Who will be Cornell’s next head coach?

With the firing of Bill Courtney, Cornell will begin a national search for a new head men’s basketball coach.  Who might be targets for the Big Red search committee?  Can the past help decide the future?

Here is a list of the Cornell coaches from the last 40 years:
2010-11 through 2015-16: Bill Courtney (Graduate of Bucknell)
1st Head Coaching job
15 years as Division 1 Assistant and Associate Head Coach, including 8 seasons working under Jim Larranaga at George Mason
60-113 overall and 27-57 Ivy; No post-season appearances; Highest Ivy standing was 5th place
2000-01 through 2009-10: Steve Donahue (Ursinus)
1st Head Coaching job
12 years as college Assistant Coach, including 10 seasons working under Fran Dunphy at Penn
146-138 overall and 78-62 Ivy; 3 Ivy League titles; 3 post-season appearances, including a Sweet 16 run in 2009-10

1996-97 through 1999-00: Scott Thompson (Iowa)
3rd Head Coaching job, after Rice and Wichita State
10 seasons as Division I Assistant Coach, including 3 seasons with Digger Phelps at Notre Dame, and 7 seasons with Lute Olson at Iowa and Arizona
45-60 overall and 23-34 Ivy; No post-season appearances; Highest Ivy standing was 5th place
1993-94 through 1995-96: Al Walker (SUNY Brockport)
1st Division I Head Coaching job
5 seasons at Colorado College prior to Cornell
27-51 overall and 12-30 Ivy; No post-season appearances; Highest Ivy standing was 5th place
1991-92 through 1992-93: Jan Van Breda Kolff (Vanderbilt)
1st Head Coaching job
No previous coaching experience
23-29 overall and 14-14 Ivy; No post-season appearances; Highest Ivy standing was 3rd
1986-87 through 1990-91: Mike Dement (East Carolina)
1st Head Coaching job
4 seasons as Assistant Coach, including 2 seasons at Cornell
67-67 overall and 38-32 Ivy; Ivy League title (1987-88) and one 2nd place
1980-81 through 1985-86: Tom Miller (Army)
1st Head Coaching job
Assistant and player at Army under Bobby Knight
71-85 overall and 43-41 Ivy; Highest Ivy standing was 2nd
1974-75 through 1979-80: Ben Bluitt (Loyola, Ill.)
1st Head Coaching job
14 seasons as Assistant Coach at Chicago High Schools, Detroit High Schools and the University of Detroit, including 1 season under Dick Vitale
46-107 overall and 24-60 Ivy; No league titles; Highest Ivy standing was 5th place
                                                                                                                                                                         Looking at Cornell’s history of first-time coaches, it would appear that cost is a significant concern.  As a result, it would seem unlikely that the Big Red would open its wallet to bring recently fired Johnny Dawkins to Ithaca.  Besides, it may not be the right move for the school.
The most successful coaches in Big Red history, Donahue and Dement, had connections to Cornell or other Ivy schools.  Miller, the third-most successful Big Red coach, had experiences as a student and coach at Army.  These three people understood the distinctive issues involved in playing and coaching in the Ivy League, or a similar mid-major program. This idea is not unique to Cornell, Penn (Fran Dunphy, Dick Harter), Princeton (Pete Carril, John Thompson, Bill Carmody, Sydney Johnson, Mitch Henderson), Yale (James Jones), Brown (Craig Robinson) and Cornell (Steve Donahue) have all had success with coaches starting with similar resumes.
Fortunately, Cornell’s Athletic Director Andy Noel has a number of quality coaches with direct connections to Cornell, the other Ivy League schools or similar institutions.  Below is a list of possible candidates for Noel to consider (in no particular order).
Zach Spiker (39 years old) – Head Coach at Army
Assistant Coach at Cornell under Donahue (2004-05 through 2008-09).
Army record: overall 102-111 and Patriot League 45-65.  Team is in CIT Tournament this year.
Patriot League Coach of the Year (2012-2013).
Under contract through the 2017-2018 season, making over $150,000 a year.  Rumored to be on short list for Drexel
Joe Burke  (43) – Head Coach at Skidmore College
Assistant Coach at Philadelphia University (1998-00), Cornell University under Steve Donahue (2000-2004), and Navy (2004-2010).
Skidmore record: 107-57 record.
