Northern Illinois’ men’s basketball program lacks the national appeal of Huskie football, but athletic director Jeff Compher expects interest from plenty of qualified coaching candidates.
In his first public comments since firing Ricardo Patton, Compher told the Daily Chronicle on Friday he’s received “a tremendous amount of interest” in the opening for NIU’s next men’s basketball coach. Compher did not provide the number of applications he’s received but said he believes the outside perception is that the basketball coaching vacancy is a good job.
“As I thought, I think this is a highly sought-after job because of all we have to offer as a university,” Compher said. “Our proximity to the Chicagoland area, and this community, are certainly pluses. I think the fact that this program has won in the past (has helped), and people are familiar with the success we enjoyed from the past.
“We’ve proven you can have success here, and I think people are looking at that as a sign that it can be done.”
Success on the court has been non-existent the past four seasons. Compher fired Patton on Wednesday after four straight 20-loss seasons and a 35-83 record during his tenure. Patton had one year worth $300,000 remaining on the original five-year contract he signed in 2007, which Compher said the university will honor.
Compher said in mid-February he would hold his evaluation of Patton’s program until after the season. But by season’s end, it seems the only way Patton could have saved his job is if NIU made the MAC tournament championship game.
“It became evident fairly quickly toward the end of the season that things were not looking good as far as making progress,” Compher said. “It did cross my mind that I may have to make that decision (to fire Patton), but I was hopeful up until the last game that we could make a run.
“If we were playing in the MAC tournament finals and looking at playing in the NCAA tournament, it would have caused me to re-evaluate some things.”
In NIU’s next coach, Compher said he wants someone with familiarity in the Midwest and Chicagoland area, as well as a proven recruiter. He said it’s important to find an energetic candidate, as well as someone who connects with the DeKalb community and NIU alumni base.
Significant Division I experience is required, he said, but it doesn’t necessarily have to come as a head coach. Compher said candidates will not be required to visit NIU's campus.
Compher will conduct his search through Collegiate Sports Associates, a company that helps identify candidates that meet a list of criteria. He gave no timeline on when he expects to make the hire.
“I want to be like John Wooden. I want to be quick but not in a hurry,” Compher said. “I don’t want to miss out on candidates (by moving too quickly), but I think it’s important to move quickly.”
In the upcoming days and weeks, Compher will likely hear other opinions on what to look for in a new coach.
Zach Miller, an NIU commit and point guard at Glenbard East, said he’d prefer a coach with an open-court style who puts control in the players’ hands. Jerrith Barnette, father of NIU commit DeAndre Barnette, said he wants someone who will help develop and maximize his son’s skills.
But the most important thing, current assistant coach Todd Townsend said, will be a coach who embraces the positives of NIU’s location instead of focusing on the negatives.
“A lot of people get frustrated with us being the only (MAC) team in Illinois,” Townsend said. “If you look at the bigger picture, it’s not the four- or five-hour bus rides for away games that matter. It’s the fact that you’re sitting on a gold mine for recruiting.
“You can hop in your car and go places. You can touch Wisconsin, touch Chicago, touch Indiana. Don’t look at the negatives of the job, with the bus rides or whatever. Northern Illinois has a lot to offer. I’m sure Jeff Compher will make a good hire.”