Busting Brackets

Utah State Basketball: Jerrod Calhoun looks to be next successful Aggies coaching hire

Despite four coaching changes in seven years, the Utah State men's basketball program has not missed a beat and neither have any of the coaches that they've hired.
Youngstown State v Notre Dame
Youngstown State v Notre Dame / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

Three things are guaranteed in life: death, taxes, and the Utah State Aggies Men’s Basketball program hitting a home run coaching hire. Whether it was under Athletic Directors John Hartwell, Diana Sabau, or Interim AD, Jerry Bovee, Utah State’s philosophy remains the same: attain under-the-radar, low-major coaches who have had immense success at those levels. 

Starting with the hiring of South Dakota’s Craig Smith in 2018, Utah State immediately made three straight NCAA tournaments, the first time making the tournament as members of the Mountain West Conference, which they joined in 2013. However, with the 2020 NCAA Tournament being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah State did not have the opportunity to dance despite winning the MWC Tournament and earning an autobid. In total, Smith went 74-24 in his three seasons at Utah State before bolting for the Utah job. 

In order to replace Craig Smith, the Aggies again looked at a low-major success story and hired UMBC’s Ryan Odom, the first coach of a 16 seed to upset a 1 seed in March Madness history. Odom would last even less than Smith would, parlaying a 44-25 record over a two year span and an NCAA tournament berth to head back east to take the head coaching job at VCU. 

The Aggies, fresh off a school-record four NCAA tournament appearances in five years, were again looking at the low-major ranks for Odom’s successor. Despite making the tournament the year prior, the new Utah State head coach would have their work cut out for them, as Utah State was only returning .2% of their minutes from the year prior and zero points from their scoring. Basically, the new hire would have to rebuild the program from the ground up.

Enter Montana State’s Danny Sprinkle. Along with Sprinkle came some Montana State players such as Great Osobor and Darius Brown. Not only did Osobor end the 2023-24 season as the Mountain West Player of the Year and Brown was a MWC First-Team selection, but Utah State won the outright Mountain West regular season title, won an NCAA tournament game, and Sprinkle took the Washington head coaching job in his hometown state after one season at the helm for the Aggies. In total, Utah State’s men’s basketball is on a run of making five NCAA tournaments in the last six seasons. 

Despite this, fans have seen the frustrations that come with success at the mid-major level, as Utah State just hired their fourth coach in the past seven seasons. The new coach on campus is Youngstown State’s Jerrod Calhoun. Calhoun boasts a 244-142 all-time coaching record (.627 win %), peaking with a 34-3 record at Fairmont State who went to the Division II national championship in 2016-17. Unlike Sprinkle’s tenure, Calhoun’s squad has some continuity.

After entering the transfer portal, Calhoun was able to retain both Ian Martinez and Mason Falslev, the second and fourth-leading scorers under Sprinkle. Additionally, Calhoun added six players who averaged double figures at their previous stops, highlighted by Queens point guard, Deyton Albury, as well as a near 7’ footer in Stetson transfer, Aubin Gateretse. Additionally, Calhoun was able to poach ASUN Freshman of the Year, Tucker Anderson, from Central Arkansas as well as Utah native, Drake Allen from Utah Valley. 

Despite playing for one of the most accomplished high schools in the state of Ohio, Coach Calhoun has always wanted to coach. In an interview conducted by myself and my co-host, John Simpson, for the One & Done Podcast, Coach Calhoun told us he was a walk-on at Cleveland State and enrolled there specifically to learn from Coach Rollie Massimino. After his Cleveland State tenure, he was offered a student assistant job at Cincinnati under Hall of Famer, Bob Huggins. When I asked Coach Calhoun about the interview process for the program, he said “it [the process] was very thorough. They really did a tremendous job . . . getting to get to know me as a person and how I lead a group of players, how I manage my staff.” Coach Calhoun continued, 

“What I was really impressed with the process was the questions they asked”, which included “how are you going to go out in the community and fundraise.” In the context of this interview, Coach Calhoun was talking about how important the transfer portal and NIL is. But it doesn’t end there, as Coach Calhoun believes there’s something special about Utah State’s culture.

“When you get on campus and see the Spectrum, you hear the stories of Spectrum Magic. This is a passionate, passionate place. Logan, Utah is a town that really gets behind their team. Utah State is their team.”

Darius Brown reiterated that notion, “the Utah State fans come and they show out and they pack that stadium”, Darius told me. “That passion doesn’t stop at basketball either and can be applied to all sports on campus”, Coach Calhoun clarified. “They [the fans] made this whole year so fun and so energetic. They brought it every game”, Darius said, “It’s a feeling that’ll be hard to replicate somewhere else.”

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Ironically, both Coach Calhoun and Darius Brown used the same word to describe the Aggie fanbase: passion. While Utah State’s Athletics Department deserves an immense amount of credit for the success of the program the past six years, it's apparent that the fans that rally behind the sports teams in Logan are also a huge part of the success. While Utah State has become the premiere stepping stone school for coaches to obtain a high-major job afterward, the program has not missed a step despite the frequent coaching changes. While the Mountain West Conference continues to improve, Utah State remains one of the cream of the crop. With that said, this program is here to stay.