Let’s look at Saul Phillips and his coaching career while also considering what Ohio Basketball will do for their next hire.
After spending five years leading the Bobcats, Saul Phillips has been relieved of his head coach duties by Ohio. The Wisconsin native struggled in his last two seasons and made just one postseason appearance with the Bobcats. He was ranked 145th in our early season head coach rankings but his team’s struggles this season certainly didn’t help his cause.
Phillips played collegiately under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville. His coaching career began with a few non-D1 stops before Ryan hired him on his staff at Milwaukee and then Wisconsin. He spent three seasons under Tim Miles at North Dakota State before succeeding him as head coach in 2007. His seven years in Fargo saw the Bison win a pair of Summit League titles and become one of the league’s top programs. He was hired at Ohio in 2014, but things haven’t gone according to plan.
At Ohio, Phillips inherited a team that John Groce took to a pair of NCAA Tournaments and with which Jim Christian had 49 wins in two seasons. Unfortunately, the Bobcats did not experience similar success under Phillips. Ohio was just 10-20 in his first season but rebounded to a 23-win season with a CBI bid. Year three was another 20-win season, but Phillips’ last two seasons were both 14-17 affairs. He couldn’t win a MAC title or even get the Bobcats into the title game, watching as Buffalo took complete control over the conference.
These Bobcats were led by a pair of sophomores, giving the next head coach a couple of potential pieces to get this team back in prime shape. Forward Jason Carter (16.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Teyvion Kirk (14.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) led the way in scoring, and team will graduate just two forwards with significant playing time, losing only 14.9 ppg. That being said, some of these role players will need to take a few steps forward or there will be similar struggles without new talent next season.
There have been some successful coaches roaming the sidelines at Ohio, and there will be a flurry of interested candidates for this MAC job. A few interesting names have already popped up as candidates with connections to the school. Jeff Boals has spent three years at Stony Brook and is an Ohio alum, with the MAC a big step up from the America East. Another alumnus to watch is Dustin Ford, who’s spent the last ten seasons as an assistant under John Groce, including three seasons here at his alma mater. Hiring an assistant from a bigger school in the area is also a possibility, a result that worked great with Groce’s hiring.
Whichever way the school goes, there’s potential in this Bobcats program. Phillips couldn’t win enough games, but his success at North Dakota State shows that he’s a solid coach. He certainly learned a lot by playing and coaching under Bo Ryan, and Phillips will bounce back as a head coach. For the Bobcats, it will take some time, but they can get this program back to competing for MAC titles. The most important thing is nailing this next head coach hiring and it will be interesting to see what happens.