Second-year Wright State Coach Brad Brownell might not be a national name like many of the other potential IU candidates, but he's still an intriguing possibility for IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan to consider.
In his first five years as a Division I head coach, the 39-year-old Evansville, Ind., native has guided his teams to three NCAA tourney berths and they're hoping to head to a fourth later this month.
His head coaching career began at UNC-Wilmington, where he replaced Jerry Wainwright after spending eight years on the current DePaul coach's staff. At Wilmington Brownell compiled an 83-40 mark, earned NCAA berths in 2003 and 2006 and earned two conference coach of the year honors. He capped his stay at the Colonial Athletic Association school with a 25-8 mark in 2006, including a 15-3 conference mark and a conference postseason tourney championship.
That success – coupled with a less-than-cozy relationship with then-UNC-Wilmington A.D. Mike Capaccio – prompted Brownell to take the Wright State job, and he's continued his winning ways. After taking over a program that was just 50-61 in the previous four seasons, Brownell went 23-10 in his debut season, won the Horizon League Tournament title and as a result guided Wright State to its first NCAA tourney berth since 1993.
Wright State wasn't expected to be a factor in this year's Horizon League chase thanks to the loss of Conference Player of the Year Deshaun Wood, but the Raiders still managed to go 20-9 overall and 12-6 in the Horizon League during the regular season. They're the third seed in the Horizon League tourney, and they have hopes of knocking off top-seeded and 14th-ranked Butler by the time the tourney comes to a close next week.
While Brownell doesn't have direct ties to IU, he has plenty of links to the state as well as some former IU coaches. Born in Evansville, Brownell played alongside former IU great Calbert Cheaney at Evansville Harrison in the mid-to-late 1980s. While Cheaney went on to a record-setting career at IU, Brownell went to Purdue before later transferring to DePauw where he played basketball. From there he got his coaching career underway as a graduate assistant at Evansville (under former IU player/assistant coach Jim Crews) for one year and then at Indianapolis (under former IU assistant coach Royce Waltman) as an assistant coach for two seasons.
Brownell then landed at Wilmington, where he spent eight years learning from the ultra-charismatic Wainwright before taking over the program in 2002. Brownell's last year as an assistant included a match-up against IU, as Wilmington gave IU a scare in the NCAA's second round before falling 76-67 in Sacramento.
Brownell signed a six-year, $220,000 contract at Wright State in 2006, so Indiana doesn't need to worry about any sort of bidding war for Brownell's services. It's certainly foreseeable that Wright State might offer Brownell a contract extension at season's end, but an Indiana package figures to be triple what any Horizon League school would be able to offer.
What Makes Him a Viable Candidate: Brownell has a lot of the things that Rick Greenspan looks for in an IU coach. He's young, energetic, and has plenty of Indiana ties. While he's coaching in neighboring Ohio he's had success recruiting in Indiana, signing three players from the Hoosier state since taking over. One of those players is Pendleton Heights' Vaughn Duggins, who is Wright State's leading scorer at 13.9 points per game. Brownell also figures to get a solid endorsement from a man whom Greenspan respects a great deal – Jim Crews. Greenspan hired Crews at Army in 2003, one year before he took the IU AD job. While Crews hasn't set the world on fire at Army – he's just 42-98 in five years – he's a 22-year head coaching veteran who Greenspan figures to consult with when it comes to filling the IU vacancy. The fact Brownell worked with Crews on an Evansville team that went 24-6 and advanced to the NCAA tourney can't hurt. There were also plenty of rumors about Greenspan and Sampson butting heads on occasion during the last two years, a clash of egos that AD's don't necessarily enjoy with high-profile coaches of their marquee programs. Brownell probably wouldn't create those type of headaches for the IU AD.
What Makes Him a Longshot: If Greenspan wants to turn some heads with this hire – something he appeared to desperately want to do two years ago with the big names he apparently courted – the hiring of Brownell isn't going to produce mass celebration at Showalter Fountain. Other than the true die-hard basketball fans, the first response from many IU fans would probably be, ‘Who?' That's not a deal-breaker for Brownell, but if interviewed, he'll have to convince Greenspan that it's not all about name recognition and a lengthy head coaching track record. If Greenspan is able to survive the Sampson mess – which isn't a given – he can't afford to miss on a second men's basketball coaching hire. Whoever replaces Sampson on a permanent basis had better win big and do it by the book or Greenspan won't be long for Bloomington. That could prompt Greenspan to go with a more proven commodity.
HoosierNation.com's Take: Hiring a Horizon League coach won't create much of a splash, but Matt Painter's hiring in West Lafayette didn't grab national headlines, either. All he's done is turn around the Boilermaker program in a couple of years to have them positioned for their first Big Ten title since 1996. Greenspan appeared to swing for the fences a couple of years ago with his rumored courtship of the likes of Rick Pitino, Mark Few, Tom Crean, John Calipari and ultimately Kelvin Sampson. But if the IU decision-makers sit down with Brownell and believe in the person – as opposed to the persona – they might very well decide that the Indiana native is what the program needs for its long-term stability. Nothing should be read into Brownell's relationship with Capaccio at UNC-Wilmington, either. Brownell is considered a hard-working straight-shooter by those who are around him, and Capaccio lost his job at UNC-Wilmington in large part for his lackadaisical effort in trying to keep Brownell from leaving for another job. Brownell figures to be among the top candidates for the IU vacancy.
IU COACHING CANDIDATE: Brad Brownell
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