Two Liberty League regular season championships, four Liberty League Conference Tournament titles, and four appearances in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Kevin App (31) – Head Coach at Williams College
Graduated from Cornell in 2007 – four year member of basketball team coached by Steve Donahue, and served as tri-captain in 2006-07.
Assistant Coach at Williams under Mike Maker (2008-09), Cornell under Donahue (2009-10), Army under Zach Spiker (2010-14).
Williams record: 30-20 overall and 10-10 in the NESCAC Conference; No postseason appearances
Izzy Metz (40) – Head Coach at Wilkes College
Head Coach of Hobart College (2006-11): overall record 69-62; One Liberty Conference regular season and conference tournament titles
Director of Basketball Operations at Boston College (2011-13)
Assistant Coach at Cornell (2001-06)
Record at Wilkes: overall 26-26 and Freedom Conference 15-13; No postseason appearances
Andy Toole (35) – Head Coach at Robert Morris
Robert Morris (2010-16) record: overall 120-88 and a NEC 74-33; Won two NEC regular season championship and one NEC tournament title.  He has had four postseason appearances, including one in the NCAA Tournament.
Played for Penn 2000-03 under Fran Dunphy.
Assistant Coach at Lafayette under Fran O’Hanlon (2006-07) and Robert Morris (2007-10)
Under contract until the end of the 2017-18 season.
Matt Langel (38) – Head Coach at Colgate
Colgate (2011-16) record: overall record 61-95 and Patriot 34-48; Best finish 2nd place (2014-15)
Assistant Coach at Penn (2004-06) and Temple (2006-11) under Dunphy
Played at Penn (1996-00) under Dunphy and Donahue He became an Assistant Coach at Penn with Dunphy from 2004-06
Craig Robinson (53) – former Head Coach at Brown and Oregon State
Graduate of Princeton (1979-83) under Pete Carril; Two-time Ivy League Player of the Year (1981-82, 1982-83)
Assistant Coach at Northwestern (2000-06) under Bill Carmody
Brown (2006-08) record: overall 30-28 and Ivy 17-11; Best finish was 2nd in 2007-08; CBI Tournament appearance
Oregon State (2008-14) record: overall 93-104 and Pac-10 39-69; Best finish was 5th in 2009-10; 4 CBI appearances
Nat Graham (41) – Assistant Coach at Penn
Played for Penn 1993-1995 under Fran Dunphy (Head Coach) and Steve Donahue (Assistant Coach)
Assistant Coach at University of Western Ontario (1999-00), University of Toronto (2004-05), Cornell under Donahue (2005-10), Boston College under Donahue (2010-11), Penn under Allen (2014-15) and Donahue (2015-16)
Associate Head Coach at Boston College under Donahue (2011-14)
Paul Fortier (52)  – Associate Head Coach at Cal Poly
Graduate of University of Washington; All-Pac-10 forward; 17 year career in Europe
Assistant Coach at Cornell under Donahue (2003-05)  and University of Washington (2005-13)
Associate Head Coach at Cal Poly (2013-16)
Brian Earl (39) – Associate Head Coach at Princeton
Played for Princeton (1995-99) under Pete Carril and Bill Carmody; Ivy League Player of the Year 1999
Assistant Coach at Princeton (2007-14) under Sydney Johnson and Mitch Henderson
Associate Head Coach at Princeton (2014-16) under Mitch Henderson
Matt Kingsley (40) – Associate Head Coach at Yale
Graduate of Wesleyan (1994-98); captain of school’s team in 1997-98
Assistant Coach at Clarkson University, and Yale (2005-13) under James Jones
Associate Head Coach at Eastern Connecticut, and Yale (2013-16) under Jones
Brian DeStefano (33) – Associate Head Coach at Harvard
Duke Undergraduate (2001-05); Team Manager
Duke Master’s (2005-07); Graduate Assistant and Head Team Manager
Assistant Coach at Harvard (2007-13) under Tommy Amaker
Associate Head Coach at Harvard (2013-16) under Tommy Amaker
Justin Simon (34) – Assistant Head Coach at Yale
Graduate of Yale (2000-04) under James Jones
Assistant Coach at Yale (2011-16) under Jones

14 thoughts on “Who will be Cornell’s next head coach?”

  1. Here’s some more guys they should look at:
    Ron Everhart- WVU assistant
    King Rice- Monmouth HC
    Johnny Dawkins- Stanford
    Brad Underwood- Stephen F. Austin HC
    Bacari Alexander- Michigan Assistant

  2. Lynn Worthy at the Ithaca Journal, http://www.ithacajournal.com/story/sports/college/2016/03/22/star-search-cornell-have-options-competition/82128238/, has information on candidates for the Cornell job.

    – Joe Burke (Skidmore Head Coach), Jim Engles (NJIT Head Coach), Nat Graham (Penn Assistant Coach), Marlon Sears (Montclair State Head Coach), Scott Pera (Rice Associate Head Coach)

    Engles (47 years old) has been an Assistant Coach at Wagner (1991-97), Rider (1997-2003), and Columbia (2003-2008). Head Coach at NJIT since 2008. 107-135 overall record. One Great West Regular Season Championship. One CIT appearance. Was considered for Head Coaching position at Columbia and Penn in the past.

    Sears (37) finished his first season as a Head Coach at Division III Montclair State. He went 11-14 overall and 7-11 in the NJAC. He was the top Assistant Coach under Bill Courtney (2010-2015) ,credited with recruiting Miller, Hatter and Morgan. Prior to Cornell, he was an Assistant Coach at Binghamton, Wagner, High Point and Columbia (2009-10).

    Pera (48) has been the Associate Head Coach at Rice for the last two seasons. Prior to that time, he was the top Assistant Coach for Penn’s Jerome Allen (2012-14). At Penn, he was involved in recruiting, player development and game preparation. From 2006-12, Pera was an Assistant Coach at Arizona State under Herb Sendek. He is from Pennsylvania and attended Penn State – Harrisburg.

    Parks Smith at Mid-Major Madness, http://www.midmajormadness.com/2016/3/22/11284922/coaching-rumors-swirl-around-mid-major-basketball, list several candidates.

    – This short list has Zach Spiker (Army Head Coach), Ron Everhart (Assistant Coach at West Virginia under Bobby Huggins), and Nat Graham.

    Everhart (54) has been an Assistant Coach at West Virginia since 2012. He was the Head Coach of Duquesne from 2006-12, Northeastern from 2001-2006, and McNeese State from 1994-2001. He was an Assistant Coach at Tulane (1988-94), VMI (1986-88) and Georgia Tech (1985-86). His overall record is . He has five post-season appearances, 3 NIT and 2 CBI.

    • According to recent reports at Hoop Dirt and Mid Major Madness, Zach Spiker’s name has been taken out of the mix at Drexel, and has been added to the search at Delaware.

      Spiker’s contract (a copy can be found at Big Apple Buckets) at Army goes until June 30, 2018. If he terminates the contract before June 30, 2016, he will owe the USMA a $140,000 buyout. If terminated before June 30, 2017, the buyout is $35,000. The contract has five teams which would eliminate any buyout – Belmont, College of Charleston, William & Mary, Ohio and Delaware.

      If Cornell wants Spiker, the school would have to wait until July 1st or help him with the buyout. July 1 seems to be too late a start for a coach, and a long time for him to wait for a new job opening. A past history of low monetary investment in the program makes it seem unlikely that they would put up an extra $140,000. It will be interesting to see where Andy Noel goes with his choice, but it would seem that the timing is not right for Spiker to come back.

      • So much for the earlier note about Drexel….

        Spiker has reportedly been chosen as the new coach of the Dragons. The earlier sticking point was the school’s refusal to pay the $140,000 buyout. According to Parks Smith at Mid Major Madness, the school has apparently changed its mind in order to land the former Army coach.

        If Spiker was Cornell’s Plan A, it is time for Plan B.

          • Last night, a Pittsburgh area paper had an interview with Everhart regarding the open Pitt Head Coach position. While Everhart said he isn’t a candidate for the Pitt job and the school has not reached out to him, he did have an interesting comment.


            – Everhart, who rebuilt his career following his dismissal from Duquesne four years ago, said he isn’t a candidate for the Pitt job and that Pitt hasn’t reached to him. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be interested.

            He’s a former head coach of a mid-major program who now is the top recruiter for a top-10 team in a Power 5 conference. All qualities Barnes is seeking.

            “I would be very interested,” said Everhart, 54. “Without hesitation. I would like to be a head coach again one day.

            “Any job, especially a BCS job in a major metropolitan area like Pittsburgh where you have a great following and tremendous fan base, that’s a real destination job that any coach would look at and say, ‘Wow.’

            “You get to line up against (Duke’s) Mike Krzyzewski, (North Carolina’s) Roy Williams and (Virginia’s) Tony Bennett. That’s a dream come true for anybody that wants to coach. The best of the best.”

            While it appears that Everhart wants to be a head coach again, it seems like he would want to have it be as ideal a situation as possible. It would appear to be difficult for someone who was recently a head coach in the A-10 and is a present assistant with a strong Big XII school to come back to a lower division mid-major program in upstate NY without a large fan base or institutional support.

