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Easy choice for Saul to leave NDSU; who will be next Bison coach?

by Mike McFeely

Apparently Saul Phillips had to wear a rumpled suit for his job interview.

I talked with Phillips on Wednesday, prior to the now ex-North Dakota State men's basketballcoach flying to Dallas for the Final Four. I asked if he or his agent had any contact withschools interested in hiring him to be their next coach. He said his representative, as a matterof practice, was reaching out to schools to judge interest and let them know about Saul. But,Phillips said, there had been no contact from college basketball programs interested in him.

"I'm bringing one suit to the Final Four and it's for a Samaritan's Feet event. So if I have anyjob interviews when I'm down there, I'm going to have to wear the same suit," he said.

That clearly didn't scare off Ohio University.

The Bobcats announced the hiring of Phillips late Saturday night, ending Saul's seven-year runin Fargo. It was an entertaining time. The Bison went to two NCAA tournaments, including thisseason. You might have heard: NDSU beat Oklahoma 80-75 in overtime in Spokane in their firsttournament game, the Bison's first-ever victory in the Big Dance. Even after losing to San DiegoState in the next round, Phillips stole the show with an emotional post-game press conference.

Saul Phillips celebrates NDSU's victory over Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament. (Photo by Mike McFeely KFGO)

With his winning ways and a killer personality, it was obvious Phillips was going to be a hotcommodity once the job dominoes started to fall in college basketball. Two jobs opened while theBison were in Spokane -- Washington State and Marquette, both high majors. When Phillips didn'tso much as get a sniff for those openings, some Bison fans figured they might get a year or twomore out of Phillips.

But the Final Four is the big party/networking function for college basketball and often a placewhere new coaches are hired. When Jim Christian left Ohio for Boston College on Friday, itdidn't take long for Ohio athletic director Jim Schaus to move on Phillips. The hiring wasannounced late Saturday night via Ohio's web site.

There should be no bitterness on the part of Bison fans. Phillips' stock at NDSU was never going to be higher and he took a great opportunity with a school that strongly supports athletics.

Ohio is a notch (or two) higher on the college basketball ladder than NDSU and Saul will go frommaking a base salary of $175,000 per year to $550,000 per year, according to ESPN's Andy Katz.

It's a no-brainer.

The Bobcats compete in the Mid-American Conference. Other schools include Buffalo, Akron, Miamiof Ohio, Kent State, Bowling Green, Toledo, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, NorthernIllinois, Central Michigan and Ball State.

Ohio has a nice tradition. It's been to the NCAA tourney 13 times and made the Sweet Sixteen in2012.

In terms of chances for success, Phillips taking this job is probably better than Tim Milesgoing to Colorado State or football coach Craig Bohl going to Wyoming. The program Miles took over in FortCollins was a mess. Bohl is trying to compete against much more established programs fromLaramie, Wyo., a remote and uninviting location. Ohio is located in the Midwestern breadbasketof population and went 25-12 last season. The previous coach, Jim Christian, wasn't fired, as was the case for Miles and Bohl. Jim Christiantook a job in the Atlantic Coast Conference at Boston College. This is not a rebuilding job forSaul.

Saul Phillips broke down during his postgame press conference after the Bison lost to San Diego State in the NCAA tournament. (Photo by Mike McFeely KFGO)

If Bison fans should be worried about something, it is who could possibly come in next and matchthe success, personality and energy of the previous two coaches? Since moving to Division I, theBison have been led by Miles and Phillips, a pair of very talented recruiters, coaches andsalesmen. Those skills are going to be needed to keep the momentum going. NDSU is a footballschool first and foremost, and a steep drop-off in victories or public relations meansbasketball will get buried even deeper beneath the three-time defending national champion football team.

The obvious successor would be Dave Richman, the Bison's associate head coach who has beenwaiting his turn for years. Richman turned down an offer to follow Miles to Colorado State andstayed with NDSU and Phillips. I assume Saul will make Richman an offer to follow him to Athens,Ohio. But if Bison athletic director Gene Taylor follows his pattern, he will offer Richman theNDSU job like he did when Phillips replaced Miles and Chris Klieman replaced Bohl.

Richman doesn't have the huge personality of Miles or Phillips, but he can recruit and he cancoach. In Spokane, Phillips made a point of stressing this Bison team was as much Richman's andfellow assistants Will Ryan's and Freddy Coleman's as it was his. I felt that was Phillips' wayof greasing the skids for Richman, should Saul leave.

Could assistant Dave Richman be the next NDSU coach? (Photo by Mike McFeely KFGO)

NDSU is learning the realities of being a successful mid-major/Football Championship SubdivisionDivision I school: If you have success, you lose coaches to bigger schools.

Bottom line is, this is a great promotion for Saul. There is no way he could've said no, andnobody in Fargo should've expected him to do that.

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on 790 KFGO-AM in Fargo-Moorhead. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO)