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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Marshall begins search for new basketball coach

Marshall begins search for new basketball coach

Charleston Daily Mail
by Chuck McGill
Daily Mail sports writer
Wednesday March 31, 2010

HUNTINGTON -- Flanked by UCF President John C. Hitt and the school's Athletic Director Keith Tribble, new Knights Coach Donnie Jones held up a basketball uniform at his introductory news conference in Orlando on Tuesday.

The jersey, with "JONES" and the number "1" on the back, was gold. So was Jones' tie and pocket square.

He then cleared his throat and gave glory to God for his new opportunity, called Marshall a "special place," then started a "Why not us? Why not now" rallying cry on his first day on the job.

The green was gone and the gold was in. Jones had moved on.

Now, Marshall must do the same.

MU Athletic Director Mike Hamrick has already compiled a lengthy list of head coaches and top-level assistants that have expressed interest in replacing Jones, who interviewed with UCF on Sunday and then accepted the school's offer Monday.

"The candidates are already starting to pile up," said Hamrick, who will not discuss potential coaches as to not compromise the integrity of the search process.

Jones informed the Herd players of his decision to leave on Monday afternoon, then left for Orlando so he could begin his new gig in a state where he spent 11 seasons as an assistant at the University of Florida.

Jones went 55-41 in three seasons at Marshall, going 24-10 this season and leading the Herd to its first postseason in 22 years.

"I thank Donnie Jones for everything he did here," Hamrick said. "He's a good person and I'm happy he's happy. But now we have to move our program forward without him."

Hamrick has already put the wheels in motion to do that. Every AD, he said, keeps a mental list of names for situations like this, but he'll conduct a private, thorough search that may continue at this weekend's Final Four in Indianapolis.

Hamrick plans to attend the event, and most college basketball coaches will descend upon the city for several days.

Here are names of interest as the search progresses, although this list should not be considered a comprehensive one because of Hamrick's stealth search.

Indications are, however, that Marshall will first look to established head coaches, but will also consider high-level assistants.

Jones' top three assistants - Shawn Finney, Darren Tillis and Brett Nelson - have all expressed interest, sources said, but aren't believed to be under serious consideration at this time.

* Jeff Battle - The Wake Forest assistant played four seasons at Marshall and cut his teeth in college coaching as a graduate assistant there. He then coached his way up from high school to Xavier and Wake Forest, where he worked under the late Skip Prosser.

* John Brannen - The former Herd basketball star is now an assistant at Alabama under Anthony Grant, who worked alongside Donnie Jones at Florida. Brannen also coached at Virginia Commonwealth, St. Bonaventure and Eastern Kentucky, spending three years at each of those stops.

* Mark Cline - The Williamson native was a two-time W.Va. State Player of the Year in basketball. The Oklahoma assistant has also worked at Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Tech and Old Dominion. He has been linked to the Marshall job during past searches and his mother resides in Scott Depot.

* Pete Gillen - At 62 years old, Gillen has been out of the coaching business since 2005 when he resigned from his post at Virginia. He also spent time with Providence and Xavier, but has worked as an analyst for CBS College Sports most recently.

* Billy Kennedy - The 46-year-old just led Murray State to the NCAA Tournament second round as a 13-seed after the Racers beat Vanderbilt in the first round. Kennedy has compiled an 84-44 record in four seasons at Murray State, including a 31-5 mark this year.

* Bobby Lutz - Lutz has been actively shopping his services since being fired by Charlotte on March 15. At 51, Lutz, a North Carolina native, spent 12 seasons at Charlotte, where he won 215 games overall and went to five NCAA Tournaments when the 49ers competed in C-USA.

* Steve McClain - Although he has no ties east of the Mississippi River, McClain is a former head coach who took Wyoming to four postseasons in nine years before losing his job after the 2006 season. McClain is the associate head coach at Colorado.

* Jeff Neubauer - A 39-year-old former assistant at West Virginia, Neubauer has five years of experience facing the same recruiting challenges as Marshall. Neubauer has won 85 games and reached one NCAA Tournament at Eastern Kentucky, which is located in Richmond, Ky., about 120 miles from Huntington.

* Buzz Peterson - At 45 years old, Appalachian State's Buzz Peterson is well traveled. He's sandwiched stints at Appy State around two years at Coastal Carolina, four at Tennessee and two at Tulsa. Peterson's Mountaineers beat the Herd in the CIT quarterfinals on March 22. That ended up being Jones' final game at Marshall.

Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at or 304-348-1712. His blog is at

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