LOL was the reply.
A colleague in Huntington, W. Va., laughed out loud when, while exchanging information on former University of Central Arkansas coach Matt Daniel taking the Marshall University women’s basketball job, I asked if Daniel had used any basketball-related, card-playing analogies at his introductory news conference.
That was the subject of his Thursday introductory feature on the new coach, he said.
The initial reaction of the folks in West Virginia to their first meeting with Daniel mirrored the excitement among UCA fans when he was introduced to them in 2008.
They loved his energy, his commitment to community, his passion for recruiting homegrown athletes, his concept of family, his ability to apply life concepts to basketball.
Yup. That’s Matt.
Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director who has a knack for spotting young talent, brought Daniel to UCA from an assistant’s post at Missouri in 2008 into the rubble of one of the lowest points in Sugar Bear history — a 107-36 defeat to Oklahoma State that was probably the nail in the coffin for Checola Seals-Horton’s tenure at UCA.
The Sugar Bears had a legacy of success in the NAIA and NCAA Division II. Daniel’s mandate was to build a competitive Division I program. With the same zeal and intensity he displayed to Marshall fans Tuesday, Daniel, after a bumpy first season, put together three 20-win season, had the Sugar Bears in two straight postseason tournaments and produced a 24-win Southland Conference title team last season.
It became obvious last season that Daniel was a rising star in women’s basketball and he would have suitors. His history indicates he might have been born under a wandering star. He has never stayed anywhere more than five years.
He also marches to the beat of a different drummer. He’s not your garden-variety coach.
Initially, some viewed the Marshall job as a lateral move.
Daniel didn’t. The seeds were planted when he was recruited out of Jonesboro High School by Billy Donovan of Marshall. He eventually signed with Colorado, then transferred to Harding University. Maybe, he always had second thoughts about not signing with the Thundering Herd. Daniel, looking at things from a different lens, likely viewed Marshall as a chance to complete a cycle and start a new one.
Marshall is a member of Conference USA, a league with a much-higher rating (the SLC, although much-improved, is still perceived as one of the weakest conferences in women’s college basketball). Unfortunately in many cases, a conference’s basketball is also judged by its football affiliation. And membership in a BCS conference puts a school at a higher level.
Daniel, who passionately wants to coach at the highest level of his sports, has always been calculating — having a plan and a philosophy for about everything he does. Within the last year, he’s won a title, built a high-level, mid-major program, and he and his new wife (Jennifer) are expecting a child in October, something they announced at the retirement dinner for this father (David) as athletic director at Jonesboro High School.
He’s now starting anew, trying to execute the next phase of his life’s game plan. He’s a focused person and bold enough to sense the right time to make a move.
Meanwhile, Teague, who has a Hemme when it comes to quick coaching searches, kicked into high gear and is ready to introduce a new coach Thursday afternoon. Teague also operates with a plan — and a contingency list.
Tony Kemper, Daniel’s associate head coach for the last two years, was interviewed Tuesday. Sandra Rushing, a highly successful coach at Delta State (where Teague formerly served as AD), was spotted on the UCA campus by several folks Wednesday.
UCA does not currently have a female head coach. Teague is not into tokenism or what looks the best. He’ll instinctively go for the best coach with the right fit. And history indicates instincts are good.
However, if he sees another rising star, top-notch coach on the horizon who is female, that’s probably a plus in the gender-equity department and the fact that many NCAA lords in this politically correct climate like to see women coaching women.
The educated guess here is it’s Rushing.
Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org