motivator, Williams communicates a vision that inspires his following cast to buy into his system. Williams deserves consideration for a position at a top-level program, and if an upper-tier Pac-10 team should provide an opening, his r