Anyone who has ever gotten a new job knows that your first few weeks on the job are filled with challenges as you work to adjust to an unfamiliar workplace. It is no different for college coaches who are immediately faced with a long list of tasks from the moment they are announced at the first press conference. New coaches must immediately reach out and connect with current players in order to keep them from transferring while simultaneously hitting the recruiting trail to try and make up for the head start that other teams with continuing coaches already have. While a new coach’s ability to keep existing players and have an immediate impact on the recruiting trail are the highly scrutinized by fans, there is another task that is even more important to the long term success of the program, the assembly of the rest of the coaching staff. At first it would seem that assembling a coaching staff would be a rather easy task, simply identify the best assistants out there and then convince them to accept the job. However it is more complicated than that, not only does a coach have to identify the most talented individuals, they also need to make sure that their staff possess a diversity of skills and abilities that complement each other and allow everyone to work together as an effective staff.
As the month of May concluded, new Ohio State women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff wrapped up the process of assembling his new staff and from a quick glance it appears that he nailed the diversity aspect, at least in terms of experiences. The new Buckeye assistant coaches will be Patrick Klein, Joy Cheek, and Mark Mitchell. McGuff has also announced the hiring of Beth Howe as the director of basketball operations.
Patrick Klein has deep Ohio State ties and is the only holdover from former coach Jim Foster’s staff. Klein attended OSU as an undergrad where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business management in 2005; in 2011 he would earn a master’s degree from the Fisher College of Business. Klein served as a graduate assistant at OSU from 2005-2007 where he dealt primarily with summer camps, community service, and supervising the student managers. Klein was an assistant coach at Illinois from 2007-2009 where he worked with the post players and helped with scouting and recruiting among other things. Klein couldn’t stay away from Ohio State and returned as a graduate assistant in 2010 before being promoted to assistant coach in 2011. It has not yet been announced what role Klein will serve on McGuff’s staff but his greater familiarity with the Big Ten would suggest that he will probably play an important role in scouting and will likely also be involved in recruiting. It will be interesting to see if Klein will work with the post players this season as that was not a strength of the Buckeyes over the past two seasons.
Joy Cheek comes to Ohio State from Duke where she was a player and later an assistant coach. As a player, Cheek scored over 1,000 points for her career and average 8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. After graduating from Duke in 2010, Cheek went on to a short WNBA career with the Indiana Fever and the Washington Mystics before being offered the assistant coach job at Duke in 2011. As an assistant coach Cheek was one of Duke’s two recruiting coordinators and worked with the guards and posts. Duke has consistently featured good guard play so Cheek’s involvement with the guards there speaks well of her coaching skill and she will certainly have talent at the guard position to work with and develop at OSU. Cheek will likely have a big impact on the recruiting trail; at Duke she helped bring in the 7th best recruiting class in the country in 2012. That recruiting class was truly a national class with no player from the state of North Carolina, suggesting that Cheek will help be able to expand Ohio State’s recruiting to become more national rather than just regional.
The most interesting and curious hire among McGuff’s new assistant coaches is Mark Mitchell. This will be Mitchell’s first college coaching job after serving as the head boys basketball coach at Taft High School in Cincinnati since 2003. At Taft, Mitchell took over a team coming of 10 straight losing seasons and led them to a 22-3 record and a city championship in his first year. Over the course of his ten seasons as coach, Taft won 8 Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference titles, 9 sectional and 4 district titles, and the 2011 District III state championships. Mitchell also served as an assistant coach for the All-Ohio Girls Basketball team from 2011 to 2013. The most interesting thing about Mitchell is that he is the father of Kelsey and Chelsea Mitchell who are both rising senior basketball players at Princeton High School. Kelsey is a star point guard who is the number 4 recruit nationally according to ESPN and Blue Star report. Kelsey is a major recruiting target for the Buckeyes and she plays on the All-Ohio Black U-17 team with other OSU targets Makayla Waterman and Kathryn Westbeld. This connection between Mitchell and some high profile recruits has sparked anger towards OSU by many women’s basketball fans around the country as they accuse McGuff of hiring Mitchell only to get his daughter; anger toward OSU from a large part of the women’s basketball community is nothing new, over the past decade the community has been disapproving of OSU’s hiring of Jim Foster and pretty much everything that Samantha Prahalis ever did while wearing the scarlet and gray. These accusations reflect the cynical nature of college sports these days and while there may be some truth to them, Mitchell was probably helped by his daughter; saying that he was only hired because of Kelsey is to ignore his impressive resume. Mitchell is a highly successful high school coach and has showed that he can develop young players and form teams that can compete at the highest levels. The recruiting aspect of college basketball will be different for him and the game will be more challenging, but having to help develop young players is something that is in common with his old job and something that he has shown that he can do very well.
The final hiring announcement that we heard about in the past week is that Beth Howe has been named the director of women’s basketball operations. I was thrilled to hear about this as Howe is a former OSU player who played during my four years at OSU where she became one of my favorite Buckeyes ever. Howe was not a star player, in fact she came off the bench for essentially her entire career, but she demonstrated a great work ethic and tenacity and was respected by her teammates to the point the she was named co-captain during the 2004-2005 season when OSU won its first Big Ten Championship under Foster. After getting a master’s degree from Belmont and working with the Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Juvenile Court, Howe returned to Ohio State where she worked as an account executive in the OSU ticket office and serves as the Buckeyes’ primary administrator for the 2010 and 2011 NCAA tournaments. It is great to see Howe’s dedication to OSU women’s basketball rewarded and I am thrilled to see someone with such a connection to the program being put in charge of operations.
Looking at the staff of assistant coaches that Kevin McGuff has put together, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is a very young staff. While a little more experience in the college ranks would be nice, the youth of the staff will hopefully mean that they are energetic and hungry for success. The youth of the staff also means that they will likely be together for a long time and that bodes very well for the future of the program; Buckeye fans certainly know the frustration that comes from losing assistant coaches to head coaching jobs elsewhere. McGuff’s staff choices give some idea as to how he wants Ohio State to play in coming years. Joy Cheek comes from Duke and the Blue Devils, and the ACC in general, play a more athletic style of basketball that has been traditionally seen in the Big Ten. McGuff has already said that he expects Mark Mitchell to assist with player develop and playing style, also suggesting a more up-tempo, athletic style of play.
McGuff and his staff will certainly have their work cut out for them over the next year. Not only do they have to get to know the players and come up with a strategy for the coming season, they also have to deal with being in a bit of a recruiting hole. Jim Foster signed no recruits for this coming season, meaning that McGuff’s first class will be even more vital to OSU’s success. Fortunately the state of Ohio is loaded with talent in the 2014 class. In addition to point guard Kelsey Mitchell being ranked 4th nationally, there are 5 other players from the state ranked in the top 60 nationally according to ESPN. Alyssa Rice (post from Reynoldsburg) is ranked 11th, Alexa Hart (post from Columbus Africentric) is ranked 16th, Makayla Waterman and Kathryn Westbeld are both forwards from Fairmont who are ranked 30th and 31st, and Stasha Curry (forward from Midpark) is ranked 54th. The combination of some still rather raw talent among the current players and a very talented group of rising high school seniors in the state, McGuff and his staff have the pieces they need to quickly get the program on the rise, now they need to get to work and take advantage of it.