            From Cornell’s perspective, Everhart certainly has a very good resume and is well respected, but he does not have any experience with an academic and athletic conference like the Ivy League.

            Given Cornell’s history of avoiding people with head coaching experience, and their conservative economics for basketball, it would seem more likely that someone like Nat Graham is going to be higher on the school radar. If they are looking for someone with head coaching experience, maybe they stick closer to home with Joe Burke, Kevin App or Marlon Sears.

            Of course, with the way things have been shaping up this week, Everhart will probably be named the Big Red coach in a few hours ……..

  3. Back in 2010, Wisconsin assistant Gary Close was one of the finalists for the Cornell job that ultimately went to Bill Courtney.

    Close is a native of Moorestown, New Jersey. He was an Assistant at Stanford (1983-1986) under Dr. Tom Davis. He followed Davis to the University of Iowa, where he was an Assistant from 1986-1999. After three years of coaching high school basketball in Iowa, Bo Ryan hired him to replace Tony Bennett as an Assistant Coach at Wisconsin. He has been there for the last 13 seasons.

    Today, it was announced that Gary Close has left the Wisconsin program.


    – “Earlier this week I informed Coach Gard that I have made the difficult decision to resign my position as assistant coach to pursue other opportunities. It was an honor and a privilege to have coached at the University of Wisconsin.

    “Being an assistant coach at the Division I level is an increasingly demanding position,” Close said in a statement. “While I plan to keep basketball a part of my future plans, I do want my next professional stop to provide me with greater flexibility to spend more quality time with my wife and two growing children.

    In case Andy Noel is still interested in Close six years later, does Close want to do something outside of coaching at the Division I level, or would being the Cornell Head Coach provide more flexibility for home life than being an Assistant Coach at a nationally ranked Big 10 basketball program?

    • That would be a problem. We want someone who is committed enough to the program that flexibility for home life is not an issue. It sounds like Close wants basketball to be the second priority. That is the wrong fit at Cornell.

  4. This afternoon, Hoop Dirt had some information on the Cornell job.


    There are three named coaches who have, or will be, interviewed on campus, with another 1 or 2 possible. The first three coaches are Billy Taylor, Brian Earl and Tom Billeter.

    Brian Earl was mentioned in the article above, and has also been mentioned in conjunction with the open job at Dartmouth. While he brings a number of positives, the biggest issue other than lack of head coaching experience is the concern that he would leave for Princeton if Mitch Henderson decides to leave the Tigers.

    Billy Taylor played at Notre Dame under John McLeod from 1991-1995. After getting an MBA and working for Arthur Andersen, he went back to Notre Dame to be an assistant under McLeod for the 1998-1999 season. From 1999-2002, he joined former Penn assistant and Lehigh head coach Fran McCaffery at UNC-Greensboro. He became the head coach at Lehigh from 2002-2007, winning one league title and two Patriot League Coach of the Year awards in his first two years with the school. From 2007-2013, he moved on to the head coaching position of Ball State. After being fired from Ball State in 2013, he rejoined Fran McCaffery in the position of Director of Operations for the University of Iowa.

    At Lehigh, Taylor went 81-69 (43-27 Patriot League) with one first place, one second, two third place finishes. At Ball State, he went 84-99 (44-52 MAC) with one season over .500. In a March 2013 article at SB Nation, Taylor was noted to have ran the program well in every aspect but win/loss record. That sounds a lot like recently released Coach Courtney.

    Tom Billeter has been the head coach of Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the last 13 seasons (2003-2016). This year the Vikings won its first NCAA Division II National Championship. In his career at Augustana, he is 247-143 with 7 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. His prior head coaching experience was with North Dakota State from 1992-1997 when the school was still in Division II. With the Bison, he was 97-50 with four straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1993-1997.

    Billeter started as an Assistant Coach to Lute Olson at the University of Arizona from 1985-1987. He then went to Rice University from 1992-1997, when fellow Wildcats assistant Scott Thompson left to become the Owls head coach. The same time Billeter left for NDSU, Thompson took the head coaching job at Wichita State. He eventually left for the Cornell head coaching position in 1997.

    After leaving Division II NDSU, Billeter went to St. John’s (NY) as an Assistant Coach for a year under Fran Fraschilla. Then, he spent five seasons at Texas A&M with Melvin Watkins before going to Augustana.

    It would seem that Billeter has a connection to Cornell AD Andy Noel through Scott Thompson who coached the Big Red during the early part of Noel’s tenure. After stepping down in 2000 due to a diagnosis of colon cancer, Thompson spent several years with Cornell as a Special Assistant to the AD.

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